Eggs may appear to be a rare commodity these days, judging by their scarcity at grocery stores, but there are plenty for everyone.
“While it seems like there is a shortage of eggs, actually the supply is pretty good,” said Gregory Martin, a poultry specialist with Penn State Extension. “What is the problem? It’s a distribution issue.”
It’s a distribution issue exacerbated by panic buying.
Martin talks to suppliers, so he’s confident that there’s no shortage. But, he said, stores aren’t ordering enough to keep up with heightened demand.
Chris Pierce, owner of Heritage Poultry Management Services in Annville, Pennsylvania, agrees.
“Before we went into the pandemic, we were in an oversupply,” he said.
Then egg suppliers quickly cleaned out any excess as demand increased rapidly.
“Everything being produced was going out the doors to the demand at the retail market,” he said.
But eggs aren’t always the highest priority at distribution centers.
Eggs typically go from the producer to the distributor, and then from the distributor to the retail outlets. As people panic shop at grocery stores, distributors fill their trucks with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, leaving little room for eggs.
“It’s a domino effect,” Martin said. “There’s a run on the store for eggs, and all the eggs are sold. It takes a while for them to get back up to speed again.”
Multiple weeks of panic buying is what’s causing the disparity between supply and demand.
“People need to stop hoarding,” Martin said. “That’s really an important thing to say. They need to stop hoarding. Only buy what you need to have.”
On top of people hoarding eggs because of the pandemic, this is the biggest time of year for egg farmers — Easter.
“Easter for an egg farmer is kind of like Christmas for everybody else,” Martin said. “It’s the time to shine.”
Easter egg hunts and decorating eggs are popular activities this time of year, and Pierce said they might even be more popular now since many families are staying home and looking for activities to do.
Eggs are also a traditional part of the Passover Seder.
In addition to panic buying and holiday traditions, many people are cooking and baking more now that they are staying home.
“The in-home consumption of eggs is very high for all families across the United States,” Pierce said. “I think we saw more people buying larger quantities of eggs to prepare for being home 24 hours a day. They’re going to be cooking all their meals and baking.”
Because stores are struggling with egg inventory, Martin said people are buying different-sized eggs than what they would typically get. Most recipes call for large eggs, which are hard to find, so medium and jumbo eggs are moving just as fast.
Pierce said all types of eggs, regardless of size or production method, have seen an increase in demand.
It appears the panic spree might be slowing. Pierce said demand has already come down since people first started panic buying, but it is still higher than pre-pandemic levels.
He’s hopeful that after the pandemic starts to wind down, egg demand will still be high.
“Being a producer, I’m actually very confident that we’re going to see an increase of per capita consumption post-pandemic.” he said.
He feels that since families are now getting used to cooking and baking more at home, they will maintain some of those habits after the pandemic subsides.
Higher demand for eggs has brought higher retail prices. Martin said eggs have been going for $2.30 at the store, which he said is high for this time of year.
Pierce said it’s important for consumers to know that even though egg prices are up, farmers are not price gouging. Eggs are sold at a daily market quotation, and the higher pricing is just following the market quotation.
As for the farmers themselves, Martin said that for the most part, it’s business as usual, with extra safety precautions thrown in.
“It’s more of a people problem than a bird problem,” Martin said. “The COVID-19 doesn’t affect birds.”
There is a type of coronavirus that does affect chickens, but not the COVID-19 that is spreading now.
Martin said that any time a farmer is within 6 feet of someone, like an employee or a delivery person, they should be wearing a mask.
“If they’re working alone on the farm, they should be OK with just normal biosecurity that they have in place,” he said.
With farmers still working just as hard — or harder — than ever, Pierce is hopeful that consumers will take notice.
“I’m very optimistic and hopeful that the non-farming community — the 98% that’s out there — is going to have a deeper respect and appreciation for America’s farmers (who) have continued to work as hard today as they were before the pandemic to feed our nation,” he said.