If you’ve examined your grocery bill lately, you’ve probably noticed: Eggs are wildly expensive. The numbers tell part of the story. According to the most recent figures available from the Federal Reserve, a dozen eggs in the U.S. cost, on average, $4.82 in January 2023.
In the past year, egg prices have shot up more than 70%, according to the latest Consumer Price Index. And the United States Department of Agriculture predicts that egg prices will increase 27.3% in 2023. If you’re in the Midwest, it’s probably around $5, and it’s generally higher the further west you go. If you live in California, you’re probably paying around $7 for a carton of eggs. In Hawaii, the average price for a carton of eggs is a bit over $9.
Still, wherever you live and whatever you’re paying, you probably feel like it’s way too much.
For a long time, you could count on eggs to be among the cheap foods out there. So why are eggs so expensive right now and when will prices start dropping? Here are the main reasons.
You hear the avian flu blamed a lot for the price of eggs, and for good reason.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is believed that more than 58 million chickens, in commercial farms but also backyard coops, have been infected by avian flu since January 2022. For comparison’s sake, 6,111 wild birds have been detected with the avian flu during that same period of time, and one human being. Humans can die from avian flu, but it is fortunately extremely rare.
For the chicken who contracts avian flu, unfortunately, it’s usually a painful death sentence. The chicken will generally gasp for air and have extreme diarrhea problems before dying.
[See: 10 Money-Saving Websites to Check Before Shopping.]
The Expense of Fighting Avian Flu
The supply and demand problems mean that we have fewer chickens, and thus fewer eggs. Meanwhile, you have plenty of Americans who still like to eat eggs and are willing to pay for them. A smaller supply with a great demand generally always drives up the price of anything.
Chicken farmers are spending more money to protect their flocks, adding to the egg prices.
Emily Metz is the president and CEO at American Egg Board, the national marketing organization for the U.S. egg industry created in 1976 by Congress. The way Metz explains it, today’s egg farmers have been scrambling to protect their chickens from catching the avian flu, and in doing so, are being far higher-tech than you would probably imagine.
“Egg farmers have implemented comprehensive biosecurity measures to keep disease off their farms and keep their birds safe, including things like shower-in/out and truck washes — in which the tires, undercarriage, etc., of vehicles entering the farm are automatically cleaned by machines at the gate,” Metz says.
She says that’s a practice that has been in effect as far back as 2015 and that farmers have been making further enhancements since then as well.
“For example, some farms have installed laser systems to discourage the wild birds that carry and spread the disease from landing on the property,” Metz says. “Other measures, like closely monitoring the health of the birds in their flocks, enhanced pest control and securing facilities and ventilation systems, are all part and parcel of egg farmers’ commitment to keeping their birds safe and healthy on a continuous basis. These birds are their livelihood.”
Even without the avian flu killing off chickens and the expense of battling avian flu, it takes a lot of money to get an egg from the chicken to your egg carton. Fuel, packaging and labor costs have all gone up considerably the last few years, Metz points out. This has all led to what the media has dubbed as “eggflation.”
The price of corn, for instance, shot up to its highest price point in nine years last year. That has had a ripple effect that has contributed to the cost of more expensive eggs. Corn, after all, is one of the main ingredients in chicken feed. The war that resulted when Russia invaded Ukraine has also made a mess of wheat crops that have driven up the cost of wheat, often another key component of chicken feed.
Metz confirms that the cost of feed contributes to the cost of producing an egg. After all, chickens have to eat, just like the rest of us.
The Usual Supply Chain Problems
“Globally, fresh eggs exported by country steadily declined with the COVID-19 pandemic and overall supply chain strains, logistics disruptions and the Ukraine-Russia War,” says Paul Hong, a distinguished university professor of operations management at The University of Toledo’s Neff College of Business and Innovation.
And while you might be surprised to know that supply chain issues are still prevalent, there are all sorts of reasons a supply chain can be affected. After all, aside from the avian flu, which has affected all countries around the world, China only recently relaxed its rules around COVID-19, and for a long time, that likely stymied their egg production. Poland, meanwhile, has seen a decrease in production partially due to international trade restrictions.
Panic-buying eggs can also disrupt a supply chain, Hong notes. That has been the case in areas like Southern California.
“Be mindful,” Hong says of anyone thinking of buying out the store of eggs. “Take care of your needs first but leave room for your neighbors. Don’t buy more than what you need.”
[SEE: Personal Finance Ratios to Know at All Times.]
The Cage-Free Trend
The avian flu will hopefully someday fade away into history. Cage-free eggs seem to be here to stay. That’s far better for the chicken and probably better for the taste of eggs, but as chicken farms expand to offer chickens more space to roam, it does drive up the price.
“A California law banning eggs sales in the state produced by hens that are not cage free, regardless of where they are produced, is raising production costs for producers,” says Phillip Coles, a teaching associate professor in Lehigh University’s Decision and Technology Analytics department in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
“Several other states are considering similar legislation,” Coles adds. “Some producers who could not afford to comply, or who have better alternatives in which to invest capital, have stopped production, further reducing supplies. Those who do change their production methods need to depreciate the increased costs of compliance.”
Supply and Demand
Ryan Decker is an assistant professor of economics and director of the Center for Financial Literacy at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. He points out that “eggs are such an integral part of an American diet that most people buy eggs regardless of the price. As the price of eggs increases, we’ll complain more, but we’ll still buy them.”
That’s what’s keeping the prices high, he says. If everybody’s buying expensive eggs, the farmers and retailers don’t have a lot of incentive to lower the price, especially if that means taking a hit on their own profits.
Decker points out that one reason Americans keep buying eggs is that, typically, eggs “make up a small portion of an average American’s overall budget. … Another good example of this phenomenon is salt. If the price of salt doubles, you still might buy the same amount of salt because your expenditure on salt is so low compared to your other grocery purchases.”
Still, with some reports of eggs going for $10 a carton, the demand for eggs may eventually start to subside, if it hasn’t already, which should eventually bring down the price.
[READ: 10 Legitimate Ways to Get Free Money Online.]
What Consumers Can Do About the Price of Eggs
Something has definitely gone wrong when you have to work out your budget so you can afford eggs. And cooking at home is still probably going to be cheaper than eating out at a restaurant or doing carryout.
Hong points out that “people do not live on eggs alone. Other substitutes can be found in baking and cooking. … Temporarily, people may try a vegetarian diet without using eggs. Use tofu, banana, potato, flour, carrots and cake oil substitutes instead.”
Most people will instead find something else to eat for breakfast, like oatmeal or toast — all of which is incentive for the poultry industry to do what they can to bring prices down.
While that is not what the poultry industry wants to hear, chicken farmers know that they have to keep eggs somewhat affordable.
When Will Egg Prices Go Down?
Eventually, and maybe sooner rather than later. Recently, wholesale egg prices plunged 52% from Dec. 19 to Feb. 6, according to Urner Barry, a market research firm that focuses on the wholesale industry.
When retailers can buy eggs from suppliers for a lot less, they can sell them for a lot less — at least in theory. If people are still buying eggs in great quantities, as Decker points out, egg prices may remain high. And with Easter just around the corner, that may just be the case.
More from U.S. News
Important Dates to Mark on Your Personal Finance Calendar
The Worst Times to Switch Jobs
How Companies Trick You Into Spending More
Why Are Eggs So Expensive Right Now? originally appeared on usnews.com