Egg prices responding to high demand, lower supply
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Shoppers facing sticker shock at the grocery store know that eggs are part of the cost increase, but they may not know why.
Josh Maples, an agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said egg prices over the Christmas holiday were more than double what they were at the same time in 2021.
“Retail egg prices averaged $4.25 per dozen in December, a record high,” Maples said. “This compares to $1.79 per dozen in December 2021.”
The primary cause of the high prices is a disruption in supply at a time when consumer demand for eggs is strong.
“Highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, which is often called bird flu, is an important concern each year, but it was especially problematic in the U.S. in 2022,” Maples said. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that HPAI was detected in 307 commercial flocks in 2022.”
Only one of these affected flocks was in Mississippi. HPAI is very contagious among birds, so USDA requires strict containment protocols be followed to prevent additional spread to other flocks. These measures include depopulation of infected flocks.
In all, HPAI affected about 57 million birds in 2022. Of those, nearly 40 million were egg-laying hens lost to the disease between February and December 2022. Those hens represented about 12% of the egg-laying birds lost to HPAI.
“Fewer laying hens has led to fewer eggs produced and tighter supplies for egg consumers,” Maples said.
Lower egg availability coincided with the holiday season, which is the food’s peak season for consumption. USDA estimates Americans used 11.4 eggs per household during the Thanksgiving holiday and 8.6 eggs per household over Christmas. Households in 2022 used an estimated 1.6 more eggs at Christmas than they did in 2021.
“Even at high prices, U.S. consumers still purchased a lot of eggs over the holidays. Strong demand at a time when supplies are tighter drove egg prices higher,” he said.
Byron Williams, Extension food processing specialist, said high demand for processed food products also stretched the egg supply.
“Eggs are very versatile products and serve many roles in food manufacturing processes,” Williams said. “Most battered, breaded and baked products utilize some form of eggs, and egg whites, yolks and mixtures all play vital roles in the manufacture of various processed products.”
Consequently, these factors led to increased usage and demand for eggs at a time when supplies were limited due to the 2022 bird flu epidemic and compounded supply chain issues.
Although high egg prices persisted through January and into February, Maples said they are expected to moderate in coming months. Other than strong egg demand at Easter, demand should soon ease, and prices should fall as producers continue to recover from the supply disruptions of 2022.
Jessica Wells, Extension poultry specialist, said the answer to the problem of expensive eggs is not to quickly decide to have a flock of chickens at home.
“Even though egg prices have drastically increased, the price to feed, house and manage your flock will still be very costly,” Wells said.
Additionally, since HPAI is carried by wild and migratory fowl, backyard flocks are highly susceptible to the virus because they easily come in contact with infected birds.
“The biggest help we can all be to the industry and aid in supply and demand issues is being diligent with biosecurity,” she said. “If you have a backyard flock, make sure you are doing everything possible to not infect other flocks. Even if you do not have chickens, you could still potentially carry the virus to someone who does have a flock by unknowingly stepping in contamination while walking outdoors.”
Qula Madkin, Extension instructor and registered dietitian, said one reasonable response to high egg prices is to temporarily substitute other products for eggs in home cooking.
“Eggs are healthy and versatile and can be used in many dishes,” she said. “In baking, eggs provide texture, moistness and flavor. A baked product may lack flavor and be dry or flat without eggs.”
Unsweetened applesauce and mashed banana are great substitutions for eggs in baked goods. Simply use 1/4 cup of applesauce or banana for one egg. Another good egg substitute is ground flaxseed or chia seeds that have fully absorbed three tablespoons of water.
“Baked goods may become dense by adding these seeds, but they provide tons of flavor and more fiber and healthy fats,” she said.
Other options include yogurt, buttermilk, silken tofu, commercial egg replacers, mixed vinegar and baking soda and nut butters.
“If using egg alternatives is new to you, you may need to experiment with different options and substitutions to get the flavor and texture you desire,” Madkin said. “If you are using eggs for their protein, beans are a budget-friendly, high-protein and high-fiber option that can be used in some dishes instead of eggs.”