When Kelly Simmons bakes her signature butter crunch cookies, she uses flour, butter, baking soda, water — and, of course, eggs.
But after egg prices skyrocketed, Simmons, owner of Aunt Kelly’s Cookies in Mount Vernon, raised prices by 20% just to stay afloat. Now sales are down, revenue is dropping and she’s been forced to cut staff.
“We are in a position where we’re going to have to figure out alternative ways of turning a profit,” she said.
Business owners like Simmons are feeling the weight of rising egg costs, and the pain is also hitting shoppers at the grocery store. Though overall grocery prices have increased, the jump in egg prices is one of the most impactful examples of inflation.
Economists, food proprietors and egg industry lobbyists say the cost hikes stem from increased demand and reduced supply as avian influenza, or bird flu, wreaks havoc on flocks.
Bird flu has been detected in at least 47 states since January 2022, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, affecting more than 58 million birds. In Maryland, there were six bird flu outbreaks in 2022, affecting commercial chicken producers and egg breeders with a combined flock size of more than 1.7 million, according to the CDC.
Experts say the conundrum may not resolve for months, leaving restaurateurs, food suppliers and shoppers no choice but to adjust what they serve, sell, buy and cook. And while some may be able to absorb the price difference, other families may be trading scrambled eggs for oatmeal and other, cheaper options.
“I’m mad, but what can I do?” said Richard Britt Sr., on his way to shop at Safeway in Baltimore’s Old Goucher neighborhood last week. “I go ahead and buy them anyway.”
Britt said he typically buys a dozen eggs a week and will continue to do so even as prices rise. But the changes are forcing Britt to budget differently, and he’s turned to food pantries for help.
What’s the deal with egg prices?
Consumers may have noticed skyrocketing prices in stores starting late last year. What once cost about $2 for a dozen eggs in December 2021 was running close to $5 in December 2022, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the Northeastern region.
From November to December 2022, egg prices increased 14.8% regionally and were 141% higher at the end of 2022 than in December 2021, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
States in the upper Midwest — and particularly Iowa, which produces most of the nation’s eggs — have seen the highest average cost increases per a dozen eggs as a result of “eggflation,” according to an analysis from Instacart, a food retailer that delivers and picks up groceries. The analysis found Maryland Instacart shoppers at the high end of the spectrum, with a 76% average price increase per a dozen eggs, and an average dozen costing about $4.78. States like Hawaii that import nearly all their eggs were found to have the highest average cost; Hawaii’s average dozen cost more than $9.
Eggs are bought and sold on the commodity market, which means the market, rather than farmers and grocers, sets the price, according to the American Egg Board, an egg farmer advocacy group. The organization said in a statement last week that the pressures of inflation and bird flu have resulted in volatility and uncertainty.
Still, demand for eggs remains high, the group said.
“Wholesale egg prices peaked in late December and have been steadily decreasing following peak holiday demand. While they typically lag by a few weeks, we anticipate that lower retail prices will follow,” the statement read.
Egg farmers must also keep pace as the price of other items — including animal feed, fuel and electricity — rise, said Karyl B. Leggio, professor of finance at Loyola University Maryland.
Such inflationary pressures and supply challenges have caused demand — and costs — to jump, Leggio said, but consumers should feel some relief soon. “With eggs, there’s a cycle of how long it takes for an egg to hatch, so within a few months prices should come down,” she said.
Egg prices have already fallen since Christmas, Leggio said, but shoppers should still brace themselves for an unusually expensive Easter.
Rising egg costs may also be a residual effect of other global events, such as the war in Ukraine, the coronavirus pandemic and inflation, said Daraius Irani, chief economist at Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute. Such events can disrupt supply chains, interfere with trade and trickle down to grocery shoppers.
Most susceptible to the burdens of soaring egg costs are fixed-income earners as well as low- and middle-income earners with families to feed, Irani said.
“Generally speaking, if there are a lot of other substitutes for the item, people will switch out quickly for it,” he said.
Chris McCrory, of Baltimore, said he’s starting to think of new ways to cook that involve fewer eggs.
Standing outside the grocery store Thursday, he said he knows external factors are affecting egg prices, “but it still hurts a little to see the price on your receipt.”
Restaurant owners are facing similar dilemmas.
“It is all about the eggs right now,” said Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, which has been fielding daily concerns from members. He said restaurants of all sizes and cuisine styles are hurting, though smaller, independent eateries with fewer menu items may be more vulnerable to financial strain.
There is no quick fix, Weston added, other than to adjust menus. He called it the latest blow to the food and restaurant industry since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Fatigued by yet another forced pivot, Danae Schrock — co-owner of Charmed., a breakfast restaurant in Mount Vernon — has responded to the egg problem by reducing operating hours and eliminating staff. She also sought out new egg suppliers after hers doubled the price of eggs, and she raised the price of most menu items somewhere between 50 cents to $1.
It’s too soon to tell if the costlier menu has deterred diners from the restaurant. But if prices continue to increase, Schrock said the business may not survive.
“Quite honestly, at this point, we’re kind of just taking it one week at a time,” she said. “Between our rent, our price of goods and our employees [pay], is pretty much it takes everything that we make every month.”
This article has been updated to correct the location of Charmed.