Egg Prices Normalizing

Get ready for the surprise supermarket deal of the summer: eggs.

Retail egg prices are on track to return to historic averages in the coming months, supermarket executives said, after the deadliest avian influenza outbreak in U.S. history helped push prices above $4 a dozen in January. 

Now, egg supplies have bounced back, industry officials and farmers say, as the disease’s spread has slowed and flocks of laying hens have been rebuilt. At supermarket chains such as New York-based Tops Markets, shoppers recently saw eggs on sale for the first time in months. 

“Prices should all be under $2 a dozen,” said Sue Durfee, who oversees eggs, dairy and other items at Tops. “We plan on trying to promote them once or twice a month.” The company recently offered eggs at a discounted $1.49 a dozen, and plans to run sales at $1.29 in the coming months, she said, after not giving discounts on eggs in more than a year.

Eggs became one of the most striking examples of U.S. food inflation in late 2022 as prices surged more than 30% last year, outpacing all other grocery items, according to market research firm Circana Group.

Supermarket executives and egg companies attributed the price surge to the spread of highly pathogenic avian flu, which has killed about 59 million birds in the U.S. since February 2022. The outbreak cut U.S. egg inventories by 29% in the final week of December, compared with the beginning of 2022, according to the USDA, and prompted farmers and egg companies to spend millions of dollars on measures to prevent the virus’ spread. 

Some grocers said they lost money on eggs over the past year as they kept prices low to stay competitive. Many supermarkets avoided discounting eggs because they didn’t want to run out, and some operators set purchase limits. 

New cases of bird flu have waned over the past few months. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported two cases in commercial farms in April, compared with 106 in April 2022. Meanwhile, flocks have been rebuilt. The USDA estimated the total egg-laying hen population in the U.S. was up 5% in May compared with the prior year, and 1% higher than the previous month. 

After peaking in December, wholesale prices of Midwest large eggs were $1.28 a dozen last week, according to research firm Urner Barry. 

Average retail prices were $2.70 a dozen at the end of April, according to the most recent available data from research firm NIQ, compared with a five-year high of more than $4 in January and below $2 before the bird flu affected inventory. 

For egg farmers, the rapid price drop has squeezed profits, while protecting flocks from infection has added new expenses. 

“It’s cratered the market,” said Glenn Hickman, chief executive of Hickman’s Egg Ranch in Arizona. “Everybody in the egg business is losing money.”

Agriculture industry officials said chickens and the egg market remain at risk of a bird flu rebound. John Clifford, a former U.S. chief veterinary officer, said the recent drop in cases could be attributed to influenza-carrying wild birds building up immunity, reduced migration activity or just plain luck.

“We’ll see what happens in the fall with migration,” said Clifford, who oversaw a 2015 avian flu outbreak that killed about 50 million birds.

Grocery executives said they are hopeful that lower egg prices are here to stay, but remain on guard for further outbreaks that might again upend the market. 

“I assume things will get back to some type of normalcy,” said Mike Morrison, store manager of Warren’s Plaza IGA in Marietta, Ohio, where four dozen eggs were selling for $5 recently. “That’s the hope anyway.”