ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick: Charts of Note 2019 gallery.

Reset

Tightening egg supply and surge in retail demand pushed wholesale egg prices to record levels in March

Monday, June 1, 2020

As consumers prepared for more at-home meals due to COVID-19, retail demand for many products—particularly eggs—increased sharply in March. This surge in grocery store demand, coupled with supply constraints, caused wholesale egg prices to more than triple in March, reaching an all-time high of $3.07 per dozen. While egg prices were expected to rise in line with Easter, this increase was compounded by COVID-19-related retail activity. Then in April, prices decreased as rapidly as they increased, retreating to $1.05 per dozen by the end of the month. The March swell in retail demand coincided with a nearly yearlong industry effort to correct an oversupply of eggs that caused weaker wholesale prices for most of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. February and March table egg production decreased year over year for the first time since April 2016, driven by a sizeable counter seasonal reduction in the table egg layer flock. Short term measures to increase egg supplies, such as redirecting eggs from food service to retail or increasing egg production, were constrained. Differences in food service and retail egg packing equipment at the farm level limited the number of food service eggs that could be diverted to the retail sector. For the longer term, to increase egg production, any potential flock expansion would take at least 5 months—the time it takes for an egg to hatch and reach egg-laying maturity—to manifest itself in increased egg production. In late April, prices stabilized, suggesting that supply and demand imbalances have eased. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published in April and May 2020.

Broiler processing volumes decrease sharply as plants adjust operations in response to COVID-19

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 among workers in U.S. broiler processing facilities has slowed the processing volumes of broiler chicken meat, which had previously been running at a steadily high pace. Production of broiler meat in the United States in early 2020 reached a record-producing clip, significantly outperforming the same period in 2019. To support this level of production, processing rates (slaughter) had also reached an all-time high, with first-quarter 2020 volumes reaching an average of 169 million birds per week. With the spread of COVID-19, measures to increase social distancing on the production line, as well as plant closures and workforce absenteeism drove down broiler processing volumes to 155 million birds the week ending April 11 and 150 million the week ending April 18. These decreases of 8 percent and 11 percent, respectively, relative to first-quarter average volumes pushed April weekly processing volumes below levels not seen since 2014. The disruption to broiler supplies, however, was preceded by a significant shift in the demand structure for broiler meat wherein demand from food service declined sharply. While much of this demand transferred to the retail sector, it is unlikely that retail is completely making up for the lost food-service demand. Although prices of some cuts have increased from their recent lows as supplies have tightened, wholesale prices for nearly all broiler products since the beginning of April remain weak, suggesting overall broiler supplies continue to outpace demand. Some of this information is discussed in the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook for March and April 2020 and has been updated using data from the Agricultural Marketing Service.

Record high table egg lay rates in the second half of 2019 drove up egg production despite reduced flock size

Friday, April 10, 2020

In 2019, the United States produced more than 8 billion dozen table eggs, a 2.8-percent increase over 2018. Much of this growth came in the first half of 2019, driven by a larger layer flock—a flock of egg-laying hens—as well as higher egg lay rates. However, this growth resulted in an oversupply of eggs, which put significant downward pressure on egg prices. In response, the industry took measures beginning in June 2019 to downsize the layer flock. For the remainder of 2019, the layer flock inventory fell below or hovered around previous year levels. Nonetheless, table egg production in the second half of 2019 remained 1.5 percent higher over 2018 because of record-high lay rates. On November 1, 2019, the U.S. table egg lay rate reached 82 eggs per 100 layers, the highest rate on record. Lay rates, which have increased by approximately 11 percent since 2000, have been an important driver of growth in egg production. Several factors can affect lay rates, including day length, hen age, nutrition, disease, genetics, and flock management. Egg production decreases with shorter days, particularly during fall and winter, but this can be remedied with artificial lighting. Younger hens and older hens do not produce as many eggs as those hens of peak production age (approximately 26 weeks). Finally, advancements in nutrition, disease prevention, genetic selection, and improved flock management practices have contributed to improving overall hen health, which is associated with good lay rates. In the beginning of 2020, although lay rates continued to trend higher year over year, the layer flock contracted sizably. This tightening of supply has been met with a surge in demand, causing prices to increase in March. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published March 2020, and the Livestock & Meat Domestic Data: Production Indicators.

