Expensive eggs: Avian flu hampers Colorado supply chain

Routt County couple Chad Whitaker and Lily Lewis are happy to find eggs in stock Tuesday morning, Dec. 27, at City Market in Steamboat Springs.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Egg supplies in grocery stores across Steamboat Springs have been hit or miss the past several weeks, causing confusion for some consumers.

Plus, the price of eggs has increased substantially the past few months due to continued problems across the U.S. from the highly pathogenic avian influenza, which recently spiked in Weld County in northeastern Colorado.

“(Egg prices) went up like crazy. We quit eating eggs as much,” said Routt County resident Dave Martin, who was picking up eggs on Tuesday, Dec. 27, at Safeway in Steamboat.

At City Market in Steamboat, no cartons of eggs were found on the cooler shelves at 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 26, and signs were posted stating, “Limit 2 egg cartons per transaction due to bird flu caused shortages.”

By 10 a.m. Tuesday, Kroger brand Grade AA eggs were available for $5.79, along with egg white liquid substitutes.

“I went on an egg mission because we had friends coming in town,” Routt County resident Lily Lewis said of her pre-holiday shopping, as she happily picked up two cartons of eggs at City Market on Tuesday.

This week at City Market in Steamboat Springs, signs were posted stating, “Limit 2 egg cartons per transaction due to bird flu caused shortages.” Avian flu has hit in nine counties in Colorado and continues to affect egg supply chains.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Store employees said that in addition to avian flu, recent weather-related delivery delays affected egg availability.

Meredith Rose, program coordinator at nonprofit Community Agriculture Alliance, said customers came into the CAA Market on Oak Street in Steamboat last week and were relieved to buy eggs after first visiting three grocery stores in town that were out of stock. She said shoppers picked up eggs for themselves, family members and neighbors.

“The past two weeks, we have seen egg sales skyrocket,” Rose said.

Last week, the market sold 259 dozen eggs, compared to a usual 90 dozen eggs a week. The market features eggs from four producers from Hayden, Clark, Steamboat and Maybell.

Although eggs were sold out by 3 p.m. on three days last week at the CAA Market, Rose said Hayden Fresh Farm, one of the biggest local egg suppliers, has been able to restock every day.

“We are so proud to be able to sell local eggs to the community that have minimal to no weather delays and to support local agriculture and keep dollars in our community,” Rose said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture publication “Egg Markets Overview” from Friday, Dec. 23, consumer demand for eggs heading into the Christmas and holiday season rises as cookie-making peaks and shoppers get ready for holiday meal preparations.

“Recent increases in wholesale prices for cartoned shell eggs to record high levels slowed this week as the holidays arrive and demand tempers. Offerings remain light while supplies are light to moderate with moderate to good demand,” according to the overview. “The fact that shell eggs remain at record-high price levels has not deterred consumer appetite as demand has surpassed last season’s levels despite cartoned egg prices three times higher. … Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza continue, creating heightened concerns over consistent supply access.”

Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County extension agent and director for Colorado State University, said local egg suppliers may be feeling added pressure. On the other hand, the increased prices of commercially produced and distributed eggs now are more equivalent to locally farmed eggs. The egg shortage can raise awareness of the importance of local agriculture, Hagenbuch said.

“People need to understand where their food comes from and value that production a little bit more,” Hagenbuch said.

According to a Colorado Department of Agriculture situation report on Friday, avian flu has affected nine counties in Colorado and 6.3 million commercial chickens.

Annually, Colorado hens produce approximately 1.56 billion eggs, and in March, Colorado had approximately 5.02 million laying hens, according to the CDA. Avian influenza does not present a food safety risk, according CDA officials. Poultry and eggs remain safe to eat when handled and cooked properly.

Martin said he hopes egg prices will drop in the future, “and we can have more omelets, with cheese.”

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