Why Do Good Eggs Cost More?

At Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, we do understand the question. From the outside, one egg looks a lot like another. And when you regularly see eggs at the store for $2 dollars a dozen (and sometimes less) you begin to see this as the “real” cost of eggs. From there it’s natural to assume that anyone who charges more is just padding their profit.

But before we talk about why our free range organic eggs cost more, let’s first look at why their eggs cost less. Consider that a typical hen can lay almost one egg per day. But to feed and house her in a heated, ventilated barn for a year is not inexpensive. After an egg is laid, it must be collected, washed, inspected, and graded for sale. Finally, the eggs must be packaged and shipped to market. It’s a pretty labor-intensive business. When your great grandparents’ generation was selling eggs straight off the farm to neighbors or to local stores, the inflation-adjusted cost was way, way over $2 a dozen. In those days, people accepted that food had to be a significant part of their overall household budget because most people had first-hand knowledge of how difficult it was to produce that food.

The reason that commodity eggs can sell today for an almost laughably small amount of money (less than a bottle of water, less than a cup of coffee) is the result of giant agribusiness and the blind pursuit of “efficiency.” Efficiency sounds good, and it is good when balanced with other costs and considerations, but in this case, efficiency means putting hundreds of thousands of hens into a warehouse, stacked floor to ceiling with battery cages that cram six hens into a space the size of a microwave oven. The overcrowding, filth, disease and general misery of the animals is so extreme that it stands out even in the world of mass-produced animal agriculture. Their feed is a “least cost formulation” lacking essential nutrition, but that does usually include antibiotics to control the diseases that spread in the overcrowded barns. But, it is efficient! They can crank out millions of eggs and still make a small profit at $2 a carton.

We simply won’t do that. It’s bad for hens and bad for people. And thankfully, now that consumers are learning about these practices and speaking out, change is coming. “Cage Free,” which doesn’t quite mean what it sounds like (i.e. the birds are still confined in massive numbers, cannot go outside, etc.), will still be an improvement in terms of animal welfare. It is likely to come at a higher price on the shelf too. And, it will be money well spent for hens and consumers, despite its shortcomings.

Our farming practices are far better still. We are USDA Organic, Certified Humane Free Range, which means free access to ample pasture space except in very cold weather, ample space in the barn, no confinement whatsoever (“Cage Free” can’t say this, learn more here), roosting spaces, nesting boxes, high quality organic feed and much more. We do this on true small family farms that support real farm families and their rural communities. So, when all is said and done, you will get 12 humanely raised, organic, antibiotic free, protein-filled, nutritionally dense eggs for a few dollars. When you compare that value to your cable bill, your car insurance, or just about anything else at the grocery store – it starts to seem like a pretty good deal.

So the question we ask is not why Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs cost so much, but why do those other eggs cost so little?

Journey of the Egg – From Farm to Table

How does an egg make it from one of our small family farms to your home?

At the Farm

The journey begins in a nesting box, inside the barn, where one of our hens lays her egg. She will typically lay one egg per day, usually in the morning hours. From there the egg will slowly roll down the inclined, padded surface of the nesting box to the conveyor belt that runs the length of the barn. It will usually sit motionless on the belt until about 11AM when the farmer turns on the belt and gets ready to pack eggs in the packing room. The conveyor delivers the egg, along with several thousand others from that morning, to the packing station. A packing machine gently loads the eggs from the conveyor into plastic trays. The farmer, and if they are lucky a family member or two, run the packing machine, pull out any cracked eggs, and carefully stack the trays of eggs onto a pallet. Each pallet contains 900 dozen eggs. The pallet is then rolled into the adjacent cold storage room that is kept at 45 degrees.

On the Road

Once a week, one of our fleet of “Rooster Cruiser” trucks will turn into the farm and roll up to the small loading dock next to the cold storage room. At that time, the week’s worth of eggs, somewhere between ten to twenty thousand dozen, depending on the farm, will be loaded onto the truck. The truck will make a few more stops at other farms in the area until it is full and then proceed to one of our two processing plants in Pennsylvania or New Hampshire.