Retail and wholesale turkey prices are breaking with past Thanksgiving trends, leading to growing retail markups

Friday, November 22, 2019

Thanksgiving meals typically include such iconic dishes as pumpkin pie and stuffing, and roast turkey is usually the centerpiece. This year and last, wholesale turkey prices have been sharply lower than in years past. Do lower wholesale prices mean lower turkey prices at the grocery store? Not always. While wholesale and retail turkey price movements are historically correlated on a yearly basis, seasonal factors can disrupt this correlation. Commonly in the past, retail turkey prices during the Thanksgiving holiday season were near annual low points, while wholesale prices were near yearly highs. Between 2014 and 2016, the November markup from wholesale to retail prices for turkey averaged 18 percent, compared with an average 40-percent markup over the entire 5-year period. Beginning in 2017, however, wholesale turkey prices began a sustained decline that was not reflected in retail price movements. The retail markup in November 2017 reached 75 percent and remained high at 70 percent in November 2018. The markup is expected to remain high in 2019 but should contract slightly due to rising wholesale prices. The data suggest that the past relationship between wholesale and retail Thanksgiving turkey prices may be fading, as retail prices have become less responsive to downward movements in wholesale prices. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in September 2019.

ICYMI... U.S. inventory of table-egg laying hens grew to its highest levels ever in 2018

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The United States produces close to 7.9 billion dozen table eggs per year, via a population of table-egg-laying hens numbering in the hundreds of million. Once trade and storage are accounted for, this amounts to nearly 279 eggs available per person annually. In 2015, an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) significantly reduced the Nation’s laying-hen inventories. After reaching a low point in June 2015, inventories began to recover and have since eclipsed previous record highs, reaching nearly 331 million in December 2018. Along with the rise in laying-hen numbers, egg-laying rates have also increased through genetic improvements, reaching over 79 eggs laid per 100 hens per day in December 2018. Currently, the capacity for daily production exceeds approximately 22 million dozen eggs. In 2019, USDA forecasts suggest egg production will reach 8 billion dozen with a domestic availability of 280 eggs per person. A version of this chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in February 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published February 27, 2019.

U.S. inventory of table-egg laying hens grew to its highest levels ever in 2018

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The United States produces close to 7.9 billion dozen table eggs per year, via a population of table-egg-laying hens numbering in the hundreds of million. Once trade and storage are accounted for, this amounts to nearly 279 eggs available per person annually. In 2015, an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) significantly reduced the Nation’s laying-hen inventories. After reaching a low point in June 2015, inventories began to recover and have since eclipsed previous record highs, reaching nearly 331 million in December 2018. Along with the rise in laying-hen numbers, egg-laying rates have also increased through genetic improvements, reaching over 79 eggs laid per 100 hens per day in December 2018. Currently, the capacity for daily production exceeds approximately 22 million dozen eggs. In 2019, USDA forecasts suggest egg production will reach 8 billion dozen with a domestic availability of 280 eggs per person. A version of this chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in February 2019.

Egg prices rose and remained high during and after the 2014-15 U.S. highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) caused the loss of more than 50 million U.S. chickens and turkeys between December 2014 and June 2015, the largest poultry health disaster in U.S. history. More than 80 percent of bird losses were recorded between April 17 and May 19, 2015. Table-egg laying chickens accounted for a large majority of the lost birds; about 12 percent of the U.S. table-egg laying chicken flock was lost. As production fell, egg prices rose sharply. May-December 2015 prices for consumer-grade eggs were 61 percent higher than the previous year. The price increase far surpassed the production losses on a relative basis, reflecting what economists call inelastic demand, meaning that the quantity demanded of a good is not particularly sensitive to changes in price. Consumers did not cut back on their demand, i.e. purchases, even when prices rose, pushing prices even higher. Price increases for processing-grade eggs, often used by restaurants, bakers, and other commercial operations, rose, too. This reflects commercial users’ inelastic demand due, in part, to the difficulty they face in finding substitutes for eggs in their products. A version of this chart appears in the April 2018 ERS Amber Waves article, "Egg Price Impacts of the 2014-15 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak."

