Twice in the last six years, the egg industry has been forced to deal with circumstances beyond its control.
But each time, says Kevin Stiles, the industry has bounced back.
“Avian influenza in 2015 really hit us hard, and that came at a time when we had 58 to 59 million laying hens here,” says Stiles, executive director of the Iowa Egg Council.
“We came back from that, and then COVID-19 hit a year ago and the impact on the food service and restaurant industries cost us many customers. We lost about 15% of our flock, but as the food service industry starts to recover, we are seeing our numbers starting to move up again.”
Iowa is the largest egg producing state in the U.S., with nearly 22 million more hens than runner-up Ohio. From September 2019 through August 2020, Iowa hens laid nearly 16 billion eggs. That means roughly one in five eggs consumed in the U.S. annually come from Iowa.
More than 7,100 jobs are linked to the egg industry in Iowa, generating more than $2 billion in sales, according to the council.
Stiles says most of the Midwest egg industry took a big hit from COVID-19. He says demand for eggs has increased as more people cooked at home. His office fields calls with questions ranging from how to make an omelet to how to hard boil eggs.
“With Easter coming up, that’s a question we always get this time of year,” Stiles says. “But certainly eggs are on-trend now as consumers find out how healthy they are. We aren’t seeing the concern we saw 15 years ago when eggs were thought to be a high source of cholesterol. Now, nearly every dietitian has eggs as part of their diets. Eggs just aren’t protein anymore.”
Jo Manhart, director of the Missouri Egg Council, says her state has about 7 million laying hens, with most of those owned by two major companies.
She says the state is seeing growth in smaller flocks as consumers look to use their own chickens or buy straight from the farm.
“The opportunity to sell into that market is definitely there,” Manhart says.
She says it is important for consumers to understand egg products purchased from the store are also very safe.
“Our industry takes a great deal of pride in providing a safe, nutritious product,” Manhart says. “I love to preach the gospel of eggs to anyone who will listen.”
Stiles says egg consumption per capita has grown steadily in the 3-5% range over the past few years, adding retail purchases continue to grow.
“As more people are vaccinated and the food service and restaurant industries rebound, we expect demand to increase,” he says. “We are anxious to get our food service industries strong again.”