One of the main reasons why eggs are more expensive right now is an outbreak of avian influenza (a.k.a. bird flu), which has killed millions of laying hens in the last year, leading to fewer chickens and, thus, fewer eggs. Because demand for eggs has been consistent and even high at times, this has led to an overall increase in the price of eggs. Aside from the problems caused by avian flu, chicken feed, fuel, labor, and transportation costs have all gone up due to inflation, which has also resulted in price hikes on wholesale egg prices within the poultry industry.
In early 2022, the average price of a dozen eggs for most consumers in the U.S. was less than two dollars. By December 2022, however, the price of eggs had more than doubled to an average cost of $4.25 for a dozen eggs at grocery stores, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This has probably led you to wonder: Why are eggs so expensive right now?
Read on to learn more about the egg industry, the problems that have plagued egg production in recent months, and the issues that chicken farmers have had to deal with that have led to an egg shortage and higher egg prices.
Why are eggs expensive?
There are a number of reasons why eggs are so expensive as of 2023. Some of these reasons are more dramatic than others, but all of them have contributed to a rise in prices of this common food that many people frequently consume.
One of the biggest factors that contributed to the recent egg shortage was bird flu, which began to affect both egg farmers and owners of backyard flocks in early 2022. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some 58 million poultry birds have been affected by the avian flu to date.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that 43 million egg-laying hens were lost due to the avian flu — either from the disease itself or as a result of depopulation* — from February 2022 through December 2022. (*Depopulation is another way of saying that chicken farms slaughter part of their flock to prevent the spread of bird flu.)
“As a result of recurrent outbreaks, U.S. egg inventories were 29 percent lower in the final week of December 2022 than at the beginning of the year,” says the Economic Research Service, a division of the USDA. “[Therefore] on constrained supplies, wholesale egg prices (the prices retailers pay to producers) were elevated throughout the year. Moreover, the latest outbreak wave came at a point when the industry seasonally adjusts the egg-laying flocks to meet the increasing demand for eggs associated with the winter holiday season.”
This egg shortage, combined with high holiday demand, caused record-high prices for several weeks near the end of the year. Specifically, the Economic Research Center found that egg prices were 267% higher in the week before Christmas than they were at the beginning of the year and 210% higher than the same time a year earlier. Fortunately, things are looking up, says Emily Metz, President and CEO of the American Egg Board.
“The good news is that while bird flu remains a threat and egg farmers continue to take the highest possible precautions to protect their birds, we have not had any detections on egg farms or incurred any supply impacts since December. In fact, most of the egg farms that were affected by bird flu have recovered and are back to supplying the nutritious eggs Americans count on.”
Of course, you can’t blame the spike in egg prices entirely on avian flu. Inflation has caused almost everything consumers buy to go up in price. Obviously, chicken farmers have not been immune to inflation either.
When you look at the egg carton in your refrigerator, it’s difficult to imagine the costs involved in getting those eggs to you in the first place. For egg farmers, those costs include factors like chicken feed to nourish their laying hens, the energy needed to run daily chicken farm operations, packaging to keep the eggs in, and fuel to transport the eggs around the country.
“Inflation is certainly one of the major culprits for the recent increase in the price of eggs. The cost of feed, fuel, and other inputs used to produce eggs has increased, and these costs have been passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices,” says Derek R. DiManno, CFP and founding financial advisor at Flagship Asset Services.
Like milk, bread, and other common food items, eggs are considered kitchen staples. This means that despite lower egg supply and higher prices, demand by consumers has remained relatively constant. Basically, there was no real incentive for supermarkets to lower egg prices. In other words, if demand had tapered off and people weren’t buying eggs due to high prices, we may have seen cheaper egg prices sooner.
However, because the vast majority of people do eat a lot of eggs — whether as a breakfast staple or as an ingredient in recipes (especially during end-of-year holidays) — supermarkets could barely keep eggs in stock. This was enough of a problem in certain areas that some supermarkets started limiting the number of eggs you could buy per household, similar to the toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages of 2020.
“Eggs are essential to Americans. They’re in more than 90% of U.S. refrigerators, and egg sales remained strong even during temporary price increases. The good news for egg lovers is that wholesale prices for eggs have decreased significantly from the highs we saw late last year and earlier this year,” says Metz.
While it may not be as influential to egg prices in the U.S. as bird flu and inflation, there are still lingering problems with the supply chain that can also have an effect on egg prices, says DiManno.
“The supply chain issues that we keep hearing about have also had an effect on the price of eggs. The pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain, making it more difficult and expensive to transport goods. This has made it more difficult for egg producers to get their products to market, which has also contributed to the higher prices.”
Tips to save money on eggs
If the cost of eggs concerns you, there are strategies you can use to save money. For example, if you typically eat eggs for breakfast, you can consider alternative options like oatmeal or peanut butter to get your morning fix of protein. If you do a lot of baking, you can substitute mashed banana, applesauce, or yogurt for eggs in some baked good recipes.
DiManno also offers a couple of suggestions to save money on the price of eggs:
“Buy in bulk. Buying eggs in bulk can save you money in the long run. Also consider buying alternative egg products. There are a number of alternative egg products available, such as (plant-based) Just Egg and tofu scramble. These products can be a more affordable option than traditional eggs.”
Will egg prices go down in 2023?
Egg prices are already trending down from a January average high of $4.82 for a dozen eggs, with the average price for a carton of eggs down to $3.27 in April 2023. Of course, egg prices could go up again if there are new waves of avian flu, but for the most part, inflation seems to be easing off.
Also, keep in mind that more and more egg farmers are transitioning to cage-free eggs, which are more expensive to produce. This means that paying for cage-free eggs will cost you more than buying eggs from farms that engage in more traditional means of egg production.
How long will eggs last in the refrigerator?
According to the American Egg Board, eggs should be kept refrigerated on an inner shelf (i.e., not on the door) for four to five weeks after the pack date, or about three weeks after you buy them. The USDA claims that eggs can last for three to five weeks after purchase if kept refrigerated.
When in doubt, you can try the float test. Put an egg in a cup of water; if it sinks and lays on its side, it’s fine. If it stands up in the water but still touches the bottom, it’s older but may still be okay to consume. If it floats to the top, throw it out. And if you’re still not sure, crack the egg open; if it looks and smells perfectly normal, it should be fine to eat.
- Egg prices increased drastically in 2022 due to a combination of bird flu, inflation, and supply chain issues, all of which have increased costs for chicken farmers and, subsequently, consumers.
- Despite an egg shortage and an increase in prices, demand for eggs has remained relatively consistent over time, which has kept prices from falling sooner.
- Demand for eggs typically increases around the holiday season, which caused egg prices to soar even higher at the end of 2022.
- Thanks to inflation easing up and the waning effects of avian influenza, the price of eggs has finally started to decrease in 2023.
View Article Sources and Recommended Reading
- Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject – Eggs – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Egg Market News Report – U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Egg Markets Overview – U.S. Department of Agriculture
- How Long Do Eggs Last? – American Egg Board
- How long can you store eggs in the refrigerator? – AskUSDA
- Inflation Study — SuperMoney
- Top 10 Most Expensive Nike Shoes — SuperMoney