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Marketplace Morning Report

Bird flu is winding down but bakers still feel a pinch

Annie Baxter Jul 15, 2015
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The bird flu crisis is winding down, with no new cases reported since June 17thBut for bakers, there’s still a big egg crisis.

Many buy liquid eggs by the bucket. Those pails are harder to come by and are far more expensive lately. That’s because commercial egg operations have been hit hardest by the bird flu. Some that produce eggs also have equipment to break them, so that bakers needn’t do so by hand. With fewer of those operations running, liquid egg is at a premium.

That’s prompting John Lupo, a wholesale baker in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, a Twin Cities suburb, to stockpile buckets of liquid eggs. His bakery, called Grandma’s, sells baked goods to places like grocery stores, coffee shops and corporate food services.

“We’re trying to get as far ahead as we can, buying from every source that is willing to sell us. We’re worried they’ll be rationing,” he says.

Lupo says in early April he was paying about $26 for a 30-pound bucket of eggs. Now he’s paying more like $90 a pail. That’s driving his costs up dramatically, since he burns through about 30 buckets a week.

Theoretically, Lupo could buy cartons of whole eggs, which haven’t had quite the same price spike as liquid egg products. But he says it’s not practical to crack more than 30,000 eggs a month by hand.

“Impossible,” he says. “We just simply couldn’t crack them fast enough, and then you have to deal with the issue of the egg shells in the product. That would be a food safety hazard.”

John Lupo at Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake, Minn.

Some commercial bakers are experimenting with egg substitutes out of fear that the liquid egg shortage lasts a couple years. A firm called Hampton Creek is optimistic that will goose its sales. The company has figured out how to make egg-intensive products like cookies and mayo using plant-based ingredients instead.

“You can imagine that given the issues around avian flu, food manufacturers, large restaurant chains, big retailers are even more interested in what we’re doing,” says Josh Tetrick, the company’s chief executive. 

But for a baker like Lynn Schurman in Cold Spring, Minnesota, egg substitutes pose their own problems. She dreads having to change the ingredient labels on the hundreds of baked goods she provides to places like grocery stores.

“We’ll have to be constantly monitoring the labels to make sure they are accurate for what we’re producing,” she says. “Not any fun.”

 

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