In the Plant

At the plant, the egg will now be rolled into our “nest run” cold storage area. When we are ready to run the eggs from that farm, the egg trays are loaded into our egg washer where they first go through an Organic citrus-based solution. Brushes do a gentle scrub before they get a sanitizing rinse.

At this point, things get pretty technical as each individual egg is photographed and cataloged by the computer. The camera is looking for specs of dirt, cracks and other imperfections. It is also gauging the size of the egg so that down the line it will know to send them to the correct packing station for Large, Extra Large, Jumbo and so on. Each egg is also tapped lightly by a tuning fork at this stage to test for hairline cracks that the camera cannot see. Broken or otherwise problematic eggs are pulled from the line automatically. A little less than 1% of them are simply thrown out to become pig feed for other farms and other are sent to a “breakers” line where they are cracked into our liquid egg products. The intact eggs move up the line to the packaging station based on their size and are automatically placed into cartons, never being touched by human hands. From there they go into master cases and are put back onto a truck. See our video of this part of the journey.

To the Store

From here, the trail can get a little complicated. Sometimes, our trucks will deliver right to a grocery chain’s central warehouse and they will redistribute them to their individual stores. In other cases, we might deliver them to an independent distributor to haul for us. And in some cases, we might even deliver our eggs to a big factory farm where they are “cross docked” and loaded onto other trucks that do individual store delivery. That’s because we don’t operate a big enough fleet to drive to individual stores, nor would we have enough eggs of our own to deliver even if we did. So in those cases where a big caged egg company is also the sole egg distributor for a given location, we have to “ride along” with them. That’s why you can see our trucks backed up to these mega farms. It’s not because we’re picking up eggs there, it’s because we’re delivering them there! Not an ideal situation, but for us, the only way to get our eggs where they need to go.

On Your Table

The final leg of the journey is from the store’s back room out to the egg shelf, and then home to your kitchen table. The typical time from nest to table is about 25 days. That is well within what USDA recommends for fresh egg consumption and still leaves plenty of time for you to store in your refrigerator before eating. We print the “Best By” date right on our carton as to when we recommend you consume the eggs by. But don’t worry, eggs are very resilient to spoiling and it’s possible to eat them beyond that date and be fine. We don’t recommend that of course, but typically you only lose a little bit of freshness. A good test if you’re not sure of an egg’s freshness is to drop it into a bowl of water. If it sinks, it’s still fresh. If it floats, that means that the egg has had time to develop air pockets between the shell and the egg and it’s time to toss it.

Once your eggs are safely home from the store and in the fridge, it’s time to cook them up!  If you’re looking for recipe inspiration, here are some of our favorites.

Why Cheap Eggs Are So Expensive

At Pete and Gerry’s, our eggs cost a little more than conventional eggs. We don’t apologize for this. In fact, we’re proud of it. We’re proud of producing a great product in a way that is both beneficial and sustainable.

Consider the alternative. Over the course of this past spring, roughly 48 million chickens & turkeys had to be put to death during the Avian Influenza outbreak. In Iowa alone, 24 million hens, or 40% of the egg-laying population, were hauled to landfills, buried, or burned. That’s because if a single bird within their massive warehouse enclosures (aka “barns”) contracts the disease, all other birds that could have conceivably come into contact with it have to be put down to contain the spread. So that might mean 5 million birds on a single “farm” are lost all at once.

The loss represented almost 20% of the laying hens in the U.S. This meant an immediate and dramatic increase in the price of conventional, caged-raised eggs that continues to this day. And that wasn’t the only way consumers paid. Several counties in Iowa were declared disaster areas, so taxpayers there were also forced to bail out the huge corporations that make up the agricultural industry in Iowa. Governor Branstad of Iowa also requested federal relief funds but was denied by the Obama administration. Still, the USDA has paid $191 Million in direct payments to farm corporations for their losses already.

This raises the question, how much do eggs really cost? In the store, they might retail for as little as 2 dollars a dozen. That’s because these “farms” have tried to make farming like building widgets. They have created mega-factories, scaled up as much as possible, built an assembly line of sorts, systematically eliminated human intervention, creature comfort, or any other detail that could have a small cost associated with it, and built an egg-producing machine that can put a carton of eggs on the shelf for 2 bucks, and still leave a tidy profit for the shareholders.

There are two really big problems with this model. One, chickens aren’t widgets. They are living, breathing, thinking animals. So this system that reduces them to egg-laying cogs is cruel beyond belief (and that is probably the best reason not to patronize these companies). The second problem is a systemic one. The scheme has little tolerance. If one bird on a single mega farm gets sick, that means destroying millions of hens, which immediately drives up prices, not to mention requests for government aid. The system is so inhumanely narrow in its construction; it’s just one big house of cards.

The public also bears other costs of giant agricultural operations in terms of waste ponds (giant manure filled puddles that frequently leach into groundwater and surface water), the overpowering smells generated by these places, and many other forms of pollution that would not occur with human-scale farming. A study cited 8,400 jobs lost in Iowa as fallout from the epidemic. That means more unemployment claims and a variety of other societal costs. The Des Moines Register estimates the outbreak cost the Iowa economy $1.2B. Figures for the country as a whole are $3.3B.

At Pete and Gerry’s, our small family farms have yet to lose a single hen to Avian Flu. Some of that is due to our careful safety protocols, the close eye our farmers keep on their flocks, and some of it is just luck. But even if we did lose a flock, our egg production is spread out over forty small family farms, each with just a barn or two on their property. None of our partner farms represent more than 3% of our capacity. This humane, distributed method of farming is ultimately a better value for consumers when one carefully considers all the costs.

Egg Yolks – Two for the Price of One

Have you ever cracked an egg with a double yolk? Lucky you! Ever cracked into several eggs in your dozen to find double yolks in more than one? A fan did recently, and he wrote to us in amazement to find out why. Here’s what we shared:

Double yolks are fairly rare – you might find them in 1 of every 1,000 eggs. These eggs typically come from our younger hens who are still just learning how to lay eggs.

Double-yolked eggs also tend to be very large. They are usually graded ‘Super Jumbo.’ Eggs identified as Super Jumbo are too large for our packing machine to pack into cartons, so they are moved to the hand packing station. At Pete & Gerry’s, these eggs are still labeled as Jumbos, even though they are technically Super Jumbos. As our team fills Jumbo egg cartons with the Super Jumbo eggs, of which more than 50% of which will include an extra yolk, that makes something fairly rare in nature suddenly appear rather common.

So if you crack open a Pete & Gerry’s egg and find a double yolk, you’ll actually be pretty likely to find another ‘eggstra’ yolk or two in that same dozen. And because those cartons are hand packed and placed in cases together, you could find a whole grocery display of Jumbo dozens that have a high likelihood of containing a double-yolked egg or two!

Higher egg prices hitting shops, consumers

An article was published by bostonglobe.com regarding the rising cost of eggs following an outbreak of the bird flu in the Midwest, which resulted in the euthanization of about 35 million egg-laying chickens.

“A national shortage has sent the cost of eggs skyrocketing during the past month, leading managers to increase prices on other menu items, a nickel here, a dime there, to avoid raising the tab on the three-egg best seller.”

Businesses nationwide are experiencing similar situations.

View Full Article »

Why We Love Breakfast Bowls

Seriously yummy:  Egg-Sausage & Tomato Breakfast Bowl.

Seriously yummy: Egg-Sausage & Tomato Breakfast Bowl.

We’re not sure who invented the breakfast bowl, but it’s about time we thanked him or her.   Profusely.

After all, there’s no easier way to make a sophisticated looking breakfast. And did we mention that it can take less time than brewing a pot of coffee?

The basic formula

First, put a few humble things into a bowl—maybe hot sautéed potatoes or hash, cooked rice or grits, sautéed greens, or even a bit of a leftover stir-fry or stew.  Next, top it all with an egg or two, cooked your way.   Then, you can give the whole thing an optional dash of some flavorful condiment—say, sriracha sauce, ketchup, or [insert your favorite secret sauce idea here].

Suddenly you have a nourishing, filling meal in a bowl that’s good enough for company. Bonus: Maybe you used up some leftovers, too!

