SALISBURY, Md. — When disaster strikes, market watchers know that American shoppers typically lunge for the same staples: milk, bread, toilet paper — and cartons of eggs.
As ingredients in most baking, useful for making pasta from scratch, and an essential part of the timeless Easter tradition of egg dyeing, it’s easy to understand why these compact sources of protein are in high demand. And, with kids and parents working and schooling from home, families might be finding more time to get cracking with the skillet in the mornings.
Over the last three weeks, the Northeast has seen unprecedented demand for eggs due to coronavirus-fueled panic shopping, said Brian Moscogiuri, marketing director for the commodity market monitoring firm Urner Barry.
Regionwide, egg retailers’ orders from wholesalers have increased by anywhere from double to 600%, and supply can’t immediately be increased, he said.
“This is the most demand they’ve ever seen in this short period of time,” Moscogiuri said. “And it’s all unexpected — they couldn’t prepare for it.”
Many stores throughout the region have imposed limits on the number of cartons a customer can buy in a single trip. Around the Delmarva Peninsula, many retailers have not yet instituted such rules, though many grocery customers have taken to Facebook to document the empty spots where eggs used to be.
“Due to limited supply and higher than usual demand, our suppliers have increased their prices on eggs,” states a sign posted at one Salisbury Food Lion. “As a result, you may see higher prices, as well as potential interruptions in supply. We apologize for the inconvenience and will do our best to keep items in stock at the best prices possible.” The store asks customers to take no more than two cartons.
The Maryland Farm Bureau wrote in an email Friday that local producers seem to be successfully keeping up with egg demand.
Egg producers had already begun to build up an egg supply fit for the Easter rush when the panic buying began, Moscogiuri said. But the skyrocketing demand has been quickly eating through even those reserves, he said.
Chicken farmers can’t immediately add more birds into the supply chain, so catching up is taking some time. In an effort to quickly meet demand, some eggs that had been destined for breaker machines are being moved over to carton packaging, but the switch presents logistical challenges, Moscogiuri said.
Because of limited supply, getting new egg shipments can require retailers essentially bidding against one another for loads. In consequence, wholesale prices for large eggs tripled across the region since early March, Moscogiuri said.
It is up to a retailer’s discretion whether to pass on the higher wholesale costs to consumers.
As for how the Easter season will affect an already stressed egg supply, the future is uncertain: Demand for eggs at Easter could ramp up as it normally does, or the combination of higher prices and store-imposed rationing might cause things to level out.
“This could be very, very short lived if they can get caught up and if the prices are being passed along and if the consumer slows down their pursuits,” Moscogiuri said. “It seems, at least for now, in terms of the price and shortage, the worst is kind of behind them.”