A chicken will lay about an egg a day. Any amount of heckling and cajoling will not change that. Americans are stockpiling eggs, and it’s about a week from peak pre-Easter egg buying. The Bunny is getting nervous. Experts say this is an on-shelf shortage, that there are enough eggs in the works. But if Americans — now cooped up and stress-baking for their families — continue to markedly change their cooking behaviors, American egg producers will have to grow their flocks. But that takes time: It takes 22 weeks for a chick to become a laying hen.
Vital Farms, the largest supplier of naturally raised eggs in the United States, shipped 15 million eggs to 13,000 grocery stores last week. According to chief executive Russell Diez-Canseco, that is up to 150 percent more than normal.
“The reality is we don’t have twice as many eggs as we did in January,” he said. “Most suppliers build in some extra inventory for Easter, but retailers have burned through that inventory.”
Marc Dresner, director of marketing and communications at the American Egg Board, does not see the current situation as a supply shortage.
“Production has been largely unaffected by coronavirus,” he said. “Our egg farmers are working hard to meet this demand. But we are dealing with live animals, and it takes time to increase flock size.”
According to Nielsen data, sales of eggs in shells went up 44 percent for the week ending March 14 compared with a year ago, with retailers ordering six times normal volume. Wholesale egg prices have risen 180 percent since the beginning of March, according to Urner Barry, which does market price reporting. Google searches for baking recipes without eggs have spiked.
Dresner doubts Easter will exacerbate the situation.
“People traditionally buy eggs in the next week or so. Are they going to pull from inventory they have in their house or look to supplement?” Dresner asked. “We are expecting Easter demand will be lower because people aren’t entertaining, and there will be no group Easter events.”
So, some of the hoarders will bust out their stockpile to dip and swirl with food coloring to hide in the backyard on April 12.
Russell Diez-Canseco wonders whether self-quarantining, sheltering in place and renewed family togetherness will cause a change in egg consumption overall.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but we think there may be an uptick in consumption. People eat more eggs when they are home and families are together,” he said.
Shelby Myers, an economist with the Farm Bureau, says what we’re seeing right now in a larger sense is not a shortage of food but swiftly changing consumer patterns.
“These changes force supply chains to quickly adapt and prepare, so you’re seeing temporary shortages,” Myers says. She says that there are no production shortages on the radar and that economists are projecting record meat and dairy production. Grain production is more contingent upon good weather.
Flour, she says, is another category that has had to adjust to rapidly changing consumer demand.
“Over time, consumers have been pulling back from flour,” she said. “But now kids are home and parents are looking for different kinds of crafts, teaching their kids to cook. A lot of people find baking calming.”
Fear of supply-chain disruptions has prompted the DIY spirit and a renewed interest in gardening, swamping online seed companies. Some have brought the same thoughts to bear on the egg shortage: Actor Tom Holland (Spider-Man) made news when he announced this week he had adopted three chickens as a source of eggs. And he’s not alone.
Diez-Canseco isn’t bullish about backyard chickens.
“We don’t think backyard flocks are great for the birds. There’s a lot of predation,” he said. “But by all means, plant a garden.”