Bakers feel a pinch even as bird flu fades

Grandma's Bakery
Workers decorated cakes at Grandma's Bakery in White Bear Lake, Minn.
Annie Baxter | Marketplace

The bird flu crisis is winding down, with no new cases reported for about a month. But 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, Minn., 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," he said. "Buying from every source that is willing to sell to us. We're worried they'll be rationing."

Lupo said that in early April he was paying about $26 for a 30-pound bucket of eggs. Now he's paying more like $90 per 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 it's not practical to crack more than 30,000 eggs a month by hand, he said.

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"Impossible. We just simply couldn't crack them fast enough, and then you have to deal with the issue of the eggshells in the product. That would be a food safety hazard," he said.

Some commercial bakers are experimenting with egg substitutes out of fear that the liquid egg shortage could last a couple of years.

Hampton Creek is optimistic that the shortage will goose its sales. The company has figured out how to make egg-intensive products like cookies and mayonnaise 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," said Josh Tetrick, the company's chief executive.

But for a baker like Lynn Schurman in Cold Spring, Minn., 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 said. "Not any fun."

Editor's note: This story originally appeared on Marketplace.