So who is to blame for historic egg-flation, and how can American consumers beat the price gouging on supermarket shelves?
By now, if you shop at a grocery store or supermarket for your produce, you’ve likely noticed the soaring egg prices. In some places, prices are up 60% from a year earlier.
The average price for a dozen large Grade A eggs in the U.S. was $1.93 in January. By December, when egg demand peaked, the price surged to $4.25, jumping 11% in less than one month, according to Consumer Price Index data.
An increase in holiday demand, higher production costs for farmers, a recent outbreak of bird flu, and price guaging by profit-seeking commercial sellers have all contributed to the rising price of eggs.
As of December, more than 43 million egg-laying hens were lost when a bird flu outbreak began in February 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The virus is highly contagious and can be fatal to poultry such as chickens and turkeys. The most recent outbreak led to the deaths of more than 57 million birds in hundreds of commercial and backyard flocks across 47 states since February.
“We have seen infections get into a flock, where they look perfectly fine one day, and then the next day, they’re all dead,” said Gregory Martin, a poultry educator at Penn State Extension. “That’s how quick this thing moves. And so the losses are very, very severe.”
“We are seeing some very, very temporary, isolated and hyperlocal shortages,” said Emily Metz, CEO of the trade group American Egg Board. “We have not seen widespread shortages. We have not seen panic buying or anything like that.”
When will egg prices drop?
It’s nearly impossible to predict when the current egg prices will drop. Prices traditionally depend on both supply and demand, according to Maro Ibarburu, associate scientist at the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University.
“In the absence of new cases (of avian influenza), the production of eggs will gradually increase over the next several months, and that should help with the market,” Ibarburu told USA Today. “But the demand is also an important factor.”
In addition to supply and demand considerations, consumers are also navigating suspected price gouging by commercial sellers looking to turn a profit on the bird flu outbreak. Such price gouging tactics prolong high prices and distort the market.
How do I report price gouging?
Price gouging is a term referring to when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services, or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair and is considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent.
The Better Business Bureau suggests comparing prices at other local grocery stores before you buy a carton of eggs.
People often find that the cost of high-demand items skyrockets during emergencies such as natural disasters, pandemics, and in this case, bird flu outbreaks, they say.
According to Better Business Bureau, some state attorneys general offices have initiated state price-gouging laws, which automatically go into effect during a declared state of emergency in order to prevent businesses from over-charging customers.
The Better Business Bureau suggests that anyone who suspects price gouging during a declared state of emergency should report it to Better Business Bureau by filing a complaint or going to BBB Ad Truth. Consumers also have the option to report these activities to the state attorney general’s office.
When reporting a price gouging complaint, gather as much information as safely possible and follow these three tips:
- Be as specific about the transaction as possible, including the name and address of the business, names of any employees involved, and information detailing the spike in pricing.
- Gather documentation supporting the price gouging (receipts, photos of products and their advertised pricing, invoices, etc.)
- Compare pricing of similar products with other sellers in the area as well as online. It’s important to note similarities and differences between brands, size/quantity, manufacturers, model numbers, and prices.
How watchdog and farmer groups are working to prevent egg sellers from price gouging consumers
In recent weeks, food and farmer advocacy groups have banded together to demand more be done at the federal level to prevent commercial egg sellers from price-gouging consumers.
Recently, the food and farm advocacy group Farm Action sent a letter urging the FTC to identify, challenge, and uproot anti-competitive arrangements that suppress competition among egg producers and prosecute any violations of antitrust laws.
Farm Action’s letter lays out the economic basis for its “concerns over apparent price gouging, price coordination, and other unfair or deceptive acts or practices by dominant producers of eggs,” including market giant and industry “bellwether” Cal-Maine Foods.
The letter goes on to state, “In the end, what Cal-Maine Foods and the other large egg producers did last year — and seem to be intent on doing again this year — is extort billions of dollars from the pockets of ordinary Americans through what amounts to a tax on a staple we all need: eggs.”
How to beat high egg prices?
Until the Federal Government acts to stop the price gouging tactics implemented by commercial egg sellers that have resulted in higher egg prices, consumers can try to save money by clipping coupons and comparing deals online to shop for the lowest price, according to personal finance service The Ascent.
It’s also possible to freeze egg yokes to prevent them from rotting in the fridge and being thrown away. Eggs should not be frozen in their shells, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
To freeze eggs, beat yolks and whites together. You also can freeze egg whites and yolks separately, though whites freeze better than yolks.
According to the USDA says. “To freeze yolks, mix four yolks with a pinch of salt and one and a half teaspoons of sugar or corn syrup,” the USDA says. Make sure to use your frozen eggs within a year.
Do backyard chickens cut down on egg costs?
How much does it cost to raise your own chickens? And does raising your own chickens save you money on eggs?
The bottom line is ‘no.’ Even with bird flu and the resulting price gouging, it is still cheaper in general to buy eggs than it is to raise chickens for eggs in your backyard. This is because commercial sellers with millions of chickens are able to drive down their input prices, but backyard homesteaders have to pay a higher price for non-bulk items.
Here are a few costs you’ll need to consider when deciding if backyard chickens are a viable option for saving money on eggs.
First, not everyone is allowed to keep chickens on their property. You’ll need to ensure that you comply with local regulations. If you’re allowed to keep poultry, you may need to pay for a permit application. Check with your local city council or HOA to see if backyard chickens are allowed in your community.
Remember, many hens lay their first egg around 18 weeks of age and then lay up to an egg each day, so it can take months to get your backyard flock up and running. A live chicken will cost around $3 to $30, depending on the breed and age of the chicken laying hens go for $10 to $100, depending on the breed.
Plan on a minimum budget of about $15 per month per chicken for feed. Free-range chickens may need slightly less, and organic and or medicated feed will cost more.
A chicken coop can be made fairly cheap. So once you’re set up with a flock and a coop, you can expect to pay 50 cents for the chicken food per egg per day.
At that rate, a dozen eggs from a backyard flock of chickens cost roughly $6.00. That’s nearly $1.74 per dozen more than the current inflated cost of a dozen eggs at the grocery store.
Backyard homesteaders and hobby farmers can reduce input costs through free-range and recycled food techniques. And selling extra eggs can help cover some costs. But chickens often don’t lay all their eggs all year round, and their outputs can go down in the winter.
So while raising chickens in your backyard can be rewarding their often not an effective way to cut egg prices when you’re on a tight food budget.
The best way to bring down the costs of eggs is to ensure your lawmakers know you want the federal government to enforce anti-trust laws and prevent commercial sellers from price gouging the American consumer.