a carton of eggs

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And when prices are expected to decline.

Lately, eggs have been, well, eggs-pensive. The cost of a carton has skyrocketed in recent months. Why? Here’s an over-easy explanation — and a look at when experts expect prices will begin to dip.

Bird flu to blame

Last year, the U.S. was hit with the worst outbreak on record of bird flu, a virus that’s extremely deadly for egg-laying hens. About 40 million of them were wiped out by the flu in 2022, Brian Moscogiuri, a trade strategist for the California egg supplier, Eggs Unlimited, told CNBC. As a result, the number of eggs has sharply declined — making your breakfast omelet much more expensive.

“It’s a supply disruption, ‘act of God’ type stuff,” Moscogiuri said.

To make matters worse, the flu spiked last winter, when demand for eggs is typically high. Consumers tend to buy more eggs during the holidays to whip up gingerbread, sugar cookies, and all those other sweet treats. Plus, the USDA suspects some shoppers may be buying more eggs as a way to save on protein amid inflation.

Shortages in some states

In recent years, a handful of states have required all eggs sold in supermarkets be laid by cage-free birds. That, coupled with the rise in bird flu, has sharply limited supply — leaving some shoppers scrambling to find any eggs at all.

California, which passed its cage-free law in 2018, is facing a shortage of the staple, the Los Angeles Times reports. There, the average price for a dozen eggs shot up to a staggering $7.37 earlier this month. Colorado too, where a similar law went into effect at the beginning of the year, is also struggling to meet demand, per Axios. Prices have gotten so out of hand that officials at the border have reported a spike in eggs being smuggled in from Mexico, where the product is significantly cheaper.

The San Diego Field Office has recently noticed an increase in the number of eggs intercepted at our ports of entry. As a reminder, uncooked eggs are prohibited entry from Mexico into the U.S. Failure to declare agriculture items can result in penalties of up to $10,000. pic.twitter.com/ukMUvyKDmL

How much have egg prices soared?

The price of eggs rose 49 percent in November compared to a year earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the largest increase of any grocery item tracked by the agency.

A dozen Midwest large eggs (the benchmark for eggs sold in their shells) will now set you back around $4.80. Prices are retreating from their high near the holidays, which hit about $5.50, according to Urner Barry’s egg index. (Remember the good ol’ days — way back last January — when a dozen eggs were just $1.50?)

When are prices expected to decline?

Egg prices are already trending down; they usually take a 20 to 30 percent dive from the high of the holiday season in January and February, Moscogiuri told Axios. But he warns that another bird flu surge could change that.

One surprising way to save…

Oddly, “specialty eggs,” like organic or cage-free eggs, may actually be cheaper than your run-of-the-mill carton. Cal-Maine, the largest egg producer in the U.S., said last month that the average cost for its specialty eggs had actually dipped lower than the cost of a conventional dozen. Why? It’s because many of the farms that produce those eggs are smaller and haven’t been as hard hit by the bird flu outbreak, a grocery industry analyst tells NPR. So doing the right thing by our feathered friends may help you save money in the end.

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