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A Few Words on Local Egg Prices

Mon, 02/13/2023 - 14:35
While egg prices often vary by whole dollars from store to store on the South Fork, the good news is that there isn't a shortage of eggs in general.
Christine Sampson

At the Amagansett I.G.A. grocery store and others, signs on the doors of the egg coolers aim to make sure everyone knows what's to blame for the rising costs of eggs in recent weeks: "Due to the recent avian flu, we are experiencing many supply issues along with high retails from suppliers."

Food purveyors like Klever Lopez, who owns John Papas Cafe, East Hampton Market, and Inter-Deli, have had to eat the wholesale price increases (pun intended) without raising their own in order to maintain their base of loyal customers who expect to pay a certain price for their breakfast sandwiches.

And at Iacono Farm in East Hampton, which last year dodged the local outbreak of avian flu that took out a large flock of game birds in Sag Harbor, the employees hear people talking about grocery-store egg prices, but haven't reported seeing a corresponding bump in new-customer traffic at their farm stand.

Anthony Iacono, whose own chicken farm was established in 1929 by his grandfather, explained that it's not just a big avian-flu outbreak elsewhere in the United States that is causing exorbitant prices. All of the costs are rising -- chicken feed, packaging, fuel for the trucks that transport everything, right down to the woodchips needed to line the chicken coops.

"We went up a little bit because of the feed," he said, explaining the 50-cent price increase for Iacono eggs in December. There, one dozen large white eggs costs $7.50 (it's $8 for the extra-large variety), and barring unforeseen circumstances, it'll stay that way in the near future.

But in the grocery stores on Sunday, prices are all over the place. For a dozen large, the store-brand prices ranged from $4.99 at King Kullen in Bridgehampton to $9.69 at the Montauk I.G.A. (Montauk's prices come with an asterisk, of course, because of the officially nonexistent but unofficially ubiquitous zone pricing that many have observed out here.)

Brand availability also varies widely. A dozen large white Eggland's Best will run you $4.79 at Schiavoni's I.G.A. in Sag Harbor and $6.39 at East Hampton's Stop and Shop location. There's also Seven Farms, Ebenshade, Farmer's Cow, Nellie's, and Land O' Lakes -- plus options like organic, large, jumbo, and brown varieties of most of these labels, with most hovering somewhere between $4 and $7. Buying in bulk -- think packs of 18 -- is the unbeatable (pun also intended) way to go.

The good news is that at least you can show up to the grocery stores and buy eggs. (The same can't be universally said for certain baby formula brands, Kerrygold butter, and even champagne.) And it hasn't gotten entirely out of hand here just yet; Suffolk County's Consumer Affairs Department hasn't received any complaints of price-gouging on eggs.

But put yourself in Mr. Lopez's shoes for a moment. For his East Hampton Market alone, last week he placed two orders of 120 dozen from his supplier, at a cost of $460 each -- and that's the wintertime inventory. Because the Long Island-famous B.E.C.S.P.K. (if you know you know) sandwich, and variations thereof, is his bread-and-butter, rising egg prices have put Mr. Lopez in a pickle.

"It's very hard. It's just crazy how the egg prices went through the roof," he said. "We can't really raise the prices all the time. Somehow we have to deal with it. Hopefully, it won't keep going up like this."

And if you're thinking about raising your own hens to supply eggs, you may want to think again. Egg prices in stores have started to stabilize after peaking in December, according to a CNBC report from Feb. 7. And Mr. Iacono advises that the startup costs can be hefty. Even the price of day-old chicks has just about doubled, from around $2 to $4 each, Mr. Iacono said. And because it usually takes hens about 20 weeks -- or more, depending on the species -- to begin laying, you're probably going to still get your eggs elsewhere for a while.

"If you don't count your own labor, it's cheaper," Mr. Iacono said. "Otherwise, it might be more expensive."

With Research by Jane Bimson

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