It’s somehow fitting that we’ve been reduced to using riddles to explain why the cost of eggs is out of control.
Egg prices, like many grocery items, skyrocketed during the pandemic primarily due to supply chain issues, but remained a cost-effective protein source. While coronavirus cases have stabilized, egg prices have continued increasing to the point that many families have had to cut them out completely, losing access to a breakfast staple and a valuable non-meat source of protein.
According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, the national average price for a dozen eggs hit $3.59 in November 2022 which is slightly more than double the $1.72 cost per dozen from a year earlier; however, year-over-year data doesn’t give the entire picture on the price of eggs.
Rather than using generic national averages for egg pricing, let’s look at a more complete history of egg prices in Florida, where it just so happens that I shop. Apparently, Floridians have some exclusive chickens living in some pricey neighborhoods providing our eggs. As the pandemic surged in the summer of 2021, a flat of eggs cost between $3.50 and $5.00. A flat contains 30 eggs, or 2.5 dozen, so that’s roughly $2.00 per dozen or 10 to16 cents per egg. These prices align with the national figures noted for 2021, so this is a good starting point. As 2021 transitioned into 2022 in Florida, a flat of eggs more than doubled in price, hitting a $7.00 to $8.00 per flat price range, or about $3.20 per dozen. Still affordable, but noteworthy to shoppers on a budget.
Moving into late 2022, eggs reached a jaw dropping $16.00 per flat in Florida, which is more than $6.40 per dozen, or in excess of 53 cents per egg in comparison with prior prices. Eventually, prices did come down some and, as of February 2023, the current price for a dozen eggs is $4.50, which is definitely better but still much higher than the national average of $3.46 per dozen. Admittedly, most of the data on Florida egg prices is anecdotal and could even be considered an isolated case, but these are real prices paid at a variety of national chain stores in the state over the period indicated.
Assuming the reality for most shoppers is likely somewhere in the range of the two data sets, that is still a massive price increase not fully explained by the pandemic or inflation. With inflation, groceries are up an average of 12%, which doesn’t come close to explaining the increase in egg prices. On a related issue, the price of chicken has not experienced these dramatic price increases, so that leaves us with a single burning question.
What on Earth Happened to All the Egg-Laying Chickens?
I recently came across an article that brought some levity to the egg situation while also shining a light on how the internet has chosen to explain the huge jump in egg prices. Social media users claim to have found a culprit for sky-high egg prices: The chicken feed did it.
Josh Kelety, a writer for the Associated Press, in a February 6, 2023 article (“Fact Focus: Egg Shortage Breeds Chicken-Feed Conspiracies”) wrote that social media users on Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter were reporting that their backyard hens had slowed down or stopped laying eggs. While this can be a common occurrence during the shorter days of winter, no one seemed to accept this train of thought as an explanation. Instead, social media users began speculating that common chicken feed products were the cause of the reduced production. Curious, I wondered whether they may be onto something that should be investigated by product testing to look for contamination; however, I soon remembered that this was social media, not a scientific journal, which meant that somebody was going to come up with a conspiracy theory instead of a scientific solution.