Egg Prices Rose 4.6% in March. Here’s Why They’re So Expensive

The cost of eggs is up again due in part to a resurgence of bird flu affecting egg-laying hens.
Taryn Phaneuf
Cara Smith
By Cara Smith and  Taryn Phaneuf 
Updated
Edited by Laura McMullen

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Updated April 10, 2024, to reflect the most recent consumer price index data.

After falling for months, egg prices are rising again and could continue that way in 2024 as farmers grapple with another outbreak of bird flu.

What happened to egg prices in March?

The average cost of a dozen Grade A large eggs stayed around $3 in March, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, retrieved from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ FRED site.

The latest Consumer Price Index, or CPI, shows that the price of eggs rose 4.6% from February to March. Despite the month-to-month increase, egg prices are down 6.8% from where they were a year ago.

BLS data tracking egg prices goes back to at least 1980, when large, Grade A eggs cost $0.88 a dozen, not adjusted for inflation.

Before February 2022, the average cost of a dozen had largely stayed below $2 since March 2016.

The price of eggs more than doubled from the beginning of 2022 until hitting its peak of $4.82 per dozen in January 2023. Since then, prices fell steadily until the fall but still hadn’t reached pre-pandemic norms before ticking up again.

So, why did egg costs get so high? The pandemic and inflation play a factor, but they aren’t the real culprit.

Why are eggs so expensive?

Eggs are so expensive because of a widespread outbreak of H5N1, a highly transmissible and fatal strain of avian influenza, or bird flu. The outbreak started in early 2022 and has grown into the largest bird flu outbreak in U.S. history.

The outbreak reduced the egg supply, while demand remained consistent, leading to higher prices.

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Prices eased as the number of bird flu cases declined in 2023, with no infections reported from May through September.

The relief was relatively short-lived, though. Egg producers reported a resurgence of the virus starting in November 2023. The latest outbreak has claimed 13.64 million egg-laying hens so far, according to the USDA’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report released in February.

As a result, prices started to rise again at the end of 2023. The USDA expects prices to continue climbing in 2024.

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Why is there an egg shortage?

There’s an egg shortage because the ongoing bird flu outbreak reduced the number of egg-laying chickens. As of April 10, the virus has affected more than 85.87 million birds in the U.S. since January 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the birds affected were egg-laying hens.

New bird flu cases continue to be reported by major U.S. egg producers. Most recently:

  • Cal-Maine Foods Inc., the largest U.S. egg producer, announced on April 2 that it had found cases of bird flu in chickens at a plant in Texas. More than 1.6 million egg-laying hens and 337,000 juvenile chickens were affected at the Texas plant — or about 3.6% of the company’s total flocks, Cal-Maine said in a news release.

  • The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development reportedly found cases of bird flu at Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, another major U.S. egg producer based in Ionia County, Michigan. The department didn’t specify how many affected birds were egg-laying hens, according to the Associated Press.

Why are egg prices so high in California?

A dozen large white cage-free eggs cost about $3.10 per dozen in California, according to USDA market data released April 5.

Egg prices have been high in California because a string of bird flu cases in December and January were concentrated in the state. It’s possible retailers could’ve made up the losses with eggs from outside the state, but California law limits their alternatives.

In 2018, California voters passed a ballot measure setting high standards for farm animal welfare. That included requiring that only cage-free eggs be sold in the state. The share of egg layers raised in cage-free conditions has been growing, but they still make up less than half of the national population. And many of them are raised in California. USDA data show the national inventory of cage-free eggs took a big hit when California egg producers reported cases of bird flu.

Because of the diminished supply of cage-free eggs, prices went up. Weekly price data from the USDA shows California egg prices (meaning, cage-free egg prices) peaked at $5.59 per dozen during the week of Feb. 9. Since then, the supply of cage-free eggs has largely recovered, according to the USDA. That has eased egg prices in California.

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