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Egg prices triple in 3 weeks amid coronavirus panic shopping

"Supply is flowing" amid coronavirus panic

Americans may have to make do with chocolate eggs this Easter, as the real ones could prove elusive. Along with hand sanitizer and toilet paper, consumers hunkering down due to the coronavirus have been filling up their shopping carts with eggs — lots of eggs.

"It's created a shortage in a tight window of explosive demand," Brian Moscogiuri, an analyst at commodity market research firm Urner Barry, told CBS MoneyWatch. "It's like ahead of a major snowstorm, when people are not sure if they'll be able to go out again, other than this is happening on a national scale." 

According to Nielsen, egg sales soared 86% last week compared with the year-ago period. In the four weeks ending March 21, egg sales jumped 29% compared with the same period in 2019, the data company said.

Wholesale prices for a dozen Midwest large eggs — the benchmark for the egg industry — surged to a record $3.09 on Thursday, up from $1.03 at the beginning of the month, according to Moscogiuri. 

"It's essentially tripled over the last three weeks, with retailers seeing demand four-to-six times the normal volume in a very consolidated period," the analyst said. "There are only a certain amount of chickens laying a certain amount of eggs each day, so supply is limited." 

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The egg section stands empty at a chain supermarket in Brooklyn, New York, on March 18, 2020. Irina Ivanova

The cost being extracted by egg suppliers is even higher than in 2015, when the industry lost about 11% of its production due to avian influenza killing tens of millions of egg-laying hens, Moscogiuri noted. 

"We just got the new egg prices about 10 minutes ago, and it's shocking," Avi Kaner, co-founder of Morton Williams, a chain of 16 supermarkets in the New York City metropolitan area, said Friday. "They raised prices from $2.65 to $3.06, so it's another 15% in the last week, and last week prices doubled from the week before."

When supplier prices increase, retailers can either pass on the cost to consumers, take a hit to profits or something in between.

"We obviously can't double the price, so we'll increase a little bit," said Kaner, who explained that when wholesale egg prices doubled, Morton Williams hiked prices 14%.

Prices of other commodities and in-demand products haven't risen quite so sharply, Kaner said. A self-professed believer in supply and demand, he said he objected to egg suppliers "taking advantage of a national emergency at a time the country should be working to help each other." 

Retailers accused of price gouging amid coronavirus outbreak

As for the coming holiday, egg decorations may have to be put on the back burner. 

"It has begun to look likely that the traditional Easter demand period for shell eggs, now just over a week away, may not materialize with many retailers not issuing circulars and those that are focusing on cage-free and organic offerings which, largely of the brown shell variety, are poor candidates for Easter coloring activities," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly egg report released on Friday. 

Retailers including Walmart have in recent weeks imposed limits for customers in purchasing items including eggs as well as paper products, milk, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, water, diapers, wipes, formula and baby food.

CBS News' Irina Ivanova contributed to this report.

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