Why do brown eggs cost more than white eggs? Blame the bird

Posted at 7:52 AM, May 07, 2024

New York (CNN) — It’s a moment many shoppers grapple with at some point during a grocery run: Why does a carton of brown eggs cost more than a carton of white eggs?

It’s not what you might think. It’s not about one type being healthier, or more natural or fancier than the other but really about the nitty-gritty of farm economics. It costs more to keep the brown egg-laying hen happy and well fed.

“Basically, there is no difference between a brown egg and a white egg nutritionally. It has to do with the breed of the chicken,” explained 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 such as White Leghorn chickens lay eggs with white shells while other breeds such as Rhode Island Reds lay eggs with brown shells. According to Brey, the cost and taste of the egg you buy – white or brown - is determined by what – and how much – is fed to the hen.

“It has a lot to do with the chicken feed,” Brey said. “It costs more to make a dozen brown eggs because the chickens 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 organic certified 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 daily but expects to bump that up to over 1,000 brown eggs a day after receiving a delivery of more than 700 pullets (or young hens) on this month.

“All our eggs are brown but every once in a great while a chicken will lay a very light brown,” 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 carry a premium – even if it’s just because of their color anomaly.

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

“I think consumers for some reason have come to believe that brown eggs are healthier, which they are not,” Frank said.

Sova Farms is currently selling a dozen large brown eggs for $8. Store prices for organic pastured brown eggs can be as high as $10 for a dozen, while the price of conventional brown eggs is between $4.50 to $6 in most stores.

A dozen white eggs is about $2.50 in stores, according to the latest weekly government data, up from $1.50 a dozen from a year ago.

Yet McNamara, too, said “there is really no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs.”

Phil Lempert, a grocery industry analyst and editor of estimated how much more shoppers typically pay for brown eggs versus their white counterpart. “If there’s brown eggs next to white eggs, typically you’re going to pay anywhere between 10% to 20% more for brown eggs, regardless of free range or organic,” he said.

The egg-onomics of it all

David Anderson, professor of agricultural economics (with a specialty in livestock economics) at Texas A&M University, has studied egg pricing and factors that affect it on farms and in the supermarket.

Egg prices, regardless of the color of the shell, generally respond to swings in demand, he said. “You have short-term seasonal events such as Easter. We always see holiday demand for eggs. In the fall, we also see demand increase for eggs for holiday-related activities such as baking,” Anderson said.

Thrown into the mix are other influences on egg prices such as the cost of chicken feed. “Feed costs have been falling This is helping egg producers. We had a record large crop last year in the US and we have much lower corn and soybean meal prices right now, he said.

On the flip side, the latest outbreak of Bird Flu could keep egg prices elevated versus last year. If egg producers aren’t able to meet demand because they’ve had to cull their chicken population due to bird flu, then that can raise 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 they’ll probably be priced higher to the consumer.”

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

“It’s almost like, what comes first, the chicken or the egg?” Anderson said. “Did the companies advertise that first or did it come from consumers who think that brown eggs just must be healthier?”

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