Add record prices for Easter eggs to the list of annoyances spawned by this year’s frigid U.S. winter.
Why eggs? Because when it’s cold out, consumers want to poach, fry and scramble them in the mornings for a hot breakfast, so says commodity researcher Urner Barry. All that cracking means hens are having a hard time keeping up with demand, especially as exports surge to Canada and Mexico. Wholesale U.S. prices are at the highest ever leading into Easter, according to Urner Barry, which has been tracking the data since 1858.
Parts of the U.S. suffered the coldest February in decades, with the Northeast the most frigid since 1934. Even amid the start of spring in March, more than 800 records were broken across the country for low temperatures, according to the National Climatic Data Center. With protein-heavy diets gaining popularity, Americans in 2015 will eat the most eggs per person in three decades, government data show.
“There’s no doubt it’s a great time to be in the egg business, because eggs are hot,” said Kevin Burkum, a senior vice president of the Park Ridge, Illinois-based American Egg Board. “With the protein mega-trend, there’s a huge sustained interest.”
Prices typically rise before Easter, the biggest day of the year for eggs, as consumers indulge in baking, go out for brunch and decorate eggs. Americans will eat 6.3 billion eggs in the month leading up to the holiday, which falls on April 5, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Wholesale-egg prices reached $1.85 a dozen on March 26, according to Bayville, New Jersey-based Urner Barry. Prices are up about 46 percent from 2014, and have more than doubled from 87 cents five years ago. Last year, Easter fell on April 20, and prices reached a seasonal peak of $1.80 leading into the holiday.
Egg costs are rising at a time when most raw materials are in bear markets. The Bloomberg Commodity Index of 22 components slumped 26 percent in the past year.
The Easter bump for prices may be short-lived as producers expand hen flocks and cheap grain reduces feed costs. Egg output will climb 1.1 percent in 2015 to 8.4 billion cases, the USDA estimates. A case contains 12. Prices will average about $1.30 per dozen this year, down from $1.423 in 2014, the agency forecasts.
While supplies are up, strong domestic and export demand is keeping prices supported, according to Maro Ibarburu, an analyst at the Ames, Iowa-based Egg Industry Center. U.S. consumption will rise to 264 eggs a person in 2015, the USDA estimates, the highest since 1982.
“Eggs have moved to the forefront, they’re showing up not only at breakfast, but also at lunch and dinner and on burgers,” Brian Moscogiuri, a market reporter for Urner Barry, said in a telephone interview.
More domestic eggs are getting shipped out. U.S. egg exports reached a record 395.4 million cases in 2014, and will expand to 405 million this year, the government estimates. Demand is increasing from Canada and Mexico, where suppliers are grappling with shortfalls caused by avian influenza, said James Sumner, the president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council.
Despite the rise in prices, Martial Noguier, owner of the French restaurant Bistronomic in Chicago, plans to crack 1,500 eggs to make hollandaise, crepes and asparagus omelettes for Easter brunch this Sunday.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen eggs so expensive,” said Noguier, who opened the restaurant five years ago. “It’s Easter, so I have to use eggs. I can’t change the menu.”
(An earlier version of this story corrected the seventh paragraph to show output in billion cases, not million.)