Feb 1, 2023

What’s Causing the Price of Eggs to Skyrocket Nationwide Transcript

What's Causing the Price of Eggs to Skyrocket Nationwide Transcript
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Prices at the grocery store have risen for many foods, but the cost of eggs climbed the most in the last year and consumers have scrambled to keep up. What’s behind so-called Eggflation? Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Prices have risen for lots of foods, but the cost of eggs climbed the most in the last year and consumers and businesses have scrambled to keep up. What’s behind so-called eggflation? Economics correspondent Paul Solomon takes a look.

Speaker 2 (00:15):

Here’s [inaudible 00:00:16].

Speaker 3 (00:16):

Thank you.

Paul Solomon (00:17):

Breakfast time at In A Pickle in Waltham, Massachusetts, which means eggs.

Tim Burke (00:23):

I would say 70% of our menu either has eggs in it or revolves around eggs or is egg centric in some way. So omelets, scrambled, it’s in our pancake mix and our waffle mix and the french toast mix. People even put eggs on hamburgers too, so it even crosses over into lunch. We have hard boiled eggs in our salads. Just a lot of eggs.

Paul Solomon (00:46):

Eggs that says chef owner Tim Burke have, yeah, you know what’s coming. Put him in a pickle.

Tim Burke (00:52):

The egg prices are just about 220% year over year right now.

Paul Solomon (00:57):

And that’s wholesale prices, forcing Burke to hike his menu so he doesn’t end up in the hole.

Tim Burke (01:02):

We only went up 5% though, and we priced our eggs out at 15 cents an egg, but they’re 50 cents an egg in reality. So we’re kind of taking a hit in our margins and we’re just going to hope for the best that it comes down.

Paul Solomon (01:14):

But why not raise it commensurate with the actual cost to you?

Tim Burke (01:19):

We wouldn’t have many customers walk through the door.

Paul Solomon (01:22):

So eggs here have become precious.

Tim Burke (01:25):

And we do have to make our employees aware that this is something, this is a commodity that we need to really handle a bit more carefully.

Paul Solomon (01:32):

Don’t drop the eggs.

Tim Burke (01:33):


Paul Solomon (01:34):

Do you tell them?

Tim Burke (01:35):

Yeah, of course.

Paul Solomon (01:36):

You tell them not to drop the eggs?

Tim Burke (01:38):

Before, when we would mess up an egg or an egg would break, it was no big deal, we have another one. Now it’s like, oh, we’re mourning that egg.

Paul Solomon (01:46):

Meanwhile, at the retail grocery store, egg prices soared 60% in 2022 alone, more than any other food item, prompting memes all over the internet. And one farm group lodges a common complaint. Egg producers are price gouging.

Economist Brian Ernest says consumers really notice the price hike.

Brian Ernest (02:07):

On average, consumers are buying roughly 280 eggs a year. Folks always know the last price that they paid for a gallon of gas, and they typically know the last price they paid for a dozen eggs.

Paul Solomon (02:19):

Multiple factors are driving today’s prices, says poultry educator Abby Schuft, including…

Abby Schuft (02:25):

Higher feed prices, our grain prices. Our grain markets have hit some record highs over the last several months. Transportation costs, labor shortages as well as labor wages. Other inputs like our energy to heat barns. All of those inputs have increased over the year and have really made an impact just on production.

Paul Solomon (02:49):

But the biggest driver of eggflation is the worst outbreak of avian flu ever, says Brian Ernest.

Brian Ernest (02:55):

We’ve seen deep populations upwards of 40 million layers over the last year.

Paul Solomon (03:01):

Out of some 300 million layers or hens.

Brian Ernest (03:05):

You’re talking about 15% of overall production has been impacted by avian influenza this past year.

Paul Solomon (03:11):

And why do they have to kill millions of birds?

Brian Ernest (03:15):

So the thought process is to try and stamp out the spread because it is so deadly to the birds. They end up depopulating the entire farm itself and putting up a perimeter around the area.

Paul Solomon (03:29):

Eggflation isn’t hurting everyone, though.

Dan Wild (03:31):

These are going to be the pullets that we sell in here

Paul Solomon (03:34):

At the Waltham Agway store, the hens are healthy and flying, well, shuffling off the shelf.

Hi guys. Chickens are Dan Wild’s bread and butter.

Dan Wild (03:47):

The hens here, $30 each. Now they’ll be laying eggs at around 18 weeks.

Paul Solomon (03:52):

But this flock is dwindling.

Dan Wild (03:54):

There was 100 chickens in that three weeks ago now there’s about six or seven.

Paul Solomon (03:59):

Why? There’s been a chicken run. Customers flocking to buy do-it-yourself layers.

Dan Wild (04:06):

Because the egg prices, everyone’s thinking I need to get chickens.

Paul Solomon (04:10):

How much has your business increased once egg prices started skyrocketing?

Dan Wild (04:15):

45% at least. I think the numbers on chicken sales this year with the egg prices is going to be phenomenal.

Paul Solomon (04:22):

Turkeys and turkey eggs are also popular, though here, they’ll never sell their stud Edgar, an indoor regular. But also in high demand, chicks.

This is a Rhode Island Red?

Dan Wild (04:34):

Rhode Island Red.

Paul Solomon (04:36):

These two day olds sell for eight bucks a piece.

Dan Wild (04:39):

So we’ve already sold about 25 when they came in yesterday and by this weekend, hopefully we’ll be down to almost empty.

Paul Solomon (04:48):

Now, egg prices have ebbed since peaking in December, but economist Ernest thinks they will stay high.

Brian Ernest (04:55):

Consumers will continue to see higher prices for the eggs that they’re buying at grocery store chains.

Paul Solomon (05:01):

Especially since avian flu remains an existential threat, says Abby Schuft.

Abby Schuft (05:06):

It looks like it will be here for the foreseeable future.

Paul Solomon (05:11):

But egg production isn’t necessarily a harbinger of persistent overall inflation, says economic historian Adam Tooze.

Adam Tooze (05:19):

You would need a series of really negative shots like this, more and more avian flu to kill more and more birds. You would need the price of bird feed to continuously rise.

Otherwise, what this does is to shock the cost of living once and very grievously. And for people on low incomes, quite seriously, it’s quite difficult to afford eggs right now. But it doesn’t result in cumulative inflation, which is a 5% increase or a 10% increase every year, year on year on year on year.

Paul Solomon (05:48):

That doesn’t mean egg consumers won’t continue to feel the pinch for quite a while. Look, this is pecking me here. That actually hurts. Stop it.

As for the folks buying chickens to lay at home, says Tooze, if you add your own labor to the initial investment…

Adam Tooze (06:05):

You better have some pretty good reasons for doing that because from an economic point of view, it makes no sense.

Paul Solomon (06:11):

Unless in the broader sense of economic benefits, you get value from bonding with the animals.

I hear you have very large eggs.

For the PBS news hour, Paul Solomon trying to do so myself in Waltham, Massachusetts.


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