KANSAS CITY — Retail and processing egg prices have soared amid tight supplies as consumers swoop eggs off grocery shelves in anticipation of more at-home meals over an extended period in efforts to avoid getting or to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“If it ends up in a grocery store, they’re taking it,” one Midwest egg processor said of egg products sold to food manufacturers. He estimated sales from his plant had soared as much as 200% for products aimed at grocery stores, while products targeting restaurants, schools, arenas, caterers and the like were down 75% or more in some cases.
“Their business has just evaporated,” he said.
The change in sales reflects the shift in consumer eating patterns to significantly more at-home meals and significantly fewer away-from-home meals during the pandemic.
Eggs were one of the staples, along with sugar, flour, pasta, beans, rice, soup and certain other items that were flying off grocery shelves as consumers stocked up on, and in some cases hoarded, because of COVID-19.
“National f.o.b. shell egg weighted average prices are sharply higher for extra large and large with the balance of sizes not well tested,” the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service said on March 19. “The undertone is sharply higher. Retail demand is good to very good. Offerings are light to very light. Supplies are moderate to short of current needs.”
The USDA reported prices for shell eggs going to retail surged 21¢ to 55¢ a dozen depending on size and region on March 16, with gains of about 10¢ to 20¢ a dozen daily as the week progressed.
Processing egg prices were up about 3¢ a dozen last week after jumping 20¢ a dozen the prior week. Breaking stock prices were up about 170% from both late January lows and from a year ago.
“The reason breaking stock hasn’t gone up more is that there is no breaking stock. No offers,” the processor said.
While many, or most egg processors are vertically integrated with their own laying flocks, some buy extra eggs for breaking.
“If it can be graded, it’s going to retail,” he said.
Prices for egg products — liquid, frozen and dried — were little changed last week after frozen and liquid whole, white and yolk values increased sharply a week earlier. Prices for liquid products typically respond the fastest to changes in egg prices. Liquid whole egg was up 93% from January lows, white was up 25% and yolk was up 22%.
The Midwest source noted that egg processors already practiced strict sanitation procedures prior to the COVID-19 pandemic with heavy washdowns of the plant every night.
“Now we have an extra guy running around throughout the day wiping down all the surfaces,” he said.
Although COVID-19 is not food borne, new cleaning procedures were aimed at keeping employees safe.