Broiler weights start 2018 by showing continued growth

Friday, March 23, 2018

U.S. broiler meat production continues to grow, reaching 3.6 billion pounds in January 2018, almost 4 percent higher than the previous year. For the year, USDA expects broiler production to reach 42.6 billion pounds, almost 1 billion pounds more than was produced in 2017, and nearly 2 billion more than in 2016. One of the factors driving higher broiler meat production is a steady increase in the average weight of the birds slaughtered. Weights in January 2018 averaged 6.26 pounds, about one percent above a year ago, and more than 4 percent higher than January 2014. Broiler weights tend to follow a cyclical pattern, peaking during the late fall or early winter and achieving their lowest average weights at the height of the summer, but they have shown year-over-year gains in most months over the past 5 years. This chart is from the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in March 2018.

U.S. egg imports surged during and after the 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak

Monday, March 12, 2018

The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak had a widespread impact on the U.S. poultry sector, hitting egg producers the hardest. The outbreak resulted in the loss of roughly 12 percent of the total U.S. table-egg laying population, which limited production and drove up domestic wholesale prices for all egg grades, including those used for processing by restaurants, bakers, and other food manufacturers. During this period, egg market supplies were bolstered by a very large increase in imports, including shell eggs graded for processing as well as liquid and dried egg products. Before 2015, these imports were marginal, attributable in part to rigorous country certification standards and less competitive prices due to typically robust domestic egg production (the Netherlands, for example, had to recertify after allowing their certification to lapse). After the outbreak, however, monthly imports of these items peaked above 15 percent of the processed eggs available domestically. As production recovered and domestic prices returned to pre-outbreak levels, U.S. egg imports returned to more stable levels, falling by 74 percent in 2017 to total 32 million dozen, just 2 million dozen more than the single month’s total in December 2015. This chart appears in the ERS report, Impacts of the 2014-2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Poultry Sector, released in December 2017.

The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak significantly impacted turkey and egg producers

Friday, January 12, 2018

The 2014-15 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak was the largest poultry health disaster in U.S. history. More than 50 million birds were lost to the disease itself or to depopulation, overshadowing bird losses during any previous U.S. outbreak. HPAI resulted in lower commodity production when supplies had previously been growing. USDA’s November 2014 forecasts for 2015 anticipated a 3-percent annual increase in both broiler and turkey production and a 2-percent increase in egg production. These projections, however, preceded the outbreak, which lowered egg and turkey production substantially during and afterward. In contrast, HPAI did not affect broiler production, with production growth continuing through 2015 and aligning with prior forecasts. Egg production declined for about 9 months, with the sharpest reduction occurring from May to December 2015, as production remained 10 percent below 2014 levels. The impact of HPAI on turkey production was initially similar to its impact on egg production, but it rebounded faster. While monthly production for June-July 2015 averaged 10 percent below the prior year, monthly production in August-December 2015 averaged only 5 percent lower. This chart appears in the ERS report Impacts of the 2014-2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Poultry Sector, released in December 2017.

Eating out market drove chicken’s popularity

Monday, January 9, 2017

Per person chicken consumption in the United States more than doubled over the past four decades. Linking ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data with food intake surveys from 1994-2008 reveals that the away-from-home market, which includes restaurants with wait staff, fast food places, school cafeterias, and other eating out places, drove much of the growth in U.S. chicken consumption over the 1994-2008 period. The share of total chicken consumption prepared by away-from-home eating out places rose from 41.9 percent during 1994-98 to 46.4 percent during 2007-08. Loss-adjusted chicken availability per person in the away-from-home market was 16.8 pounds in 1994-98 and rose to the range of 22.5 to 24.8 pounds during 2005-08. In contrast, chicken obtained at grocery stores (the food-at-home market) grew by just 2.6 pounds per person from 23.3 to 25.9 pounds. The greater growth in chicken consumption away from home is consistent with the introduction of chicken nuggets, chicken strips, and grilled chicken sandwiches and their rising popularity in fast food and other eating out places. This chart appears in the ERS report U.S. Food Commodity Availability by Food Source, 1994-2008, released on December 28, 2016.

Baking supplies cost less in 2016 than in 2015

Friday, December 16, 2016

This holiday season, consumers buying baking ingredients will find their wallets stretch a bit farther. The total cost in 2016 for five baking staples—eggs, milk, margarine, sugar, and flour—was down from 2015. A 5-pound bag of flour, 4-pound bag of sugar, gallon of whole milk, pound of margarine, and a carton of eggs would have cost $13.30 in October of 2015 compared to $11.65 in October of 2016—a savings of $1.65. Consumers may notice the biggest savings when they reach into the refrigerated cooler for eggs. Egg prices have been halved, declining year-over-year by $1.42 per dozen as the egg industry recovers from last year’s Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak. Price changes for the other categories are smaller and vary depending on the ingredient. Milk, sugar, and margarine cost less this year, while a 5-pound bag of flour cost 6 cents more than last year. More information on retail food prices and forecasted inflation can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 23, 2016.

Grocery store prices lower in the third quarter of 2016 from a year ago

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The food-at-home Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the third quarter of 2016 was 1.9 percent lower than the food-at-home CPI for the third quarter of 2015. Grocery store prices decreased, on average, across the board—with the exception of fresh fruits, which rose 2 percent. Egg prices saw the largest decrease, falling 35 percent, reflecting the recovery in the industry after the supply shock caused by late 2014 to June 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak. Beef and veal, dairy products, pork, and poultry also posted large decreases compared to third quarter 2015, reflecting larger supplies of cattle, raw milk, hogs, and broilers. In addition to increases in domestic supplies, lower oil and energy prices helped hold down retail food price inflation, while a strong U.S. dollar lowered costs for imported foods and decreased demand for U.S. exports, placing further downward pressure on U.S. retail food prices. This chart appears in the Food Prices and Spending section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials chart collection. More information on retail food prices and forecasted inflation can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated November 23, 2016.

U.S. egg prices continue to adjust following the 2015 HPAI outbreak

Monday, August 29, 2016

Wholesale prices for table eggs are typically variable, reflecting changes in supply, demand, as well as seasonal patterns. The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak that affected U.S. poultry farms between December of 2014 and June of 2015 led to a significant reduction in the supply of eggs, and a corresponding spike in prices. As the outbreak intensified in the spring of 2015, the price of a dozen “grade A” large eggs in the New York market increased from $1.29 in April to $2.61 in August. In the two years prior to the outbreak, the average price of a dozen eggs in this market was $1.33. Prices remained elevated through the remainder of 2015 as producers worked to rebuild capacity. As production returned to pre-outbreak levels in early 2016, prices fell sharply to a low of $0.63 per dozen in May 2016, the lowest price since July 2006, before increasing modestly in June and July. This chart is based on data found in the ERS Livestock and Meat Domestic Data.

At least 48 percent of U.S. broilers were fed antibiotics only for disease-treatment purposes

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Livestock farmers use antibiotics to treat, control, and prevent disease, and also for production purposes, such as increasing growth and feed efficiency. A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration initiative seeks to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for production purposes. In the 2011 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) on broilers (the most recent year available), producers were asked whether they raised their broilers without antibiotics in their feed or water unless the birds were sick, which implies not using antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention. In 2011, growers reported that about half of birds (48 percent) were only given antibiotics for disease treatment. This response also accounts for 48 percent of operations and 48 percent of production (by live weight). Approximately a third (32 percent) of operators stated that they did not know if they provided antibiotics via feed or water for purposes other than disease treatment; this means the proportion of reporting operations that only supplied antibiotics for disease-treatment purposes could be as high as 80 percent. Contracted growers (accounting for 96 percent of broiler production) may not know if antibiotics are in the feed provided by the company for whom they raise broilers. These statistics suggest that in 2011, between 20 and 52 percent of birds were given antibiotics for reasons other than disease treatment. This chart is found in the Amber Waves feature, “Restrictions on Antibiotic Use for Production Purposes in U.S. Livestock Industries Likely To Have Small Effects on Prices and Quantities,” November 2015.

Retail egg prices rose 21 percent in third quarter 2015

Monday, February 8, 2016

Egg prices are among the most volatile in the grocery store. Unlike many other retail foods, shell eggs have a limited shelf life—they cannot be frozen or canned. If demand increases or supplies fall, there is limited inventory to draw upon and retail prices may rise. While some price fluctuations are expected due to seasonal demand for eggs throughout the year, there have been some above-average price increases over the past 16 years, mainly due to disease outbreaks affecting poultry or surges in feed prices. The most recent upswing in retail egg prices was largely due to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which affected table-egg-laying flocks, primarily in the Midwest. To contain the outbreak, which ran from late 2014 to June 2015, producers destroyed about 33 million hens (roughly 11 percent of U.S. egg-laying hens). Retail egg prices rose 20.9 percent in the third quarter of 2015, and egg prices in September 2015, were 36.2 percent higher than in September 2014. As the industry recovers from the outbreak, retail egg prices have begun to adjust, falling 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. This chart appears in “Retail Egg Price Volatility in 2015 Reflects Farm Conditions” in the February 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Restrictions on antibiotic use for production purposes in U.S. hogs and broilers likely to have modest effects on prices, quantities

