6 Reasons Why Eggs Are So Expensive Right Now

Wondering why egg prices are skyrocketing? A mix of reasons — avian flu, inflation and shifting demand are all partly to blame.

Closeup of a carton of eggs
Credit: Ivan Radic

Explainer Food Industry

Milk, bread and eggs. For decades, families in the United States have been flocking to grocery stores to buy these three staples. While the cost of milk and bread have seen significant increases in the last year, they don’t come close to matching the dramatic uptick in cost now for a carton of eggs.

At many grocery stores in the United States, eggs now cost more than double what they did at the beginning of 2020. Avian flu, inflation and shifting demand are all partly to blame for this monumental price increase.

What Are Egg Prices Now?

In the week of March 24, 2024, the average cost of a dozen eggs in California decreased to $2.20. By comparison, the average cost of eggs in the United States was $2.50 at the end of 2023. In January 2020, a dozen eggs cost just $1.46. In three years, the price of a dozen eggs has increased by over 50 percent. In February of 2024, there was a jump to $3 for a dozen Grade A large eggs.

Is There an Egg Shortage?

Demand for shelled eggs was highest around Easter 2020. That said, supply for eggs was impacted by the outbreak of the H1N1 virus that started in early 2022.

Why Are Eggs Still Expensive Right Now?

The current high price tag of a dozen eggs in grocery stores is due to three main factors: chickens being killed by the millions to curb the spread of disease, farmers struggling with inflation and egg manufacturers keeping prices high.

1. Avian Flu

H5N1, or avian flu, has been sweeping the country since the beginning of 2022, and has become the largest bird flu epidemic in U.S. history. As of January 2023, all but three states have had outbreaks of the disease, and over 82 million poultry birds around the U.S. have been impacted by the virus. Since 2003, 462 people have died from contracting H5N1 globally.

Among these birds are chickens and turkeys being raised for meat, as well as laying hens who are responsible for eggs. Since 2022, more than 43 million laying hens in the U.S. have either died from the virus, or been killed via mass depopulation to prevent the spread of the illness. Throughout 2022, the cost of eggs was high; the end of the year saw an additional spike in price, as the demand for eggs went up around the holiday season.

Pandemics like the avian flu are a result of the animal agriculture industry, which prioritizes profit over animal welfare and safety. Factory farms cram chickens, turkeys and other birds into small confines, which allows viruses to mutate, spread and infect easily. This is one reason why animal agriculture is a huge risk factor for future pandemics. As long as chicken farms keep their animals penned together unnaturally, diseases like avian flu will continue to pose a threat.

2. Corporate Price Gouging

Despite the mass slaughter of millions of birds due to bird flu, and inflation driving the price of eggs up for consumers, some large-scale egg producers nevertheless reported record profits in 2022. One major egg producer, Cal-Maine, which controls 20 percent of the egg market, reported profits 600 percent higher than the same quarter the year prior.

The farmer-led advocacy group Farm Action has called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the apparent discrepancies, and evaluate whether consumers are being illegally price gouged.

3. Inflation

Inflation has hit the egg industry hard and amplified the impacts of avian flu on egg prices. In addition to the cost of chicken feed going up considerably over the last few years due to drought, the cost of fuel and packaging for eggs has fluctuated, causing an increase in prices for the consumer.

Inflation isn’t just hitting grocery store shelves; the cost of chicken feed is also going up. One farmer who raises both layer hens and chickens for meat recounts that in about two years, the cost of a single pound of feed went up by 17 cents, causing him to raise the cost of the eggs he sells by 20 percent.

What Are Other Possible Reasons For High Egg Prices?

The avian flu, inflation and corporate price gouging were the three main reasons for a price increase, but there are smaller factors that can also be considered.

4. Holiday Baking

During the 2022 holiday season, the price of eggs was driven upward by an increase in demand due to holiday baking. Normally, farmers raising laying hens would have prepared by synchronizing their flock to lay a high number of eggs at that time. But from September to December 2022, the second major wave of H1N5 of the year was taking place, leading to the culling of entire flocks, and decreasing how many eggs were laid and sold.

5. Popularity of Keto Lifestyles

Certain diets encourage the consumption of a particularly high number of eggs. In the United States, roughly 13 million people are following a keto diet. Within the diet, eggs are considered an ideal source of nutrients, meaning that those who have chosen to adopt a keto diet are likely to eat a large number of eggs.

Some might assume that the same would be true of vegetarians. However, data suggests that this assumption is not necessarily definitive. A recent study published in Nutrients in 2017 found that vegetarians consumed only slightly more eggs than their meat-eating counterparts.

6. ‘Designer’ Eggs

Consumer concern for human health and the welfare of laying hens has led to the rise of so-called “designer eggs.” These eggs are packaged in plastic or cardboard, and sport terms such as “cage free,” “free range,” “organic” and “fortified.”

Because they tend to cost more to produce, these eggs are usually more expensive than their traditional counterparts. Interestingly, demand for some of these eggs, specifically cage-free eggs, has actually increased; as the average cost of eggs has gone up, they are closer to being at price parity.

What Are the Best Egg Substitutes?

Standing in front of the egg display, you’ve likely noticed refrigerated substitutes such as JustEgg and Simply Eggless. Both of these are versatile vegan egg substitutes that can be easily used just like chicken eggs.

However, the world of egg substitutes doesn’t end there. There are also powdered replacements that can be bought in grocery stores, and kitchen staples such as applesauce and cornstarch that can be added to baking recipes in the place of eggs. Most of these options are significantly cheaper than chicken eggs, yet still provide delicious outcomes.

What Are Supermarkets and Companies Doing About the Egg Situation?

The cost of eggs is not the only issue that consumers are facing. In many areas, the refrigerators that should house eggs are empty, with supermarkets unable to keep eggs on the shelves. Some supermarkets have even implemented a cap on how many cartons a consumer can purchase in their efforts to keep eggs on the shelves.

As of January 2023, egg prices have begun to go down, according to a USDA market report, although they likely won’t be back to pre-inflation prices anytime soon.

The Bottom Line

The price of eggs has been driven up by a variety of factors, most notably by inflation, and one of the most severe avian flu pandemics in recent history. These factors have caused the price of eggs to go up over the last few years.

While eggs are now harder to come by and more expensive, there are plenty of affordable alternatives that can be used in their place in your favorite recipes, without sacrificing flavor. When baking, try these 11 vegan egg alternatives, which are better for your cholesterol and for animal welfare — and potentially better for your wallet, too.

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