A national egg shortage is driving up prices and changing how Wichita restaurants cook breakfast.
More than 40 million egg-laying chickens in the upper Midwest, especially in Iowa, were affected by a recent outbreak in bird flu. The number of eggs produced this year will go down by 87 million dozen eggs, according to a USDA report. The outbreak has led to an increase in the prices of eggs and egg-related products. As a result, some local restaurants are starting to raise their prices or are considering doing so.
The retail price for eggs has risen from an average of $1.15 per dozen in May to almost $2.50 nationally, according to a USDA report on Monday. A dozen of the cheapest eggs at the Dillons on East Douglas cost $2.75 as of Tuesday. In Texas recently, supermarkets imposed limits on how many eggs consumers can buy and the burger chain Whataburger stopped serving breakfast in the afternoon. But locally Wal-Mart and Dillons said that they will not have any trouble meeting the supply of eggs to customers, even though the prices of the eggs has gone up.
“Customers are counting on us,” said John Forrest Ales, a spokesman for Wal-Mart. “We’re using our size and scale to help minimize the impact on their wallets.”
But that’s not the case with some local restaurants. Egg Crate at 8606 W. 13th St., at Northwest Centre, is now charging $1.50 extra to customers who want egg white omelets, according to waitress Kim Gooding. Others such as Good Egg are worried about whether they’ll have enough egg whites if the egg shortage continues.
“There is the possibility that there won’t even be availability (of egg whites),” said Brian Donnelly, general manager at Good Egg at 2141 N. Bradley Fair Parkway. “Our suppliers have already limited the amount that we can order.” Its suppliers don’t want restaurants hoarding eggs, Donnelly said, so they have limited what they can buy to amounts that are similar to previous orders.
Some Good Egg restaurants in Arizona have already raised their prices, Donnelly said, but he is in the middle of revising the Wichita restaurant’s menu and hasn’t made any decisions about price increases yet. While a price increase is on the table, a change in menu items is not.
“Eggs and potatoes are the main drivers of the menu,” Donnelly said. “We wouldn’t cut back on quantity because that’s not fair to the guests.”
Most breakfast restaurants are hit especially hard because they rely on mass-produced egg white product. It would take 45 dozen eggs to make 20 pounds of egg whites, a typical weekend’s worth, according to Donnelly. He’s never had to hire someone to turn eggs into egg white before, let alone such a large amount, and doesn’t know if it could be done efficiently. “It’s a very tedious process,” Donnelly said.
Ty Issa’s family’s IHOPs haven’t received all of the liquid egg yokes that they ordered, according to Issa, so his employees have had to separate eggs at the restaurant manually. But so far the prices are the same. As a franchise, IHOP buys eggs quarterly so it hasn’t yet had to buy a batch at higher prices, according to Issa, and he doesn’t know yet if he’ll have to raise his menu prices until he sees what the new egg prices will be.
The Doo-Dah Diner at 206 E. Kellogg will not have its costs go up by as much as other breakfast spots, according to co-owner Timirie Shibley, because it makes all of its food from scratch. So when the restaurant makes a hollandaise, it pays an employee to separate out 75 egg yolks, rather than buy liquid yolks. The cost of its fresh eggs has gone up from 8 cents to 24 cents, on the 5,500 eggs they use a week. But Shibley’s food supplier told her that many other restaurants will have to pay three or four times as much for pre-processed egg products, such as pancake batter.
“Next week if we were going to order in our normal amount of mayonnaise,” Shibley said. “We were told to expect a three-to-four-time price increase.”
So the Doo-Dah Diner has started making its own mayonnaise from scratch. But the diner just finished a menu change and is not planning to raise menu prices any further due to the increased egg costs. The restaurant will have to eat the higher egg costs for the next 12 to 18 months, based on what Shibley was told by her food supplier.
Cal-Maine Foods — which produces many of the eggs consumed in Kansas at its plant in Chase, including those sold at Dillons — has not yet had an outbreak of flu in any of its plants across the country. But the costs of eggs still goes up for Kansas consumers because, according to director of marketing Alan Andrews, Cal-Maine only produces 75 percent of the eggs it sells and has to buy 25 percent of its eggs on the market. The eggs it buys are harder to find now, Andrews said.
“There’s never been an outbreak this bad before,” Andrews said. “There have been outbreaks before, but they’ve been isolated.”
Although the prices have started to level off at an average of just under $2.50 per dozen nationally, according to the USDA, it’s not yet clear how long it will take for the egg market to fully recover. It can take months to clean out an egg facility, raise new hens and wait for them to reach their peak capacity, Andrews said.
Some locally-grown eggs that may have once seemed expensive are now being gobbled up. The dozen farmers who sell eggs at the Kansas Grown Farmers Market at 21st and Ridge Road have been selling out an hour faster than before, said Gunter Hansen, the market’s manager. The price of the cheapest eggs has increased just a quarter from $2.50 to now $2.75 for locally-grown free range eggs, he said — about the same price as factory grown eggs at the supermarkets.
But you better get there early.
“They sell out quickly because they are fresh,” Hansen said. “And that’s what people want.”