Even as inflation begins to level off, the cost of eggs is soaring.
Bird flu across the country is the prime suspect for the high-flying problem. Buyers are flocking to other options, and some politicians are clucking.
Egg prices jumped 11.1% from November to December and were up 59.9% from December 2021, according to the federal Consumer Price Index. The index for all items dropped 0.1% from November to December, while grocery store food overall went up just 0.2%.
That has some consumers changing how they shop.
Patty White, 44, of Orlando, said she normally buys eggs at Aldi where she was used to paying about $2 for a dozen, a figure that she recalls has gotten closer to $5 recently. But on a recent trip to Publix, White and her partner found they could get better eggs for about $5.50.
“We saw that we could get the free-range, organic, really pretty eggs for like 10 cents more [than normal eggs at Publix] so why wouldn’t we?” White said.
Ocoee’s Lake Meadow Naturals farm, which sells its eggs to Central Florida restaurants such as Prato and Swine & Sons in Winter Park, can’t keep up with growing demand and isn’t taking on new customers, owner Dale Volkert said.
He said he believes that demand for his cage-free eggs has surged because commodity eggs, or the type people normally find at the grocery store, have gone up so much in price.
“Commodity eggs at the store now are more expensive than cage-free,” Volkert said.
But bird flu is also making it harder for Volkert to get more chickens.
The virus has been confirmed in 308 commercial and 423 backyard flocks across the country, affecting 57.87 million birds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No commercial flocks in Florida have been stricken, but 23 backyard flocks have been.
Lake Meadow Naturals typically has 12,000 to 15,000 egg-laying chickens, and Volkert wants to increase that to 18,000 to 20,000, he said. He hopes to have the new chickens by summer but is cautious.
“The unknowns are our biggest fear right now,” Volkert said.
He said he is also facing higher costs as feed, labor and even egg cartons have all gone up in price. He’s working to protect his birds from avian influenza by restricting who can enter his chicken houses and cutting back on how much time his animals spend outside.
At an Orlando Publix on Tuesday, a dozen large, store-brand eggs cost $5.79, more than the $3.49 price per pound of boneless skinless chicken thighs or the $4.99 price per pound of ground chuck beef. At a Winter Park Publix, the price for 18 extra large eggs was $8.54.
Representatives for Lakeland-based Publix did not respond to questions from the Orlando Sentinel.
Winn-Dixie’s Jacksonville owner Southeastern Grocers is navigating the national supply chain challenges with eggs and “the further pressures resulting from the recent outbreak of avian flu,” said a statement from Meredith Hurley, senior director for communications and community.
“We fully understand that egg prices are a big challenge for customers right now, and we are doing all that we can to keep prices as low as possible,” the statement said. “We will continue to work closely with our supplier partners and distribution centers while we await a return to normal market conditions.”
Florida Democratic House Leader Fentrice Driskell tied the high prices of eggs to the pandemic as she urged Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday to focus more on strengthening public health surveillance instead of attacking “woke Wall Street bankers” and other culture war issues.
“Gov. DeSantis could and should be pushing for restoring all of the positions we have lost in recent years in the field of public health,” the Tampa state representative said. “Health surveillance is critical, and doing it wrong can cost lives, or as we see in the case of grocery store shelves, cost us money on everyday goods like eggs.”
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, an egg farmer himself, also acknowledged the problem.
“The avian flu has taken out about 50 million birds this year, so it’s simple supply and demand,” Simpson said Tuesday after a Cabinet meeting with DeSantis. “We need to be very prudent. If you have backyard chickens, if you see illnesses within those birds, that needs to be reported very quickly. The way that you prevent spread is by eliminating the spread.”