Egg Prices Send Local Food Businesses Scrambling
Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone—or until it’s more than twice as expensive. Food prices are rising, and perhaps the most egg-streme example is eggs. Eggs, long relied upon as a cheap source of protein and a key ingredient in everything from pancakes to chocolate chip cookies, cost an average of $4.25 per large dozen nationwide as of December 2022, compared to $1.79 in December 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s if you can even get your hands on them—shelves at Trader Joe’s and Safeway are often sparse or empty altogether.
The increases are driven by a number of factors: an avian flu that has killed a significant portion of egg-laying hens, increasing prices of chicken feed, and increasing prices of labor and transportation.
For food business owners who buy eggs by the case, the price difference adds up fast. Jacky Ren, owner of Northwest District food cart Bing Mi and restaurant Bing Mi Dumpling and Noodle Bar, goes through 200 eggs per day, seven days a week, just at the cart. Each jianbing has one or two scrambled eggs inside, depending on whether you get the regular or the deluxe, plus there’s egg in the wrapper. Normally, Ren buys eggs by the case—15 dozen, or 180 eggs—from restaurant supply stores like US Foods. Two years ago, a case cost less than $20, but would sometimes drop as low as $9. This year, a case typically costs upward of $60—sometimes almost $100.
Ren’s solution? His last menu price increase was a year and a half ago, but rather than raise prices again, he spends about an hour each day driving to several grocery stores, including Fred Meyer and Safeway, to pick up eggs by the dozen. “It’s 30 to 50 percent cheaper,” he says, “but it’s still thousands more on eggs per year than we were spending before. If I had stuck to Cash and Carry (US Foods), it would be an extra $10,000 per year.” That doesn’t even account for the rising cost of other essential ingredients like English cucumbers, which are typically $1 but now can cost $3–4 each, according to Ren.
Meanwhile, Chad Bernard, owner of crêpe restaurant Frog and Snail on SE Hawthorne Boulevard, has chosen to raise prices due to increasing ingredient costs. “You can add an egg to certain menu items, and it was a dollar to add an egg for a long time,” he says. “I recently changed it to $2, but even at $2, I’m still making less money than when it was at $1.”
What’s more, not all eggs are created equal. While many recipes call for large eggs, Bernard has found more unusual sizes of eggs in stores lately, like medium or extra-large eggs. “If I use 10 extra-large eggs, it’s like having two or three more eggs in there, so then you have to adjust your recipes,” he says.
Egg prices are expected to drop a little from their peak in December, though many say eggs aren’t likely to return to their prepandemic prices. But some restaurant owners are keeping menu prices the same, holding out hope that the sharp price increase is only temporary. “I have to absorb the cost [of the eggs],” says Nan Chaison, owner of pan-Latin restaurant Mestizo on SE Division Street, which serves lots of vegan options alongside egg-heavy options like chilaquiles, breakfast tacos, and flan. “But for us to print out a new menu also costs a lot.” The amount she’s absorbing is significant—while Mestizo’s food costs last year were around 20 percent of the menu price, they’re now around 30 percent.
Others are working to find ways to lower their egg usage. Mark Guzman’s nonprofit, Meals On Us, makes around 4,000 meals a week, contracting to serve food at shelters in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas Counties, and also giving out meals on the street. Along with the money that comes from contracts, the nonprofit relies on monetary donations and donated food from restaurants and stores.
But Guzman says he can’t rely on egg donations. “Nine times out of 10, when we get eggs, they’re rotten,” he says. And with a limited budget, it’s hard to justify the increased price of eggs—so he’s trying to figure out how to use fewer eggs. Breakfast accounts for about 20 percent of the meals that Meals On Us serves; while the nonprofit used to serve eggs three or four days a week, they’re now down to once a week, substituting egg breakfasts with dishes like pancakes, French toast, oatmeal, and biscuits and gravy. “Eggs, they’re a luxury,” he says.
Guzman has found a hack for eggs that he can use in scrambles and custards, and to sub in for eggs when making French toast, pancakes, and scalloped potatoes. “I looked it up on TikTok, of all places—how to re-create the Just Egg recipe, those vegan eggs, using mung beans,” he says. He buys dried mung beans in 50-pound bags at Hong Phat, soaks them overnight, then blends them with xantham gum and seasonings. But the increased labor is significant. “If we’re cracking a dozen eggs, it takes a few minutes. If we’re doing the mung bean thing, it’s a few hours, because you have to soak them for at least an hour and a half, and blend it and get the ratios right.”
Meanwhile, Erica Montgomery of Erica’s Soul Food has been using vegan egg replacer from Bob’s Red Mill since long before it was cool. Each bag costs around $4–5, and can replace 32 eggs. “When I started making my corn bread vegan, I would carry the Bob’s egg replacer and regular eggs,” she says. “But even back then, four bucks for 32 eggs is quite a deal. I figured I’d still be saving money if I used the vegan, gluten-free stuff in everything—and it would just empty space in my cart for something else.” Now, she uses the egg replacer in several recipes that typically call for eggs, including her salmon croquettes and meat loaf.
But for some recipes, there’s just no replacing eggs. “When you love eggs, you just love eggs,” says Chaison with a laugh.