The good news is that some inflation-hiked foods might be starting to come down in price. But if you’ve taken a scroll online in the past week, you already know the bad news: Eggs, the fourth most-purchased US grocery item, are still doggedly expensive.
By the end of last year, a dozen would set you back $4.25 on average—120% higher than the same time in 2021. That figure doesn’t reflect the reality in states like California, the most expensive US market, where shoppers were paying an average of $7.37 for 12 large Grade A eggs in December. Social media, of course, is a flood of angst. It’s all empty shelf pictures, angry comments lobbed at egg-centric TikTok recipe developers, distressed memes, and utter disbelief at the highest egg prices in US history.
Here’s what you need to know about the price of eggs, and, importantly, what the heck home cooks can do about it.
What’s causing egg prices to rise?
Supply chain challenges and increased input costs are partially to blame. But by far the biggest culprit is disease. The worst-ever outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which was first detected in the US in February last year, has resulted in the deaths of more than 44 million egg-laying hens, according to the Agriculture Department. “The flu is the most important factor affecting egg prices,” Maro Ibarburu, a business analyst at the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, told The Washington Post.
The virus is terrible for the infected birds, killing 90% to 100% of chickens within 48 hours, according to the CDC. But any that aren’t yet sick (but at risk of becoming so) also need to be proactively culled, to prevent the disease spreading. That’s potentially even worse for the animals, Vox reports: The two most common culling methods are suffocating the birds with foam and shutting off ventilation in coops, meaning the birds slowly die of heatstroke. So far, this kind of mass “depopulation” at farms has decreased the total egg supply by 7.5%, according to The New York Times.
Some stores around the country are experiencing an egg shortage, and others are limiting how many cartons customers can buy as a result. At one Whole Foods in Manhattan, all the cheapest eggs ($3.99 for a dozen large brown Grade A eggs) had recently sold out, according to The Times. Even at my local Harmons grocery store in Salt Lake City, which caters to a much smaller market, shelves were decimated on Sunday. All that was left were dozens of large Grade A eggs for $6 a pop—which I reluctantly paid but, like a nice new coat, cannot bring myself to actually use. In other states, such as Arizona and Massachusetts, people are cutting out the expensive middleman and buying their own chickens.
So, when are prices expected to come down?
It’s complicated. Some relief for egg buyers is imminent, as demand drops from its December peak and impacted farms steadily recover from flu-related losses. Though, after facilities are sanitized and restocked with hens, it does take four or five months for a chicken to be able to lay at its peak productivity—which is about 24 eggs per month, an Agriculture Department spokesperson told The Times. So egg costs will likely remain high in the near term.