A few easy riffs

Some of our favorite breakfast bowl recipes, from incredibleegg.com, riff just a little more on that same, basic formula.  Make them in your microwave and keep your kitchen cool. They’re perfect for a crazy-busy morning when you want something a little more exciting than cereal.

Give ‘em a try – just click on the title to take you to the recipe.   What’s your favorite breakfast bowl?  Post a photo here!

Microwave 3-Minute Breakfast Hash

microwave-3-minute-breakfast-hash

Microwave Egg Veggie Breakfast Bowl

microwave-egg-and-veggie-breakfast-bowl

Microwave Egg, Sausage & Tomato Breakfast Bowl  (pictured above)

 

Eggs and Weight Loss

Yes, eggs can help you lose weight!

Yes, eggs can help you lose weight!

Three ways eggs can help you get (and stay) slim

Maybe you’re hoping to lose a few pounds before bathing suit season hits its peak.  Or maybe you just want to stay at the healthy weight you’re at now.  Either way, eggs can help you get there!  Few other foods can naturally deliver such low-cal, high-quality nutrition.   Here are three key reasons why:

One:   Eggs are amazingly low in calories. A single large egg supplies just 75 calories, 5 grams of fat and less than half a gram of carbs.  In exchange,  you get 6 grams of highest-quality protein, 13 key vitamins and minerals (including vitamins A & D, B vitamins, and key minerals like phosphorus and zinc).  And, thanks to our hens’ healthy diet, our eggs also provide 200 mg of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

Two:  Eggs are rich in appetite-curbing protein.   Science suggests that protein is tops when it comes to making meals satisfying. Protein-rich foods take more time for the body to break down, possibly helping keep hunger-boosting hormones at bay longer.

One study found that overweight people who ate eggs for breakfast were better able to stave off late-morning hunger–and ate an average of 330 fewer calories throughout the day. (That’s the equivalent of cutting out a fast-food cheeseburger!).

Bonus:  Your body uses more calories to process protein it than it does carbs or fat (this is what scientists call the “thermic effect of food” or TEF).  No wonder another study found that dieters who ate egg-based breakfasts lost 65 percent more weight than those who ate the same amount of calories, but started their day with a bagel breakfast instead.

Three:  Eggs are great workout fuel.  If you’re also getting regular exercise to boost your weight loss (good for you!), getting plenty of protein will also help you build and repair muscle tissue.  Since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does, that’s a win-win!  And, as you lose weight, keeping your protein intake adequate will help preserve your muscle mass so you’re losing only unwanted fat, not muscle.

Here are some easy ways to incorporate eggs into your healthy eating routine:

• Have an egg with your breakfast.  (Here’s some recipe inspiration.)

• Boil up a bunch of eggs and keep in the fridge for grab-and-go snacks.

• Pack a hard-boiled egg in your gym bag for a quick post-workout snack.

Managing weight is all about losing bad habits, and replacing them with healthy ones.  So try getting into the egg habit. It will do your body good!

 

Around the Coop: All about Eggs! on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR

Find out all about Eggs! on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR

EGGS! on WYPR

EGGS! on WYPR

When you go to the supermarket and head into the dairy aisle one thing stands out–EGGS! When it comes to choosing what kind of eggs you will buy the choice is no longer as simple as grabbing whichever pulp carton contains the best looking eggs (You know we’re all guilty of opening up the egg carton to make sure there aren’t any cracked eggs in the carton). The choices on the egg shelf range from conventional eggs (from hens raised in cages) to cage free eggs to organic eggs.

Cage Free Eggs, Certified Humane Eggs, Organic Eggs

Cage Free Eggs, Certified Humane Eggs, Organic Eggs

As the consumer it is important to be well-informed about the purchase that you are making. When I am shopping I go through a mental checklist every-time I make a purchase based on what is important to me and my family when it comes to health, taste, sustainability, humane treatment of animals, and knowing where my eggs come from (specifically family farms). These are all things that we find important when it comes to the production of our eggs on our own farm and on our family farms (a number which has grown to more than 50 at this point!)

Find out more about our cage free and organic eggs and what we do to support family farms in this interview on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR by following this LINK.