(Egg)shell shock: Avian flu, gas prices and more contributing to high price of eggs


Staff Writer

Published: 01-26-2023 7:49 PM

The United States is experiencing the deadliest bird flu outbreak in its history, labor costs continue to increase and the national average price of gas hovers around $3.40 per gallon.

But what’s that got to do with the price of eggs? It turns out, everything, actually.

The cost to produce and transport eggs has reached historic highs, and egg farmers say they have little choice but to try to recoup some of the losses with their retail prices. States in the Midwest have seen the largest increases and though the highest prices for a dozen eggs are in Hawaii and Florida, that doesn’t mean Massachusetts is immune to what some have dubbed “eggflation.”

“We have risen our prices, back in October. That’s what we’ve done in direct correlation with (the cost of) everything going up,” said Anne Diemand Bucci, who co-owns Diemand Farm in Wendell with siblings Peter and Faith and daughter Tessa White-Diemand. She said price hikes have impacted everything from insurance to utilities to the bedding for coops.

“I do want to say a dozen eggs is still cheaper than a large cappuccino, or whatever it is, at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts,” Diemand Bucci said with a laugh.

Nationwide, egg prices in December rose 60% from a year earlier, according to Consumer Price Index data released this month.

Diemand Bucci and White-Diemand said a dozen large eggs retail for $6 at their farm store, and they are also available at grocery stores in the area. Diemand Bucci said workers’ salaries have gone up, and chicks that once cost 59 cents are now more than $2. She said this can be attributed to the devastating avian flu outbreak.

According to CNBC.com, the bird flu outbreak has killed millions of egg-laying hens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports this highly pathogenic virus kills 90% to 100% of chickens within 48 hours of infection.

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White-Diemand said another contributing factor to the farm’s egg prices is the passage of Question 3 in the 2016 election in Massachusetts. Effective as of Jan. 1 last year, the state law makes it illegal for any farm owner or operator to “knowingly cause any covered animal to be confined in a cruel manner,” and for any business in the state to buy eggs, pork or veal “that the business owner or operator knows or should know is the product of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.”

The law also prohibits any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining egg-laying hens in a way that prevents them from “lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs or turning around.”

Because the pens are now spread over a wider area, White-Diemand said, the law has resulted in the use of more bedding and has lengthened the amount of time it takes to collect eggs from the farm’s roughly 1,500 egg-laying hens. This is Diemand Farm’s third year of going cage-free.

The mother and daughter said most customers have been understanding and gracious, though some have grumbled about the jump in prices.

“And that’s understandable. Not everybody can handle price increases,” White-Diemand said, adding the farm hates raising its prices. “If we had to continue at this rate, I honestly don’t know how we would do it. We have to hope it’s going to even out.”

One of the stores Diemand Farm sells to is Food City in Turners Falls, where Aiden Verdery said price hikes have been dizzying in the short time he has managed the dairy department.

“I took over this job on Halloween and since then they’ve just gone up, probably about $3 per 18-pack and $1.50 to $2 per dozen. Over the past week and a half, they’ve started to go down again but it’s just been obnoxious,” Verdery said, adding that the problem is affecting the supply chain. “The customers aren’t happy. I’m not happy, because ... I ordered 40 cases of eggs for today and I got 10.

“The prices are up and the availability is down, and it’s just making it really, really tough to feel like I’m doing a good job at my job,” he said.

Verdery said Food City would typically carry five brands of eggs, but now has only Diemand Farm and Best Yet. He frequently hears from customers who complain about the high cost of eggs.

“It was pretty nice last week, when I got to drop the prices a little bit,” he said, “because the day I dropped them they were flying off the shelves.”

Matthew Deane, president of Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield, said prices are negatively affecting the sale of eggs at the store started by his grandfather. Deane said he has heard the high costs attributed to a variety of causes, from cage-free laws to the avian flu to labor costs, as well as the increased price of the gas needed to transport eggs from farms to retailers.

“A little bit of everything,” Deane said.

He mentioned customers were initially flustered by the high prices but have appeared to become more numb to it. His store sells 12 brands of eggs, including Diemand Farm. Foster’s used to also sell duck eggs but stopped because they did not sell particularly well.

Roxie Pin, who owns Rockhouse Ridge Farm in Huntington with husband Clem, said a dozen eggs from her business go for $5, up from $3.50 a year ago. However, she said this is minuscule compared to the prices in some supermarkets.

“When our eggs are lower than what’s in the store, then people come out of the woodwork,” she said. “Our usual customer base has expanded.”

The Pins’ farm also sells Christmas trees and honey as well as lotions, balms, soaps, candles and other apiary-related products. Roxie Pin explained their 55 hens provide more of a public service than a source of income.

“We hesitate to raise the price, but that’s what happens,” she said, adding that the costs of heat, grain and shavings have increased considerably. “We like providing fresh eggs. The eggs are what keep people coming in on a weekly basis.”

She also said she doesn’t think the issue is as bad in Massachusetts as it is in the central United States.

The BBC reports the high cost of eggs has resulted in some attempting to sneak them across the border from Mexico or Canada, where they can be bought for half the price. But attempts to smuggle eggs can lead to fines of up to $10,000, the news service reported, and seizures at border posts have more than doubled.

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.