Bakers feeling pinch of ‘sky-high’ prices on eggs

DOVER — Fluctuating gasoline prices often grab headlines but the sharp increase in the price of eggs has some consumers — and bakers — squawking.

A dozen large eggs more than doubled in price in a month’s time in June and now cost about a dollar more than they did a year ago.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials blame reports of avian influenza in the Midwest for creating an egg shortage after the destruction of commercial flocks.

That includes 5.3 million laying hens in Iowa destroyed in April as reported by The Des Moines Register. Flocks are destroyed in hopes that will keep the flu from spreading.

The rising cost of eggs have Beth and Curt Bartlett, of Dover, rethinking egg purchases.

A baker cracks an egg in Dover. The price of eggs has doubled in the past month, putting a strain on the profit margins of baking businesses and a crimp in the budget of consumers. The factors causing the rapid price hike have poultry businesses concerned and health officials taking precautions.  (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

A baker cracks an egg in Dover. The price of eggs has doubled in the past month, putting a strain on the profit margins of baking businesses and a crimp in the budget of consumers. The factors causing the rapid price hike have poultry businesses concerned and health officials taking precautions. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

“Sky high!” Mrs. Bartlett said last week when asked what she thought of egg prices. “If they get too pricey I just won’t buy them.”

Mr. Bartlett, who has grocery shopping duties, said when he sees a good price he buys a dozen but, echoing his wife, said they can get by eating fewer eggs.

For bakers, however, eliminating eggs isn’t an option, at least, not if they still want to sell flavor-rich cakes, cupcakes, brownies and other sweet treats. Eggs give structure and also can make a cake rise while giving it color and that rich flavor customers want.

Susan Ellis of Dover is a professional baker and decorating instructor with 30 years of experience. She can’t remember ever seeing prices increase so much so quickly.

Since she bakes frequently she’s attuned to the cost of ingredients but the sudden increase in eggs took her aback.

“I went to the store and they were a dollar more for a dozen in five days!” she said.

And it’s not just whole eggs. Liquid egg products also cost more.

A dozen large eggs cost $3.17 a dozen in Wal-Mart Saturday.

According to the USDA Egg Market Report, issued weekly, the June 6, 2014, average price to a store in the Northeast region was $1.33 to $1.37.

“I buy four or five dozen at a time,” Ms. Ellis said. “It hits really hard.”

It can take a dozen eggs to make one large cake, commissioned perhaps for a birthday party, wedding or other event, she said.

“I’ve had to start raising costs for my customers,” she said, “$1 or $1.50, depending on what I’m making.”

Ms. Ellis is exploring how she can make cakes without using eggs. It can be done she said, but it makes the cake more dense. She also is researching the feasibility of freezing eggs, as a hedge if prices continue to double, or even triple, through the year.

The other concern

As an established commercial baker, Dawne Nickerson-Banez relies on liquid whole eggs.

They come in a 30-pound bag, already blended and ready to be measured into the batter needed to make the dozens upon dozens of cupcakes and other delights popular at her Frankfurt Bakery & Deli at 323 S. Governors Ave.

“We have felt pain,” she said last week, but also is relieved she still can get eggs.

She worries about a shortage.

“That’s in the forefront of my mind,” she said. “So far so good.”

She’s also been advised to not even consider changing suppliers because if the shortage deepens a supplier more likely will service longtime customers over newer ones.

“Some vendors are not taking on new customers,” Ms. Nickerson-Banez said.

“With all the chicken farms (in Delaware) you would think we wouldn’t have a problem getting eggs,” she said. “It is odd, you think we would be able to source them local.”

Delaware’s poultry industry primarily is geared to produce meat, according to Bill Satterfield, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry.

Although Ms. Nickerson-Banez buys her liquid eggs from a Pennsylvania vendor, she does use egg whites and some whole eggs. She barters for those locally.

“We do a trade with two local people who have chickens,” she said. “We give them bread ends. They feed them to chickens and they give us eggs. So we use fresh eggs from right here in Delaware.”

So far Frankfurt Bakery has eaten the extra cost by not raising prices.

That could change, however.

