By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Betty Lewis of Cheyenne has a tradition that costs her a couple to three dozen eggs a week.
Lewis bakes plates of brownies every week for people who have gone out of their way to help her.
“I haven’t found anyone who has refused brownies,” she said. “I don’t care what your diet is. It’s brownies. You can always find someone to give them to.”
But lately her brownie-baking habit has become a lot more difficult. Not only are eggs harder to find, but they’ve become a lot more expensive, too.
Eggs are topping the inflation charts lately. For the year through November, prices have jumped 49%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the escalation is likely not over.
Avian Flu A Big Factor
Part of the price increase is because of a deadly avian flu that has decimated poultry flocks across the nation. Egg-laying hens have been particularly hard hit.
Avian flu has affected nearly every state this year, killing tens of millions of chickens and turkeys. According to USDA statistics, 57.8 million birds have been affected by avian flu in 2022 through Dec. 28. Those figures include chickens, turkeys and ducks.
Of those, 40 million birds were egg-laying hens. That has dropped the population of egg-laying hens by 5% year over year, USDA reports.
USDA’s production forecast for table eggs has meanwhile been revised downward recently for 2023, suggesting supply problems could persist well into the first quarter of the new year, and high prices along with it.
But avian flu is not the only factor in play.
Input costs have been rising as well, including energy and higher feed costs.
On top of that, it’s the annual baking season when more people are trying to bake holiday cookies, cakes and – yes – brownies.
Great Protein For A Great Price
Eggs have historically been an exceptionally good value, packing a lot of protein and nutrition into prices that ranged from a mere 60 cents a dozen in 1970 up to a paltry 91 cents a dozen in 2000, or $1.35 in today’s dollars, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
In 2000, egg prices started to steadily increase, peaking at $2.97 a dozen in 2015 after a significant bird flu outbreak killed 50.5 million birds, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics.
By 2016, prices had fallen back to a low of $1.23, according to Bureau of Labor statistics. And they remained stable until about 2018, after another bout with bird flu.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, prices peaked yet again amid supply chain issues, averaging a couple bucks a dozen.
They appeared on track to stabilize in 2021, but then another round of bird flu swept through the country instead.
Finding The Right Egg Difficult
Egg prices Friday afternoon at the Dell Range Walmart in Cheyenne were more than $5 a dozen, even for store brands, which typically are less expensive.
A dozen Great Value eggs were $5.02, or 41.8 cents an egg.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Lewis said, looking at a shelf nearly empty of eggs.
Lewis was hoping for jumbo-size eggs, which is what she normally buys for her brownie baking sprees. There were none to be had.
“It’s just way out,” she said, finally settling on a Great Value carton of 18 extra large eggs costing $8.72.
“Eggs are a basic,” she said. “Everyone needs eggs. They’re healthy and cheap protein.”