Egg-asperating

For more than a month Maui County residents have seen spikes in their egg prices, and one Maui retailer says he doesn’t know when suppliers will drop prices – at least for his business.

Nelson Okumura, president and owner of Valley Isle Produce, said Friday that he hadn’t seen any signs that egg prices would come down any time soon.

The national egg industry has been reeling from a bird flu virus this spring that wiped out millions of chickens and turkeys on commercial farms, especially in the Midwest. The egg shortage crisis led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lower its 2015 forecast for table egg production to 6.9 billion dozen eggs, a 5.3 percent drop from 2014.

“This is the first time the poultry industry, the egg industry has taken such a big hit,” Okumura said of the high prices that have been ongoing for more than a month.

Okumura has seen a 20 percent increase in egg prices charged by his suppliers, and higher prices are passed on to consumers.

By late May, the price for a dozen Midwest large eggs had soared 120 percent from the mid-April, pre-bird flu level to $2.62 (on the Mainland), an industry analyst group told The Associated Press. Some experts predict it will take at least a year before more eggs are available and the greater supply pushes prices down.

On Friday, a check of local supermarkets showed a variety of prices, depending on egg type and point of origin.

The following is a sampling of prices on Maui, prices may not indicate the highest or lowest prices of eggs at each market. At Sack N Save, it cost $5.99 for a dozen large local eggs. At Foodland, a dozen large Mainland eggs was $4.79. At Walmart, a dozen Mainland eggs was $3.74. At Safeway, a dozen large Mainland eggs was $3.99. At Island Grocery Depot in Kahului, owned by Okumura’s company, a dozen local eggs was selling at $3.79 a dozen.

Foodland and Sack N Save post notices on egg shelves to explain the shortage and price increases.

A Foodland and Sack N Save spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. The corporate communications office of Safeway in California could also not be reached for comment Friday.

John Forrest Ales, a Walmart spokesperson, said: “We’re working closely with our suppliers to help make sure customers can find eggs at the best possible price in our stores. Families in Hawaii are counting on us, and we’re using our size and scale to help minimize the impact on their wallets.”

Although it’s been more than a month since egg prices climbed, it appeared that prices may be decreasing at some retailers.

At Walmart on June 27, a dozen Mainland eggs cost $3.98, but on Friday, the same eggs were down to $3.74.

A Walmart spokesperson acknowledged that prices could fluctuate.

Okumura said that his suppliers began increasing egg prices in May.

While prices for eggs are high, Okumura said he has not seen any consumer shock. Customers still appear to be buying eggs, he said.

Although Thanksgiving is still several months away, Okumura said turkey suppliers have told him to place his orders now because the virus also impacted turkeys.

He added that suppliers told him that they also are not taking any new customers.

“I’m sure prices will be up.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.