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- Soaring input costs and a bird flu outbreak have driven up US egg prices to multi-year highs.
- The average price of a dozen eggs surged nearly 60% last year to over $3.70 – and more than doubled in seven states.
- Here’s why eggs are so expensive right now.
If you’ve been to the shops – or checked social media – lately, you’ll know that egg prices are soaring.
The average cost of a dozen eggs rose 59% last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with prices more than doubling in West Virginia and six states in the upper Midwest. The cost shock was even more acute in the case of eggs classified grade A, with prices jumping almost 140%.
That surge has inspired waves of memes on Twitter as well as retail-trading forums like Reddit’s Wall Street Bets, usually based on the idea that made-up “egg investors” beat benchmarks like the S&P 500, yields on 10-year US Treasury notes, or bitcoin in 2022.
There’s no such thing as tradeable egg futures, but the Consumer Price Index does include eggs – and a reading of the monthly inflation reports shows that the price of a dozen jumped to $3.73 in December from $2.34 at the end of 2021.
Farmers across the US have pinpointed two factors that are fuelling the egg price crisis.
Spiraling inflation has squeezed their input costs higher – and they’ve had to respond by raising egg prices.
“This year, my feed cost has jumped 26%, my electric cost is up 30%, and now my cost of cartons is up 45%,” Ron Eichner, who owns Eichner’s Family Farm in Wexford, PA, told NPR last week. “You know, these are things that you have to escalate now into your retail product.”
Furthermore, demand for eggs is relatively inelastic – meaning consumers tend to stomach price rises in the commodity, widely used as part of a balanced diet, than they would do with less essential items such as cookies or pumpkin spice lattes.
But that’s also true for products like milk, bread, and cereal – none of which saw price increases on a scale similar to that of eggs.
That’s because the US is also contending with a vicious outbreak of bird flu, which is killing hens and reducing overall egg supplies.
At least 46 million birds have either died or been culled since early 2022 to avoid further spread of the virus, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention – approaching the 51 million deaths recorded during the worst-ever US outbreak in 2015.
“It’s mostly in the wild bird population and if you’re going to bring everything from air to people from the outside to the inside of your barns, you have a chance to spread infection,” Buckeye, AZ-based Hickman’s Family Farms president Glenn Hickman told Bloomberg’s “Odd Lots” podcast Monday.
“The spread of infection is so fast and so deadly that maybe one day you’ll have 10 dead chickens in a barn, the next day you’ll have 100, the next day you’ll have 1,000,” he added. “Within just a few days, the entire farm is involved in it.”
It’s the flu breakout that’s caused egg prices to spiral higher at an even faster rate than other farmed foods – inspiring retail investors’ latest memes and squeezing shoppers’ wallets across the US.
And with inflation still remaining elevated by historical standards and bird flu fueling a steep drop-off in supply, it’s unlikely that the egg price crisis will be over anytime soon.