First Bird Flu, Now Holiday Baking Seen Boosting Egg Prices

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U.S. egg prices, already at a record after an outbreak of avian influenza earlier this year, will rise even higher in the fall with the onset of the so-called holiday baking season, according to one supplier.

While prices are stabilizing now, supplies of eggs won’t recover until farms affected by bird flu come back online, which may take about 18 months, said Charles Lanktree, chief executive officer of Eggland’s Best Inc.

In November with colder temperatures, Americans will fire up their ovens to bake holiday fare such as Christmas cookies, weakening supplies and lifting prices again, he said Monday in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Avian influenza killed more than 48 million fowl in the six months through mid-June, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Iowa, the country’s largest egg producer, lost almost 32 million birds, most of them egg-laying chickens. That drove U.S. retail egg prices to a record $2.57 a dozen in June, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

“Prices will go up again,” said Lanktree, whose Malvern, Pa.-based company works with producers nationwide to distribute eggs to retail grocery stores. The industry is “moving as fast and as diligently as they can to get back and have more birds.”

California prices are higher than the rest of the nation, because a law giving egg-laying chickens more space in cages is raising production costs, according to Lanktree. U.S. prices for a dozen Eggland’s Best eggs currently ranges from $2.99 up to $4.99 in California.

While there have been no new outbreaks of the disease since June 17, the industry is concerned with the onset of cold weather in the fall. Lanktree said producers have taken all possible steps to ensure biosecurity.

Cal-Maine Foods Inc., the largest U.S. egg supplier, rose 6 percent to $54.58 in New York. The shares have advanced 40 percent this year.

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