Eileen Bartlett of Portland carries her groceries, including eggs, while shopping at the Portland Food Co-op on Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Vipassana Esbjorn-Hargens of North Yarmouth was surprised Tuesday to see the sign on the refrigerator in the Portland Whole Foods Market: “Due to a nationwide shortage of eggs and to support all customers, we are limiting egg purchases to 2 cartons per customer. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Half the shelves were empty, but she still had plenty of options. She bought two cartons at $9.99 apiece to last her family of four through the week.

“We eat a lot of eggs,” she said, still puzzling over the sign as she loaded her bags into her car. “We do a lot of baking.”

Nationally and in Maine, the egg market is ruffled by short supply and increased prices. In December 2021, a dozen Grade A eggs cost an average of $1.79, according to federal data. A year later, in December 2022, the average price was $4.25.

One cause is a national outbreak last year of avian influenza, which is highly contagious and often fatal to chickens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the disease has killed more than 58 million birds in commercial and backyard flocks since last February. In Maine, the outbreak has included 15 backyard flocks and more than 1,000 birds. The state only has two large-scale producers (more than 3,000 chickens) and neither was impacted by avian flu.

“Eggs are one of those food staples,” said John Crane, manager of the Portland Food Co-Op. “It’s something that people are very aware of the price, and the prices people are seeing in their standard grocery stores are prices they’ve never seen before.”


The co-op has been somewhat insulated from the pressures of the national market because it sources 80% of its eggs from farms in Maine. Crane said they usually sell a dozen eggs for between $4.99 and $7.99, depending on the farm.

“A lot of times, your local, small-farm products tend to cost a little bit more, and I feel like the conventional prices have caught up to us,” he said.

“Things like this always remind me that our food system is fragile, and we can’t always take it for granted,” Crane added. “It doesn’t take too much to really cause shortages or price increases through the entire system.”

John Crane, general manager at the Portland Food Co-op, shows off the store’s eggs on Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Even farmers who have not been hurt by avian flu are facing other stressors. Goronson Farm in Scarborough has about 35 chickens and nine ducks, and they sell their free-range eggs at Solo Cucina Market in South Portland for $11 a dozen. Maureen Goronson said that price has gone up about a dollar in the last year because the local feed she prefers is more expensive.

Goronson believes national costs are increasing in part because the demand for cage-free eggs is forcing large producers to change their practices.

“Consumers are becoming more savvy about these things,” she said.



Local restaurants said they are also feeling the market pressures.

At the Sinful Kitchen in Portland, owner Denae Mallari said she almost couldn’t get eggs a couple weeks ago – a big problem for a brunch spot. Thankfully, the deliveries came through.

“The foundation of our business is eggs,” Mallari said. “Eggs and coffee.”

Mallari estimated that eggs cost three times as much as when the restaurant opened eight years ago, but the sharpest increases occurred in the last year. Still, the cost of everything from electricity to labor has gone up.

“We roll with the price increase of goods every day,” she said. “Everything fluctuates, so we have to build that in.”


Owner Alba Zakja said the local eggs she orders daily for Coffee ME Up’s sandwiches are more expensive than ever. But she also said eggs are not an outlier. The Portland coffee shop recently increased prices by a small percentage because, she said, “the price of doing business has increased in general.” Customers were understanding.

“The vast majority of customers were not surprised,” she said. “They were like, it’s totally understandable, everything is going up.”


Colt Knight, an associate professor and the state livestock specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said he has been getting more calls from people interested in raising their own chickens in order to avoid buying eggs at the grocery store.

So he sat down with a pencil and paper to do the math. He estimated that a dozen eggs produced by a backyard flock would cost about $4 during the first year if the chickens ate conventional feed. (The cost would be about $6 per dozen on organic feed, he said.)

“Before, it cost twice as much to raise your own eggs as buying them in the store, but right now, you could say it might be cheaper,” Knight said.


That estimate does not include other costs such as labor or utilities, however. Knight also talks to interested callers about the daily responsibilities associated with raising chickens.

“Most folks enjoy keeping chickens,” he said. “Chickens have personalities, and you end up naming them all and having fun with the chickens. But it’s not something you can just forget about on a whim. If you want to go on vacation, well, someone has to stay behind and take care of the chickens.”

He also said people often underestimate the number of eggs they will get from their flock. (A backyard hen can produce at least 200 eggs in a single year, he said.) So perhaps someone who isn’t ready to commit to their own chickens should keep an eye out for makeshift farm stands in the neighborhoods.

“If you don’t want to pay the grocery store prices and you want to buy local, take a drive,” Knight said.

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