Breakfast lovers may not be seeing higher restaurant menu prices yet, but skyrocketing egg costs are hitting them at the grocery store because of a devastating outbreak of bird flu across the Midwest.
“Egg prices have doubled in the past month and a half,” said Brent Guerin, manager of Frank’s Restaurant, a popular breakfast spot for Baton Rouge diners at 8353 Airline Highway. “We were paying $20 a case. Now it’s $40.”
On average, the restaurant goes through 30 cases a week. Each contains 15 dozen eggs. That’s 5,400 eggs.
Guerin said there’s no way Frank’s can trim back on the amount of eggs it uses. After all, the menu features 17 different three-egg omelets and a variety of breakfast platters, all of which come with two eggs.
“We’re just seeing how long it lasts,” he said. “If it continues, we’ll have to go up on prices.”
Mike Alfandre, owner and head chef of Mason’s Grill, a favorite weekend brunch spot on Old Jefferson Highway, said he’s also having to absorb the higher egg prices. Mason’s goes through 16 cases of eggs during the average weekend.
“It’s the same thing we go through when beef prices are up,” he said. “Even if we tried to pass the higher costs along, the customers wouldn’t understand.”
Farmers have lost nearly 50 million hens and turkeys since the avian flu virus began spreading in mid-December to 21 states, said Mike Barrington, veterinary medical officer for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. The country’s top egg-producing state, Iowa, has been hit hardest. More than 30 million hens in Iowa have been affected. More than $500 million has been spent trying to stamp out the avian flu.
The one thing that stops avian influenza is heat, so Barrington said the upcoming summer sizzle is really a blessing. “We have gone 10 days in the Midwest without a new case,” he said.
The series of outbreaks has cut egg production. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report lowering its forecast for domestic production this year to 95.9 billion. That’s a 4 percent drop from last month’s estimates.
“It has affected 10 percent of our table egg layers, 7.5 percent of turkeys and 6 percent of pullets. As a consumer, we are already seeing that reflected in the price of eggs,” Barrington said.
The USDA Egg Market News Report on Monday showed the average wholesale price for a dozen large, grade-A, white eggs in the region that includes Louisiana was between $2.40 and $2.43. A year ago, the average wholesale price was between $1.19 and $1.22 a dozen.
Of all the farms that have detected bird flu within their flocks, The Kansas City Star said 85 percent were meant for liquid eggs that are sent to large food manufacturers and food providers to make bakery items, breakfast foods and other egg-heavy dishes.
There have been reports regionally of egg shortages, which led fast-food chain Whataburger to temporarily trim its breakfast hours to evenly distribute its supply among its restaurants.
But local restaurants and grocery stores said they have been able to maintain an adequate supply of eggs.
“Eggs are very expensive, but we’re able to get what we need,” said Darrell Guillory, manager of the Hi Nabor Supermarket in the Broadmoor Village Shopping Center in Baton Rouge.
At Calvin’s Bocage Market on Jefferson Highway, a sign hanging in the egg section told shoppers that higher egg prices were a reflection of the increased costs the store paid to its suppliers.
Charles Rodrigue, manager of Calvin’s, said the store received a memo nearly two weeks ago from Associated Grocers, stating that egg deliveries would be limited to two cases per truck. Rodrigue said about three trucks a week make deliveries at the store.
“Certain varieties of eggs are harder to come by,” Rodrigue said. “Our house brand, which is Shurfine, and Kleinpeter have not been limited, but the prices have nudged up.”
At Calvin’s on Friday afternoon, large Shurfine and Kleinpeter eggs were selling for $4.35 for a dozen.
One good thing is that the summer is traditionally one of the slower times for egg sales. “Hopefully, it will all get sorted out once production picks back up,” Rodrigue said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate