For the first few months of 2015, the initial shortages of Proposition 2-compliant eggs in California, and the run-up of egg prices in the Golden State were the biggest news surrounding the U.S. egg industry. But by April, highly pathogenic avian influenza made its way to Iowa, and it wasn’t just California that had a tight egg supply.
As the number of layers lost in the avian flu outbreak jumped past 10 million and on up to 40 million, wholesale egg prices began to rise, eventually setting new record highs. As the outbreak ended in the early summer, egg producers hurried to update biosecurity practices to prepare for the return of migratory birds in the fall that might be caring the avian flu virus.
With wholesale egg prices still at record levels in the summer, McDonald’s began telling its franchisees to be prepared for introduction of an all-day breakfast menu, to be introduced as early as fall 2015. Then the restaurant chain, which already was the largest foodservice user of eggs in the U.S., announced that all-day breakfast would be launched nationwide on October 6, 2015.
Finally, in September, McDonald’s announced that it would transition over a 10-year period to purchases of eggs produced by cage-free hens for its U.S. and Canadian restaurants. In addition to McDonald’s size as a purchaser of eggs, this announcement was significant because of the leading position the company has taken in evaluating hen welfare over the past two decades.
Last year was a record year for U.S. egg and egg products exports, and in 2015 the U.S. will be a net importer, importing shell eggs and egg products from several countries. Restocking of farms depopulated because of avian flu will not be complete until the end of 2016. Meanwhile, the industry is in the midst of a cage-free housing boom. I think 2016 will be another interesting year.