What’s the deal with egg prices?

Will they come down anytime soon? So asks reader Ellen. Sadly the answer is: no time soon. The North American avian flu epidemic isn’t in the news much these days, but it’s still raging. That’s the main factor underlying the price spike, but there are others. A lot of industry folks blame McDonald’s for buying up shell eggs for their “real egg” biscuit sandwiches, but there are a lot of other players out there competing for shell eggs (even if breakfast is an all-day affair at Mickey D’s these days).

The drive for so-called “real food” has spiked demand for shell eggs all over the restaurant and food service world. Where liquid eggs might have once been used to make scrambled eggs or omelets, everyone now wants to say that they crack their eggs behind the counter. There’s not much difference between the two, save for the fact that liquid eggs are cracked and blended ahead of time. They’re cheaper than shell eggs, they also reduce waste by giving egg suppliers a way to use and sell eggs that are slightly cracked, or the wrong size, shape or color for the shell egg market.

The most optimistic estimate I’ve seen for price declines is late 2017. Fall is generally the time when avian flu cases increase, so don’t be surprised if you hear more about this issue this month!

11 thoughts on “What’s the deal with egg prices?”

  1. This whole in the shell business seems ridiculous to me. People shouldn’t be advocating for the difference between bagged/in the shell but for better conditions for the animals! Tim Horton’s faced a surge of protests regarding pigs that were raised in horrible pens. They eventually caved and said they would no longer use meat from those producers but I don’t know what, if any, external validation is occurring. Chickens are just as badly off. I value eggs for my baking as much as the next person but sometimes it does boggle the mind over what the public decides is really “important”.

    1. A fair point, Kirsten. The memes of the food movement become forces unto themselves. I remember an article from the New York Times about two years ago about homeowners in Brooklyn raising their own chickens. The newspaper had the eggs tested to see if they were any healthier than mass-produced eggs, and in fact found they had alarmingly high levels of lead and other pollutants, evidently from chickens scratching in soil that had decades of lead paint scrapings in it. When presented with the information one homeowner said “well at least I know where my eggs come from!”

      This is a tangent from your main point I know, but it similarly illustrates how powerful dogma can be. Thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

  2. I haven’t noticed as much of a jump in the cage free egg prices, just in the cheaper, standard eggs. Do cage free chickens (and yes, I know that phrase covers everything from tiny windows in crowded coops, to actual free range chickens) have fewer problems with the avian flu? Or is Mc Donald’s and other mass users of cheap shell eggs the larger of the two inflation forces? I imagine they’re not using cage free eggs, or they’d be advertising that, as well.

    1. They surely would be!

      But that’s a very good question. I’ll see if one of my sources knows!

      – Joe

      1. Thank you, Anna, for an interesting link. To my inexperienced eye, the mass of chickens puttering around in the dirt looked a lot happier and healthier (or at least featherier to coin an unnecessary word) than the photos of half bald hens I’ve seen from chicken batteries. Not ideal, this cage free model, but it seems a huge step up, even if it’s not as humane as free range. My budget stretches to cage free. I can’t even FIND free range eggs where I shop though. They must be quite labor intensive and thus expensive.

        1. No, free range are actually the least Manuel labor. Chickens cooped up is the most labor intensive. Then why are they cheaper? Because free range requires a farm, or land. Cage free less land, because the wings get clipped so they can’t fly into a neighbors yard if your town allows chickens in town. Yes, caged requires a lot of land, but you can cram a lot of chickens in a confined space, thus overhead goes lower. More profit. Land is expensive, fewer farmers, thus more expensive eggs.

  3. I thought part of the price jump was based on California’s new(ish) space-per-chicken requirements for eggs sold in California, which resulted in some changes for national cheap egg producers? I don’t know much about this, though.

    1. I hadn’t heard that, KC, but that’s very interesting. I’ll ask about it!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  4. I hate to think how many chicken dinners we’ve fed to the local foxes around here. Far too many. But having chickens is awesome. My six go through 20kg of pellets in ~two weeks. We get around 3 dozen eggs a week, so that’s 6 dozen eggs for under $18. Even with the initial outlay ($22/chicken), it still works out cheaper given the number of eggs my family of six eat!

    They get to free-range where-ever they like (hence the fox problem), the kids love them, they poop everywhere which is great for the soil, garden and compost… they’re fantastic. If you have the space, get chickens!

    CfDU

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