No yolking matter: Egg shortage affects Bucks bakeries

MATT SCHICKLING / WIRE PHOTO Shannon's Sweet Shoppe in Levittown creates a menu of gourmet cakes, cupcakes, muffins, cookies and more. Producing the treats takes about 15 to 30 dozen eggs a week, but that is becoming a challenge due to an egg shortage that started last December.

MATT SCHICKLING / WIRE PHOTO Shannon’s Sweet Shoppe in Levittown creates a menu of gourmet cakes, cupcakes, muffins, cookies and more. Producing the treats takes about 15 to 30 dozen eggs a week, but that is becoming a challenge due to an egg shortage that started last December.

James Boyle, the Wire

Switching from custard to soft-serve ice cream or using corn instead of eggs in fried rice may help certain restaurants, but making substitutions is simply not an option for Bucks County bakeries.

Even as skyrocketing egg prices have forced national chains including Rita’s Water Ice and Panda Express to find non-egg alternatives to cut costs, local businesses aren’t following suit — yet.

“Eggs are a crucial ingredient in everything,” said Shannon Ferrari, owner of Shannon’s Sweet Shoppe in Levittown. “I won’t sacrifice the integrity of my recipes to save money.”

Located on Woodbourne Road in Levittown, Ferrari’s bakery creates an exhaustive menu of gourmet cakes, cupcakes, muffins, cookies and more. Producing the delicious treats takes about 15 to 30 dozen eggs a week, Ferrari says, and the egg situation is not helping the year-old business.

“We’ve managed to avoid passing the costs to the customers so far,” said Ferrari. “If things don’t change soon, though, we are going to have to.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the shortage started back in December when two strains of avian influenza began to work their way west from the Pacific coast to the Midwest. More than 47 million birds, including egg-laying hens, have been killed as of June, the department said in a press release.

“The virus has spread west to east primarily through migratory birds from the Pacific to the central flyway to the Mississippi flyway,” said the release. “The Atlantic flyway, which intersects with the Mississippi flyway and overlies Pennsylvania, has not yet shown birds carrying the virus.”

According to statistics provided by the department, Pennsylvania is fourth in the nation with 7.57 billion eggs produced in 2014. A department spokesperson says that egg production farms and facilities are at full capacity in Pennsylvania, but a trickle-down effect from the shortage is raising prices nationwide as affected farms work to restore themselves.

“There is currently no estimated time for when the egg shortage will end,” said Brandi Hunter-Davenport, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “It will depend on how quickly the farms which have been depopulated can return to full production as well as whether or not there will be more flocks infected in the months and years to come.”

Pennsylvania has avoided avian flu contamination, but that has not stopped the department from developing a response plan for that possibility. According to information provided by the department, all avian shows have been suspended at county fairs and at the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

An interstate quarantine has been issued, requiring all poultry moving to live bird markets and flocks producing eggs destined for commercial operations in Pennsylvania to meet a 72-hour testing standard.

The department has also published recommendations for members of the poultry industry, encouraging stronger biosecurity methods during the crisis. Visitors to farms, such as veterinarians, feed truck deliveries and relatives, should disinfect wheels and floor mats when entering the property and park away from the poultry housing. When leaving, they should disinfect their shoes before getting back into the car.

Poultry producers should avoid sharing equipment, tools and other supplies with neighbors and implement effective rodent and wild bird controls to prevent contamination. A flock plan should be developed to minimize the effects of a possible outbreak.

As the supply chain works to return to some sort of normalcy, the higher egg costs could not come at a worse time for bakers like Jaimie Vlaanderen, owner of Cupcake Fantasy on Almshouse Road in Richboro.

“July is one of the slowest months for bakeries,” said Vlaanderen. “There are no holidays until September, and everybody is at the beach.”

She is also concerned that the jump in cost for the grocery staple will create a ripple effect where families will be less willing to spend money for her wide selection of treats. Vlaanderen’s shop specializes not only in cupcakes, but also a full range of baked goods including wedding and birthday cakes, plus full dessert tables for special occasions. Working through 20 to 30 dozen eggs a week, Vlaanderen has seen the cost double in the last month.

“It started in May, but June was brutal,” she said. “I spent an extra $240 that month for the eggs. I have managed to not pass the expense on to the customers, and it looks like they have gone down a third this past week.”

Vlaanderen hopes the market will continue to settle and give her some relief in the pocketbook, but it could take years for prices to return to their pre-shortage levels.

“The current ‘down time’ for the large egg-laying flocks impacted in the outbreak this spring is in excess of six months and in some cases could be up to two years,” said Hunter-Davenport.

“Some of the companies which owned these flocks have already declared bankruptcy and so it remains to be seen if those farms will ever go back into egg production. At this time, we can’t predict what the egg supply will look like in the next two to five years.”

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