Why Eggs Are Expensive Right Now—And What to Cook Instead
The good news is that some inflation-hiked foods might be starting to come down in price. But if you’ve taken a scroll online in the past week, you already know the bad news: Eggs, the fourth most-purchased US grocery item, are still doggedly expensive.
By the end of last year, a dozen would set you back $4.25 on average—120% higher than the same time in 2021. That figure doesn’t reflect the reality in states like California, the most expensive US market, where shoppers were paying an average of $7.37 for 12 large Grade A eggs in December. Social media, of course, is a flood of angst. It’s all empty-shelf pictures, angry comments lobbed at egg-centric TikTok recipe developers, distressed memes, and utter disbelief at the highest egg prices in US history.
Here’s what you need to know about the price of eggs, and, importantly, what the heck home cooks can do about it.
What’s causing egg prices to rise?
Supply chain challenges and increased input costs are partially to blame. But by far the biggest culprit is disease. The worst-ever outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which was first detected in the US in February last year, has resulted in the deaths of more than 44 million egg-laying hens, according to the Agriculture Department. “The flu is the most important factor affecting egg prices,” Maro Ibarburu, a business analyst at the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University, told The Washington Post.
The virus is terrible for the infected birds, killing 90 to 100% of chickens within 48 hours, according to the CDC. But any that aren’t yet sick (but are at risk of becoming so) also need to be proactively culled to prevent the disease spreading. That’s potentially even worse for the animals, Vox reports: The two most common culling methods are suffocating the birds with foam and shutting off ventilation in coops, meaning the birds slowly die of heatstroke. So far, this kind of mass “depopulation” at farms has decreased the total egg supply by 7.5%, according to The New York Times.
Some stores around the country are experiencing an egg shortage, and others are limiting how many cartons customers can buy as a result. At one Whole Foods in Manhattan, all the cheapest eggs ($3.99 for a dozen large brown Grade A eggs) had recently sold out, according to The Times. Even at my local Harmons grocery store in Salt Lake City, which caters to a much smaller market, shelves were decimated on Sunday. All that was left were dozens of large Grade A eggs for $6 a pop—which I reluctantly paid but, like a nice new coat, cannot bring myself to actually use. In other states, such as Arizona and Massachusetts, people are cutting out the expensive middleman and buying their own chickens.
So when are prices expected to come down?
It’s complicated. Some relief for egg buyers is imminent, as demand drops from its December peak and impacted farms steadily recover from flu-related losses. Though, after facilities are sanitized and restocked with hens, it does take four or five months for a chicken to be able to lay at its peak productivity—which is about 24 eggs per month, an Agriculture Department spokesperson told The Times. So egg costs will likely remain high in the short-term.
In the Midwest, wholesale prices for eggs recently dropped by $0.13 per dozen. But retail price adjustments tend to lag behind, and longer-term shifts will depend on the flu outbreak. The disease, which is also spread by wild birds, such as turkeys and geese, might never completely be eradicated from the US poultry population, Abby Schuft, a poultry educator at the University of Minnesota Extension, told The Washington Post. “It’s sort of like our COVID,” she said. “Potentially, the major impact is probably done, but it’s likely to mutate, linger, and we’ll have to learn how to manage it.”
How are customers and businesses responding?
The internet is outraged that a long-affordable staple is now priced like luxury sheep’s feta. TikTok users posting recipe videos calling for multiple eggs are copping heat. “Step one: take out small loan to get eggs,” one user commented on a baked-egg clip requiring four (in-this-economy) sunnyboys. Another TikToker jokingly removes two individual eggs from a giant Costco carton, after homing in on a sign that says the limit per shopper is…two.
On Twitter, the discourse is grave: One user recently posted that “eggs should not cost more than the federal minimum wage.” And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders pointed a shaking-mad finger at Big Egg, which he accused of “doubling the price of eggs” despite “reporting no positive cases of avian flu.”
Offline, restaurants around the country are struggling to keep their prices steady as egg costs skyrocket. “Eggs, on average, maybe five or six years ago were about $18 a case [15 dozen],” Taki Kastanis, CEO and founder of Chicago-based restaurant chain Yolk, told The Washington Post. “Now we’re paying upward of $70 a case.”
It’s the same story at the Hungry Monkey Café in Newport, Rhode Island, where owner Jim Quinn is trying to eat the profit loss on dishes like his 15-egg King Kong omelet. “It makes it extremely challenging for a mom-and-pop [business],” he told CNN. “We’re just trying to stay alive and hope that things will come down.” Meanwhile, Ben Suh, the owner of Between the Bagel NY in Queens, New York, can’t hold out any longer. He told The New York Times he’d soon be raising the prices of egg-based items to cope with inflation.
How can home cooks deal with rising egg prices?
Given the endemic-seeming nature of the avian bird flu, experts say we might not see prices return to pre-pandemic inflation norms despite some signs of inflation softening.
Still, some smart cooking strategies can help your precious eggs go further:
- Find recipes using fewer eggs. Sure, most of us love a cheesy egg bake. But savory dishes such as creamy carbonara, veggie bowls, or bibimbap, which call for one egg or less per serving, are still plenty satisfying. Many recipes for baked goods, like those for chewy choc-chip cookies or banana bread, will also stretch your eggs further.
- Skip the eggs at breakfast. You might be attached to your morning omelet, but there are plenty of great sweet and savory recipes—such as tofu scramble, surprisingly vegan deviled ‘eggs,’ or a big batch of chia pudding—that will save your eggs (and your dough).
- Experiment with egg substitutions. Everyday staples like yogurt, applesauce, chickpea brine, or ground flaxseed can sub in for eggs in some of your favorite baking recipes. You won’t be able to replicate a fluffy chiffon cake with any of these alternatives, but denser bakes like cookies or brownies can be more forgiving.