Rising egg prices: Costs squeezing bottom lines

Farm Forum

Avian flu has hit Midwest chicken farmers hard, but they’re not the only ones taking it on the chin: Aberdeen-area businesses and consumers are facing higher costs, too.

“We’re paying about three to four times the amount now for eggs than we were just four weeks ago,” said Duane Sutton, the co-owner of Millstone Family Restaurant. “That takes a toll on our bottom line.”

Sutton said the restaurant goes through about 23 cases of eggs each week. A month or so ago, each case — which contains 180 eggs — was selling for $15 to $17 per case. As of June 24, the Millstone was paying anywhere from $44 to $46 per case, Sutton said.

“We can’t afford to to absorb this increased cost over a long period of time,” said Sutton, who has been in the business for 40 years. “This is the first time I’ve had to deal with price increases this dramatic.”

In Redfield, Leo’s Good Food co-owner Lee Noyes said the restaurant, which orders four to six cases of eggs each week, has also felt the effect of higher egg prices.

“We haven’t passed on the price increases to our customers, nor have we changed our menu prices or added a surcharge to our eggs,” Noyes said.

He said the restaurant, which has several suppliers, does what it can to find the best price without sacrificing quality.

Bird losses have been significant. Nationally, 48 million birds have been affected, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Aberdeen-area producers have also felt the pinch. Avian flu infections were reported in Spink, McPherson and Roberts counties, affecting nearly 146,000 birds. When the virus is discovered in a flock, the flock is killed to prevent the bird flu from spreading.

The effect of the losses has trickled down to the most local of levels — the Thursday afternoon farmers market in downtown Aberdeen.

“Eggs used to be the cheapest things you could buy, but that’s no longer the case,” said Mary Kay Monson of Veblen-based Monson Creek Gardens.

Monson’s thoughts were echoed by Elizabeth Quinn, another vendor at the market.

“I buy eggs, five dozen at a time, and normally, they’re $9.99 for all five dozen,” she said, “but now, they’re up to $13.99.”

Quinn, who is the proprietor of Quinntessential Kitchen, said she has had to raise the price of her bread at the farmers market because of egg prices.

“I don’t like to raise my prices, but I cannot afford to operate at a loss.”

Quinn added that there was a glimmer of good news.

“I’ve started to buy locally sourced eggs because they’re more affordable at this time,” she said.

Sutton also has menu prices on his mind.

“Whether we’re forced to raise prices depends a lot on how long this lasts — if it goes another 30 to 45 days, then breakfast prices might go up,” he said. “I just hope that the flocks are being built back up and that prices will start coming down in the next 15 to 20 days.”

Another vendor at the farmers market, Elizabeth Opheim of Aberdeen, also expressed her concerns about egg prices.

“I just get annoyed when I have to buy the eggs, especially when they’re running $4.50 for 18 of them,” she said. “Still, I have to buy them because I need them for my business.”

As to when egg prices will begin declining, well, it could be awhile. Officials said higher-than-normal prices are expected to persist the remainder of this year and into next year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.