Of all the grocery store goods affected by inflation, one key product currently dominates national headlines for its off-the-charts cost to consumers and restaurateurs alike. U.S. egg prices rose 60 percent over the course of 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ newly released January stats, which compares to just a 10.4-percent increase in food costs overall. From November to December 2022 alone, egg prices shot up a bewildering 11.1 percent.
Unprecedented spikes for such a staple ingredient has repercussions across the near entirety of the food service sector. Restaurants, bakeries, cafes—and even ice cream shops—are feeling the burn on their bottom line.
“It’s crazy—eggs, you know, it’s such an economy item,” says Pluma by Bluebird bakery owner Tom Wellings. “You don’t think about it when you buy it, and then you look at your invoice and you’re like ‘wait a sec what’s going on.’”
The main reason for the cost surge is an especially detrimental strain of bird flu that hit the U.S. in January 2022, and has led to the death of some 57.8 million birds.
Wellings says the price he pays for eggs has almost doubled since last fall. That, compounded with rising butter prices, has caused his Union Market district bakery to raise its menu prices two months ago—just the second time it’s ever had to do so in its five-year history.
“As the cost of our products go up, the price of the products we sell go up,” says Wellings. “Hopefully customers understand and appreciate that we’re still trying to sell something at a good value, it’s just what that means has changed a little bit.”
The egg’s luxe new price point also concerns Mike Tabb, the owner of breakfast sandwich shop Cracked Eggery in Cleveland Park and Shaw. “[We’re] definitely feeling it,” says Tabb. His two stores run through some 45,000 eggs a month, the price of which has recently doubled.
With a menu made up mostly of yolky sandwiches, regulars have been checking in how the shop with a cartoon egg as its logo and egg-driven decor is faring.
“You’re not the first person to mention the egg thing to us,” he says. “It’s not great but it’s within our margins.”
At Moorenko’s, a custard-based ice cream shop on Capitol Hill and Silver Spring, eggs are the essential core of its creamy concoction. Founder-chef Susan Soorenko says volatile cost fluctuations for her ice cream base have been nothing short of “chaotic.”
“I never know from one week to the next what my most important ingredient—which is the basic, milk, cream, egg, sugar component—is gonna cost,” Soorenko tells Eater.
She estimates the price of her base went up about $3 per gallon, or $15 a batch, from the beginning to the end of 2022. Soorenko, who also sells her pints to dozens of area retailers and markets, says she waits out the increases as long as she can and then raises prices as a last resort.
“We’ve raised prices a little bit and we’ve cut our margins considerably, and I’m just sitting here hoping this situation heals,” she says.
While Soorenko has choice but to continue to scoop up the circular delicacy, she says there’s a limit to what the customer will tolerate.
“I can’t keep raising their prices every week the way my prices keep being raised every week because they’ll get impatient and go look for something else.”
Bread Furst owner Mark Furstenberg reports his long-running Van Ness bakery buys 500 dozen eggs a week and estimates that increased prices are costing his operation an additional $2,500 every week. “This is not a trivial matter for us,” Furstenberg wrote in an email to Eater.
Despite the unsavory surge, D.C. industry vets like Furstenberg have seen this movie before: “These are just things that are part of doing business,” he says.
The price of eggs is just the latest in the ever-fluctuating price of goods on the food industry’s radar—a constant roller that’s been exacerbated in the last few years by COVID-caused supply chain issues.
“If it’s not heavy cream it’s sugar, if it’s not sugar, it’s eggs,” says Brandon Byrd, owner of Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats in Alexandria. “The surging egg prices definitely had an impact, but like anything else you try to work with what you have and you try to be consistent.”
Even though he’s shelling out more for eggs at the moment, Tabb is confident that the prices of his restaurant’s namesake product will right themselves.
“We’ve seen the waves of pricing from pork to beef to bread and even packaging, so we’re confident it will come down eventually,” he says.
The timing of this price increase is especially difficult, however, in the wake of D.C. voters passing Initiative 82 and a tight labor market. The owners of Pluma by Bluebird, Moorenko’s, Cracked Eggery, and Bread Furst say the egg fiasco only adds compounded stress to their already-thinning margins.
“Our labor is obviously going up, as the market is, so it’s tough to get hit on all these sides,” says Tabb.