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'Eggflation' or how eggs became a luxury product in the United States

Faced with this situation called "eggflation", consumers are getting together to find alternative solutions, sometimes on the edge of legality and sometimes revealing depths of creativity and humour

Published: Feb 22, 2023 05:52:49 PM IST
Updated: Feb 22, 2023 05:58:55 PM IST

'Eggflation' or how eggs became a luxury product in the United States Eggs sell at premium pricesin the United States. Image: Shutterstock

Up to 10 dollars for a dozen eggs! That's what some people found themselves paying for a carton of eggs in California. In the United States, the avian flu as well as the soaring prices of energy and raw materials are indeed weighing very heavily on the price of eggs displayed in stores. Faced with this situation called "eggflation", consumers are getting together to find alternative solutions, sometimes on the edge of legality and sometimes revealing depths of creativity and humor.

In the United States, one special supermarket offer got so much attention that it has ended up making the rounds of social networks. Walmart posted a deal that allowed customers to buy a carton of 18 eggs for two dollars. The photo of the shelf, first posted on the store's Facebook account in Kentucky, generated thousands of comments. One California resident, for example, points out that the same 18-egg carton (without mentioning whether it's Walmart or another distributor) costs 11 dollars in their area. The price is so low that some internet users question whether the eggs have a short expiry date, working on the assumption that 'if it sounds too good to be true then it must be.'

The 'enthusiasm' generated by this post is indicative of the high prices and relative scarcity of eggs on the market. Prices have soared by 60% in a single year through the end of 2022, giving rise to a succession of puns in the American press around the term "egg" such as "eggcited." The context itself has prompted the creation of a new term, "eggflation" to refer to the surge in egg prices.

The hen that lays the golden eggs

With the United States experiencing high inflation last year particularly with groceries -- where food products were assessed as costing 13.9% more, eggs have become nothing short of a real luxury product to the point that smuggling networks have been organized. Now at the Mexican border, customs officers are not only intercepting drugs, but also eggs. Between last October and December, seizures of eggs jumped 108%, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Black market trading of raw eggs has emerged while some supermarket chains have decided to limit the number of purchases per household.

Eggs have become so expensive that web culture has taken to creating various memes about them, comparing them to cars at astronomical prices or creating images like eggs in the refrigerator under lock and key. Some videos also suggest that chickens are at risk of being stolen because of the situation. Others draw parallels with the underground "speakeasy" bars where alcohol was sold under the table in the United States because of Prohibition in the 1920s.

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The rise of freeze-dried eggs

Social networks are also repositories of extremely creative hacks or solutions to the issue. For example, media outlet Today spotted some consumers turning to dehydrated eggs in order to save money. In this case, they are cooked such as scrambled and then dehydrated and reduced to powder. It's not a preparation method that should be tried at home as bacteria can develop during the drying process with raw eggs presenting a particular risk of salmonella.

That said, there are producers who sell dried eggs produced through a freeze-drying technique. And these are proving to be a hit with consumers. This technique allows the eggs to retain a certain texture and taste even after processing. The process involves freezing the eggs at -23 to 40 degrees Celsius before slowly heating the material to remove moisture.

Also read: Grinding inflation clouds 'Black Friday' shopping bonanza

So why are eggs so expensive?

Unsurprisingly, avian flu is the primary reason for the exorbitant egg prices in the United States. In the United States, 58 million birds have been killed in 47 states since bird flu was officially detected in early 2022. Europe also was affected by avian flu last year, with 2,500 outbreaks detected in 37 countries between October 2021 and September 2022 and 50 million birds culled.

Another explanatory factor in the US's extreme eggflation situation is a shift away from purchases of meat—which has become more expensive due to soaring energy and raw materials—to eggs as a source of protein. According to the American farmers' advocacy organization Farm Action, egg producers may be taking advantage of this to inflate prices.

However, we should hear less about "eggflation" in the coming months. There are encouraging signs of a reversal in the upward trend of egg prices. In the wholesale market, i.e., reserved for professionals, the price index fell a few days ago by 60% compared to the peak at the end of last year.

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