When will egg prices finally drop?

When will egg prices finally drop?

A few months ago, I asked Vox readers which price increases bothered them the most in the midst of our current high-inflation economic environment. The most common response, by far, was eggs, a relatively low-priced item, but a staple food, and whose price increases upset many consumers. That was in August 2022. Now the egg price situation is even worse.

According to data provided by Urner Barry, which tracks the food products market, the average price of a dozen “Midwestern Large” eggs was as high as $5.46 as of the end of December 2022, well above $ 0.89 in early 2020, before the pandemic hit, and even above other highs in the low $3 range last summer. Following the peak demand for eggs that comes with the holiday season, prices have begun to cool, falling back to $3.64 on January 17.

“There is almost invariably a drop in demand after the holiday cooking period, which in turn drives down wholesale prices,” Karyn Rispoli, who covers the egg market for Urner Barry, said in an email. “However, this year’s drop has been quite steep due to the heights from which the market is adjusting.”

Still, the egg prices that many people are seeing in the grocery store are staggering. And in some parts of the country, like California, eggs are very expensive and in some cases hard to find.

Eggs have been part of the inflation story of the US economy for months. Beyond the cost of an individual egg at the store, you should also remember that eggs are an ingredient in many items, from pet food to baked goods and more. So when the cost of eggs goes up, that can put pressure on a lot of things.

So what is happening now? Here’s a little summary.

bird flu is bad

Eggs are mostly more expensive right now because chickens keep getting sick with super-deadly bird flu, much of it spread by migrating wild birds. The last time bird flu hit so hard, in 2015, it sent egg prices skyrocketing. Now, that’s happening again, and it’s proving more persistent than last time.

“In 2015, the virus stopped once the weather increased and the spring migration ended, and repopulation was able to fully begin. [In 2022]it has come back in the fall with the winter migration,” said Brian Moscogiuri, global trade strategist at Eggs Unlimited.

As of early December, there were about 308 million “layers”—that is, hens that lay eggs for food—in the US. That’s down from 328 million a year earlier. “Typically, you need about one bird per person to have supply and demand almost in balance with US consumption,” Moscogiuri said. “So we have, what, 331 million people in this country? You can see right there, there’s a huge deficit.”

As Vox’s Kenny Torrella explained, nearly 58 million birds in the US, most of them laying hens, have died from bird flu in the past year, well above the previous record of 50 million set in 2015. Once a farm or facility is infected with the virus, it spreads like wildfire and is almost always deadly. Regardless, US regulations require farmers to vacate their operations once bird flu is detected, meaning birds with and without the virus must be culled.

“They have to clean and disinfect the entire facility, and then they have to test [the facility] to repopulate [to make sure the virus is cleared]Moscogiuri said. Egg producers have gotten better at stocking, having learned from the experience in 2015, but as mentioned, the current outbreak is much more persistent than the last.

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