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Livestock farmers use antibiotics to treat, control, and prevent disease, and also for production purposes, such as increasing growth and feed efficiency. A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration initiative seeks to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for production purposes. ERS research shows that only a portion of hog and broiler producers use antibiotics for production purposes, and the productivity increases from such uses are 1-3 percent. Modelling the effect of production-specific antibiotic restrictions suggests that such a policy would have a modest effect on wholesale prices and quantities produced of chicken and pork—less than a 1-percent increase in wholesale prices and a net decline in production of less than 0.5 percent. Because prices increase more than quantities decrease, gross revenues (price times quantity) would increase slightly. This chart is based on the table found in the Amber Waves feature, “Restrictions on Antibiotic Use for Production Purposes in U.S. Livestock Industries Likely To Have Small Effects on Prices and Quantities,” November 2015.

Chicken's popularity makes it the most consumed U.S. meat

Monday, January 25, 2016

In 2013, 57.7 pounds of chicken per person on a boneless, edible basis were available for Americans to eat, compared to 53.6 pounds of beef and 43.4 pounds of pork, according to ERS’s food availability data. From 1909 to the early 1940s, chicken availability had been around 10 pounds per person a year, while yearly per-person beef and pork availability had ranged from between 30 and 50 pounds. Chicken began its upward climb in the 1940s, as innovations in breeding, mass production, and processing made chicken more plentiful, affordable, and convenient for the dining-out market and for cooking at home. By 1996, chicken had overtaken pork as the second-most-consumed meat, and in 2010, chicken overtook beef for the No. 1 spot. Beef availability rose during the second half of the last century, peaking at 88.8 pounds per capita in 1976. Pork availability, which had fallen in 2010 and 2011, was up in 2012 and again in 2013. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.

U.S. poultry and eggs output has grown more rapidly than dairy and meat animals

Friday, October 23, 2015

Total U.S. livestock output grew 130 percent from 1948 to 2011, with the poultry and eggs subcategory growing much faster than meat animals (including cattle, hogs, and lamb) and dairy products. In 2011, the real value of total poultry and egg production was more than seven times its level in 1948, with an average annual growth rate exceeding 3 percent. The rapid growth of poultry production is due largely to changes in technology—advances in genetics, feed formulations, housing, and practices—and increased consumer demand. Retail prices of poultry fell in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, relative to beef and pork prices, leading to expanded poultry consumption in that period. Increased domestic consumption and exports were also driven by consumer response to an expanding range of new poultry products, as the industry moved away from a reliance on whole birds and production shifted to cut-up parts and processed products such as boneless chicken, breaded nuggets/tenders, and chicken sausages. This chart is found in the ERS report, Agricultural Productivity Growth in the United States: Measurement, Trends, and Drivers, July 2015.

Americans consumed 19 pounds of eggs per person in 2012

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

According to ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data, U.S. consumption of eggs fell during the 1970s and 1980s from 24 pounds per person in 1971 to 18.2 pounds in 1990. Egg consumption stayed fairly flat before rising some in the late 1990s. Concerns over cholesterol in eggs (related to heart disease), and an increase in fast food restaurants offering non-egg breakfast items such as yogurt, fruit salads, oatmeal, etc., likely influenced the decline. Roughly 70 percent of the 19 pounds of eggs per person (the equivalent of 144 eggs) that Americans consumed in 2012 were shell eggs, and 30 percent were processed egg products, where eggs have been removed from the shell, pasteurized, and then packaged in liquid, frozen, or dried form. Though some processed products are available in grocery stores, many processed egg products are used by food manufacturing and foodservice companies. On a daily basis, Americans consumed an average of 0.8 ounces of eggs per day in 2012, compared to 2.0 ounces of chicken, the most consumed protein in the meat, fish, eggs, and nuts group. In 2012, Americans consumed 529 daily calories per person from the meat, fish, eggs, and nuts group, with 34 calories coming from egg consumption. The data for this chart come from ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

Charts of Note header image for left nav