The Exponent Telegram
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WV News) — Shoppers have likely noticed that eggs have been much more expensive lately at retailers across the state.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index released January 12, the index for eggs rose 11.1 percent in December alone, with a much higher increase on the year.
From December 2021 to December 2022, the average cost of eggs saw a staggering 59.9 percent increase nationwide.
The increase was not uniform geographically, because some parts of the country saw a smaller price hike while others saw the price of a dozen eggs triple since last December.
For example, the average retail price for a dozen large eggs in California is $7.37 as of December 2022 compared to $2.35 a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Although inflation has eased a bit in recent weeks, prices peaked nationwide around Christmas mostly due to increased demand for the holiday.
The average price of eggs has more than doubled for most consumers in the United States, according to industry experts.
This trend of more expensive eggs has spread across the United States, requiring consumers to shell out more money due to several factors.
“Egg prices all across the country are on the rise,” said West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt. “We’ve seen a price increase of about 49 percent over the past year, and there are a couple reasons why.”
With several issues combining to cause staggering inflation, the nail in the coffin for egg and poultry prices was a deadly pandemic that killed tens of millions of birds, mostly chickens.
High Pathogen Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been sweeping across the country since 2021, decimating the supply of egg-laying hens.
“The first factor is the outbreak of HPAI that has devastated poultry houses all across the U.S.,” Leonhardt said. “Here, in West Virginia, we have not recorded a single case of HPAI. Our farms have put into place strict biosecurity measures. That, and some good luck on our part, has kept HPAI from impacting our farmers.
“Most other states have been hit with HPAI not only in their commercial layers but backyard flocks, as well. The USDA estimates 57.6 million birds have been destroyed since the start of this outbreak in late 2021.”
The fallout of HPAI means that this running streak of high egg prices won’t likely show any sign of abating anytime soon.
“Once those birds are depopulated, the layer houses have to be thoroughly cleaned,” Leonhardt continued. “It will take four to six months for replacement birds to reach maturity where they are laying eggs. There have been numerous poultry houses that have gone out of business because of the outbreak.
“It is going to take time for the market to stabilize and for prices to come back down.”
Not all henhouses have been hit equally by HPAI, with some avoiding it altogether.
Leonhardt also noted that farmers have been scrambling to feed their flocks due to rising feed costs.
At Cal-Maine Foods, the largest egg producer in the United States, avoiding HPAI has led to record sales for the second quarter of 2023.
“We are proud to report another strong quarterly financial and operating performance for Cal-Maine Foods, with record sales and net income for the second quarter of fiscal 2023,” said Sherman Miller, chief executive officer of Cal-Maine Foods in a press release.
“These results reflect the current market environment characterized by record average selling prices for conventional eggs, primarily due to reduced supply related to the outbreak in the U.S. of HPAI and good customer demand,” Miller said.
As Cal-Maine officials noted, egg prices were also kept high by high customer demand, especially through the holidays.
“Egg prices have continued to move higher in fiscal 2023 due to the effects of a further reduction in supply related to the impact of the HPAI outbreak, combined with good customer demand buoyed in the second quarter of fiscal 2023 by typical seasonal consumer demand,” said Max Bowman, chief financial officer of Cal-Maine Foods in a press release.
“Conventional egg net average selling price per dozen increased to $2.883 compared with $1.151 a year ago.”
While supermarket eggs will likely remain much more expensive than usual, Leonhardt suggests turning to local farmers for farm fresh eggs.
Reach out to local farms to find farm fresh eggs, officials say. Eggs are also typically easy to find at most local farmers markets thanks to West Virginia’s cottage food law.
With eggs being expensive and staying that way for at least the next several months, consumers should also expect products involving eggs to cost more than normal.
This could include any baked good such as bread, but others to watch would include pasta, mayonnaise, salad dressings or even marshmallows and other candies.