Why are brown eggs more expensive than white eggs

Why are brown eggs more expensive than white eggs? Blame the birds

That’s when many shoppers struggle with a moment when running a grocery store: Why does a box of brown eggs cost more than a box of white eggs?

It’s not what you think. It’s not about one variety being healthier, or more natural or more attractive than the other but really about the minutiae of farm economics. It costs more to keep the hens happy and well fed.

“Basically, there is no difference between brown eggs and white eggs in terms of nutrition. It has to do with the breed of chicken,” explains Daniel Brey, owner of Brey’s Egg Farm, a fourth-generation family egg farm in Jeffersonville, New York. The farm produces more than 200,000 white eggs a day.

Some breeds like White Leghorn chickens lay eggs with white shells while other breeds like Rhode Island Reds lay eggs with brown shells. According to Brey, the cost and flavor of the eggs you buy – white or brown – is determined by what – and how much – the hens are fed.

“It has a lot to do with the chicken feed,” Brey said. “It costs more to make a dozen brown eggs because the hens that produce them tend to eat more.”

Edmund McNamara and his wife, Rose, run Sova Farms in Norwich, NY, about 200 miles north of New York City’s Central Park. Sova Farms, he said, is certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture for its brown eggs and its chicken, pork and lamb.

The farm currently produces about 350 brown eggs per day but expects to collect up to more than 1,000 brown eggs a day after receiving a shipment of more than 700 hens (or pullets) this month.

“All our eggs are brown but occasionally chickens will lay light brown eggs,” he said, adding that the eggs are sold directly to consumers in New York’s Westchester County.

Harder to find
In stores, brown eggs tend to fetch a premium – even if it’s just because of their color anomaly.

“Eggs come in many colors, not just white and brown. Depending on the breed, some are blue and green,” says Joan Frank, assistant program director, dietetics, with the University of California, David’s Department of Nutrition. However, there is no difference in the nutritional value of eggs based on the color of the skin, he said.

“I think consumers for some reason have believed that chocolate eggs are healthier, which they’re not,” Frank said.

Sova Farms is currently selling a dozen large chocolate eggs for $8. Store prices for organic pastured chocolate eggs can be as high as $10 for a dozen, while conventional chocolate eggs range from $4.50 to $6 at most stores.

A dozen egg whites are about $2.50 at the store, according to the latest weekly government data, up from $1.50 a dozen from a year ago.

But McNamara also said “there is no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs.”

Phil Lempert, a retail industry analyst and editor of SuperMarketGuru.com estimates how much shoppers typically pay for brown eggs compared to their white counterparts. “If there’s a brown egg next to a white egg, you’ll typically pay anywhere from 10% to 20% more for a brown egg, regardless of whether it’s free range or organic,” he says.

Egg-onomics all that
David Anderson, a professor of agricultural economics (with expertise in livestock economics) at Texas A&M University, has studied egg prices and the factors that affect them on the farm and in the supermarket.

Egg prices, regardless of skin color, generally respond to changes in demand, he said. “You have short-lived seasonal events like Easter. We always see demand for eggs during the holidays. In the fall, we also see an increase in demand for eggs for holiday-related activities like baking,” Anderson said.

Thrown into the mix are other influences on egg prices such as the cost of chicken feed. “The cost of feed has decreased. This helps egg producers. We had a record big crop last year in the US and we have much lower corn and soybean meal prices now, he said.

On the other hand, the latest Avian Flu outbreak could keep egg prices higher than last year. If egg producers can’t meet demand because they have to cull their chicken populations due to bird flu, that could drive up prices.

Looking specifically at the economics of producing brown eggs versus conventional white eggs, Anderson confirmed it does indeed cost more to produce the brown variety. “If it costs more to produce them they will probably be given a higher price to the consumer.”

But about the “perception” that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs?

“It’s almost like, what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Anderson said. “Did the company advertise that first or did it come from consumers thinking that brown eggs must be healthier?”

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