Six computer operators tucked above a dentist's office in a converted fraternity house here are responsible for many of the nation's eggs - about 4.2 million daily - getting from where they're laid to the plate you may have scraped this morning.
Eggs have been going through a slack period lately with Grade A large selling for as low as 60 cents a dozen.But some of them wouldn't be selling at all without Raymond Delano. Delano, an egg man for most of his 60 years, took over the failing Egg Clearing House Inc. in 1971, moved it here from St. Louis and made it work.
It is the only egg trading place in the country. But there is no yelling of bids and offers, no scraps of paper on the floor and no eggs.
Telephones, with an annual bill $60,000 and a computer handle all the yelling, screaming and figuring to put the seller together with the egg buyer. And Delano does it for nearly 300 egg dealers, packers, wholesalers and retailers coast to coast.
But more than putting buyer and seller together, the ECI allows even the smallest packers and producers to be port of the rational egg pricing process. In the 1960s, government officials found that a handful of individuals dominated U.S. egg trading. Under pressure from the government, both the New York and Chicago mercantile exchanges ceased egg pricing in 1970, leaving an opening for ECI.
Delano says his system of daily closed and then opened bidding "now shows exactly what people are willing to set up in eggs and dollars."
Morning and afternoon trading sessions, the second to accommodate the West Coast, are conducted five days a week. But during the first part of each session, no trader knows what the other may be offering to buy or sell.
"It's a blind bid until 9:45." Delano explains. "We get calls from all over the country. It's either someone with surplus eggs or someone who needs to buy some." The bidders may range from the Chicken Little Co. in Tampa, Fla, to Birchwood Farms in Seattle, Wash.
The second round of bidding is open, with quotes flying around the country and the operators dialing doubletime to find who will raise or lower the offers. Just before noon buyers, and sellers are matched and deals are made.A few hours later, the actual eggs and cash are traded. The entire process is repeated during the afternoon trading.
Delano, credited with opening up an egg market once dominated by a few large traders, says the secrecy of the opening round is critical. "We don't want prices in one part of the country influenced by prices elsewhere." Delano says. "This really helps the idea of supply and demand work."
He bought the computer when figuring hundreds of bids, frieght charges and commissions became two big a job to be done by hand. Now when a bid to buy or sell is entered, the computer automatically adds the cost of transportation and finds the closest match.
The clearing house set only helps set the nationally quoted price for eggs, offered by Urner Barry Publications Inc., it assures the quality of the products traded. From class 1 to breakers to tank tucks filled with shelled eggs, Delano guarantees the buyer gets what he pays for.
And the buyers and sellers appear happy with the role ECI plays in setting prices. A spokesman for United Egg Producers of Atlanta, the nation's largest farmers' cooperative, says the clearing house "is the most revolutionary pricing system over developed for a commodity." He predicts other industries will adopt the system.
Egg farmers provide the most glowing testimonials to ECI's accomplishments. "The prices the clearing house has represent the true market," says Steven Knox of Simpson Farms, Winthrop, Maine.
The man behind the eggs is a native of Bangor, Maine, and holds a degree in poultry husbandry from the University of Maine. Delano speaks affectionately of the high-protein egg, saying "the egg will be vindicated when scientists finally finish arguing about cholestoral." CAPTION: Picture, Raymond Delano, who took over the Egg Clearinghouse Inc. and made it work., By Michael D'Antonio [WORDS ILLEGIBLE]