Soaring egg prices hit hard

Jan. 25—When you go through dozens of eggs per week, price matters.

For area restaurant owners, escalating egg prices have hit them hard, with some saying they're absorbing the costs but others saying those increases are being passed to customers.

"Oh yes, by far," Madelia's Sweet Indeed owner Lynne Speckman said when asked if egg prices are the highest she's ever seen during her 19 years in the bakery and coffeehouse business.

One of her most popular desserts, an angel food cake, takes 16 egg whites, Speckman said. However, she doesn't want to inflict too much pain on customers, so she absorbs higher egg prices.

"Earlier we did do some price increases, but now we're just eating the cost," she said. "It's hurting everybody. We don't want someone to miss out on their birthday cake because of it."

Speckman has seen egg prices soar as high as $5 a dozen, though she last paid $4.35 a dozen about a week ago. She estimates she's paying double for eggs as what she did a year ago.

Adrian Swales, owner of the Happy Chef restaurant in Mankato, said he hasn't touched his menu prices since last spring but may have to shift increased costs to the customer soon.

"I didn't expect egg prices to shoot up as much as they have," Swales said. "Right now I'm absorbing the costs, but there comes a point where I'm forced to pass it along."

At Alpine Bistro in Mankato, owner James Brezina has become an expert on egg pricing, as he has until now been going from store to store to find the best price. However, Brezina is now "locked in" with a new farm fresh source and won't be hit with retail fluctuations.

"If you compare this year to last year, you bought 12 white eggs from Kwik Trip at this time last year they were under 99 cents, and now they're over $4," Brezina said. "It's impacting everyone, whether you're a small business or a family at home. The prices are so high right now."

He has increased the cost of his breakfast sandwiches, but said other food requiring eggs — such as muffins and chocolate chip cookies — have not undergone a price hike.

"With my breakfast sandwiches I increased the price of those three months ago," Brezina said. "You can only withstand so much before pricing goes up."

Breakfast is popular at the Mankato Travel Center's restaurant, the Ten20 Tavern, with about 200 people served during the week and upward of 300 to 400 on weekends, said the center's general manager, Sean Mahowald. And an egg-centered menu item, The American, is by far the most popular breakfast dish served during breakfast rushes, he said.

Mahowald estimates he's paying 30 percent more for eggs now than a year ago.

As for why egg prices are sky high, experts offer a variety of answers.

"I've heard it's the bird flu," Mahowald said, "but distributors are scratching their heads, too."

"I'm guessing it's the bird flu," echoed Speckman of Sweet Indeed, where they serve not only baked goods but lunch, too. "Because I know our turkey prices have been considerably higher."

Brheanna Hubmer, owner of Prairie Pride Farm, which has a store in Mankato, said the bird flu is one cause for increasing egg prices. But factor in the costs of corn and grain — the feed for the hens — into the equation as well.

Humber said she is trying to hold steady at $5 a dozen for eggs she's selling this winter, though she said prices should actually be up around $7 a dozen.

"We don't want to increase because we know it's so hard on people," she said.