“We have not been forced to pass along the cost to customers,” Ms. Nickerson-Banez said. “But if there is a shortage or (egg prices) go much higher then we will have to.”

Tiffanee Scott buys 7½ dozen eggs at a time and has seen the price go from $11 to more than $21 in a month’s time. She uses at least three dozen a day at her Tiffanee & Co. bakery in Dover. (Delaware State News photo by K.I. White)

Tiffanee Scott buys 7½ dozen eggs at a time and has seen the price go from $11 to more than $21 in a month’s time. She uses at least three dozen a day at her Tiffanee & Co. bakery in Dover. (Delaware State News photo by K.I. White)

Less than a year old, Tiffannee & Co. still is building its customer base, making a decision to raise prices even more difficult.

“I’m very concerned prices will keep rising,” Tiffannee Scott said Monday. She and husband, Marcus, opened the bakery at 147 S. Governors Ave. in October 2014. So far, she’s also resisted increasing prices.

They buy eggs “too often,” she said, trying to make light of the twice-a-week trips to Sam’s Club. They paid about $11 for a box of eggs — containing 7½ dozen — less than a month ago. Late last week a similar box cost $21.16.

Ms. Scott’s last cake — a double-layered half sheet cake (18 by 13 inches) — contained 18 eggs. On average, she goes through about three dozen eggs daily.

“I might have to raise prices,” she said. “I don’t want to because I’m new business, but I might have to.

“I have to make a profit.”

 

The big picture

Ms. Ellis also anticipates the price of other egg-dependent food products to increase, including pasta, mayonnaise, puddings, pies and meringue powder, used in making icings and especially in decorator type icings.

The domino effect already has hit Witt Brothers Market in Wyoming, according to co-owner Terrie Witt.

“We have had to change pricing on products that use eggs,” she said last week, including “breakfast sandwiches.
People are used to eggs being inexpensive, Ms. Witt said. A dozen large eggs cost $2.99 last week at the 113 W. Camden-Wyoming Ave. grocery.

“They are a good source of protein,” she said. “It’s still not a bad price but …”

Her voice trailed off.

Ms. Witt also anticipates turkey prices to increase.

She’s likely right since the Department of Agriculture has reported Midwest turkey flocks also have been destroyed because of avian influenza.

The USDA reported June 15 the delivered-to-warehouse price for a dozen eggs had declined 15 cents from the previous week — the first drop after climbing steadily through May and early June. Monday’s report showed an additional 40-cent drop.

Ms. Witt, however, didn’t see last week’s price drop reflected in what she pays. “I guess it will trickle down,” she said.

In its report, the USDA attributed the declining price in part to consumers pushing back by not buying.

That fits with Matt Pennell’s observation. The manager of Byler’s Store on Del. 8, west of Dover, said he has had to pass on to customers the difference the store is paying its Pennsylvania supplier.

A dozen large eggs at Byler’s was priced at $3.29 Monday.

“We are trying to hold the cost down as much as we can,” he said.

Customers are reacting, he added. Sales are down

“We don’t order as many as we were.”

Byler’s gets its eggs from Martins Quality Eggs in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Lester Martin is not alarmed about the company’s moderate decrease in retail sales. He’s looking at the big picture.

“We are concerned about (avian influenza) coming into the Northeast,” he said Monday via email. “One of our biggest concerns is getting further processed products, including liquid, frozen and hard-cooked eggs for our customers.”

The company, which got its start by buying and selling eggs from farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, delivers about 18,000 cases — each case contains 360 eggs — a week throughout the Northeast, including Delaware.

“We have a lot of requests for eggs and egg products,” he said. “We are maintaining our current customers and assisting others as we can.”

The wholesale price in the Northeast hit its highest at $2.55, he said, but as of Monday was down to $1.95.

“The fresh-shell egg market has come off some, with the egg market down to $1.95,” Mr. Martin said. “But there is still a shortage in further processed eggs and that market continues to go up.”

Dot Megonigal, who lives west of Dover, is one person who isn’t the least concerned about the retail price of eggs and wasn’t especially aware the price had increased.

“I buy from an Amish neighbor.”

23dsn egg shortage chart-1

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