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Egg Shortage Continues to Cripple Restaurant Chains Across the Country

Egg prices will remain inflated for a year.

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As the egg shortage continues, more and more restaurants and bakeries are being affected. Since December, a vast amount of egg-producing chickens have died due to three deadly strains of avian influenza. Across the country nearly 48 million birds have either died, or have become so sick that they had to be euthanized. Last month, Texas-based chain Whataburger reduced its breakfast hours to combat the shortage and other restaurants revealed that they have turned to alternative egg sources and substitutes. But that was just the beginning.

The latest major chain to be hit is Pennsylvania-based Rita's Ice. According to ABC 6, the company is no longer serving their famed frozen custard due to the egg shortage. A company spokesperson notes, "We will bring back our award-winning Frozen Custard as soon as we know that we have access to a sustainable supply of eggs." Until then, the chain will sell eggless soft serve ice cream in place of the custard.

Photo: USDA

Graph: USDA

The price of eggs has nearly doubled, which is greatly affecting the margins of may restaurants. The Boston Globe writes that trade group The American Bakers Association "has declared a criss and called on the Obama administration to allow increased imports of eggs and egg products." The association adds that egg supplies "are steadily decreasing to alarming levels."

Baker Andrew Siegel — co-owner of Maine-based bakery chainlet When Pigs Fly Bakery — tells the paper that since the shortage kicked in, his weekly egg bill has increased from $600 to $1,250 in just over a month. Siegel says that he doesn't plan on raising his prices but now he will no longer have the capital to expand his business and buy new equipment. Glen Quirion, the owner of Boston's Sweet Tooth Bakery, says he is now paying $80 for a case of eggs, when he used to only pay $35. Quirion is also unsure about how long he can go without having to raise his prices.

NBC News writes that some restaurateurs have added surcharges on the menu to combat rising costs. The owners of Waveland Cafe in Des Moines, Iowa, say that they are contemplating adding a 50 cent to $1 surcharge to all of their egg-heavy dishes to maintain margins.

Even chain restaurants are feeling a pinch. Amy Rhoads, the vice president of Colorado-based chain Le Peep, says its "set-price contracts for food supplies," have been nullified or rescinded. Le Peep doesn't plan on changing its menu — which features a number of egg-heavy dishes — but it is raising its prices, which the customer must cover.

Restaurant owners say that not knowing how long the shortage will last is the "most disconcerting" thing about the situation. Roads notes, "It's one of those things that, when you don't know how bad it's going to get or when the end is in sight."  The end is in sight, but it's in the very distant future: The Sentinel Republic quotes American Egg Board vice president John Howeth as saying that recovery could take at least one year to happen.

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