With egg prices continuing to push $6 a dozen throughout the Baltimore region this week, consumers are starting to avoid the incredible, edible expense.
“We just couldn’t afford them,” said H.B. Graham, an Elkridge resident shopping at Aldi’s on Washington Boulevard in Baltimore this week.
“They’re definitely outrageous,” Graham said, adding that he and his family are now getting their protein from other sources, like meat. “We usually use the eggs to do our breakfast, lunch and dinner. (We’re) praying that things simmer back down or at least get some other resources or help.”
High egg prices have been driven by an avian flu catastrophe that forced the premature slaughter of 44 million egg laying birds. However, a sampling of prices shows that some stores are still making profits of up to 30 percent per dozen eggs sold.
A sampling of four grocery stores in the Baltimore region this week revealed a wide variance in prices, with the majority being over $5 for a dozen eggs. Costco on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie was selling a bulk purchase of 5 dozen eggs for $3.19 a dozen. LA Mart – an international market located on West Patapsco Avenue in Baltimore – was selling Grade A large eggs for $5.49 a dozen. Aldi’s grocery on Washington Boulevard in Baltimore was selling eggs for $4.99 per dozen. And ShopRite supermarket on Liberty Heights Ave. in Howard Park had the highest prices, at $5.99 a dozen.
The January 18 United States Department of Agriculture egg-market report showed that most egg retailers were buying a dozen eggs in the Northeast for $3.93 to $3.97 per dozen. In the Southeastern region that number is $4.18 to $4.21.
Based on those wholesale figures, Aldi’s is making at least 15 percent profit per carton of eggs. If the Shop Rite store was still buying their eggs at that higher $4.21 price, they would be making a 29 percent profit on a dozen eggs.
Another shopper at the Aldi’s Graham was at said she had seen the eggs there for sale just a few weeks ago at $4.08 per dozen.
“I’m not happy about it,” said T. Scott of Baltimore, while shopping at the Shop Rite. “But we have to ride the wave until everything settles. “
She said she has to endure the hike, because she uses eggs for what she cooks, but that the recent rise was “rather shocking.”
“It’s five dollars a dozen,” she said. “What the heck happened?”
Maryland acting Agriculture Secretary Steven Connelly said Wednesday that multiple factors are driving the increase, but the slaughter of millions of birds was likely the biggest. He said it can take up to 7 months to empty a poultry barn and disinfect it after a flu outbreak before full production returns. Egg production was currently down by 7.5 percent.
The avian influenza virus has caused farmers to kill 57 million individual poultry-flock birds here due to the outbreak, and untold number of wild birds have died. Of those 44 million are egg-layers.
According to United Egg Producers, a trade association for commercial egg farmers, there were 325 million egg-laying chickens in America at the end of 2020. So the flu-related slaughter has dropped the number by about 14 percent.
“Number one, everything that egg producers are buying – feed costs are up, carton costs are up, labor costs are up, plus the real driving force is that we’ve had avian influenza across the United States,” Connelly said.
The loss in egg layers, however significant, may not fully explain the hike in pricing. How does a 14 percent drop in egg-laying labor translate into some eggs now being sold for $5.99 per dozen?
The Shop RIte was contacted for comment, but a manager declined. Aldi’s phone number led to a corporate service line with no human customer service access. Multiple Maryland egg distribution companies were contacted, but only one responded, an employee citing the subject as too “volatile” to discuss.
Connelly was open about the issue, but doesn’t see an immediate solution. “I think we’re going to be dealing with it again this year,” he said. “I hope not but the outbreaks follow the wild nesting migration. Sometimes the things that people use the most, like eggs, and gas, and milk and bread–when prices go up, it hits their pocket book the hardest.”