Eggs Profile

By Marsha Laux, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University,

Updated October 2013 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.


The egg industry is one that has changed over the years from many smaller producers to one that is highly centralized and more specialized. In the early years of American agriculture, many farmers had chickens and collected eggs for their own use or for sale to friends, neighbors and the local grocer. Today, fewer farmers raise layers, and those farmers often specialize in egg production, maintaining large flocks of layers.

eggsPrior to World War II, most egg production came from farm flocks of less than 400 hens. By the early 1960s, improved technology and the development of sophisticated mechanical equipment were responsible for a shift from small farm flocks to larger commercial operations. In the major egg-producing states, flocks of 100,000 laying hens are common, and some flocks number more than 1 million. Each of the 340 million laying birds in the United States in 2012 produced an average of 274 eggs a year (NASS 2013).


Demand is driven by consumer consumption. Per capita, or per person, consumption is a measure of total egg production divided by the total population.

The high point for per capita egg consumption was 402 eggs in 1945. Per capita consumption had been steadily declining due to lifestyle changes and to health concerns. Per capita consumption reached its lowest point in 1995 at 232 eggs per person.

Of the estimated 223.7 million cases of shell eggs produced in 2012:

  • 123.8 million cases (55.3%) went to retail.
  • 71.3 million cases (31.9%) were further processed (for foodservice, manufacturing, retail and export).
  • 20.1 million cases (9.0%) went for foodservice use.
  • 8.5 million cases (3.8%) were exported. (American Egg Board)

The growth in egg consumption over the past decade occurred primarily in egg products, rather than in shell eggs. The following table helps to illustrate the change in the way consumers are using eggs.

Eggs: In-shell, processed and total farm weight, number per capita per year.

Year In-Shell Processed Total eggs
1975 245.4 30.6 276.0
2009 172.9 73.2 246.1

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.

In 1997 table eggs were 81 cents per dozen for cartoned grade A large eggs in the New York area; by 2002 eggs were down to 67 cents per dozen. However, egg prices began increasing in following years. According to the ERS (2011), table egg prices averaged just over $1.15 per dozen in 2011, up 9 cents from the previous year. In 2012 the wholesale price for one dozen grade A large eggs in the New York market was $1.17 per dozen, 1.9 percent higher than the previous year (ERS 2013).

Drivers of Demand

Eggs have become attractive as a source of protein and as a versatile food source. While cholesterol intake has been a factor in the minds of health conscious consumers, the health benefits of eggs have been promoted by the industry. Research into functional or designer eggs has provided new demand for the omega 3 egg and for eggs with specific nutritional attributes. Attributes in demand for egg products are cage-free eggs, lower cholesterol eggs, omega 3 eggs and eggs higher in vitamin E. Popularity of the various protein diets, where carbohydrates are limited and protein sources are allowed, have also been contributors to egg demand.

Trade associations and industry groups have successfully campaigned to improve the image of the egg, nutritionally and economically. Nutritional studies and research has helped to combat the high-cholesterol image that struck a blow for the industry.


Most eggs produced in the United States are table eggs for human consumption. In 2012, the number of eggs sold as table eggs totaled 80.5 billion eggs (NASS 2013). The remainder of production is for the hatching market. These eggs are hatched to provide replacement birds for the egg-laying flocks and to produce broiler chicks for grow-out operations.

Egg production totaled 92.9 billion eggs in 2012, up from the 91.9 billion eggs produced in 2011. The value of all egg production was $7.8 billion in 2012, up 7 percent from $7.3 billion in 2011. (NASS 2013)

The top five egg-producing states are Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and California. These five states produce about 45 percent of all U.S. eggs. According to the National Ag Statistics Service, the number of eggs produced by these states in 2012 (in millions) was as follows:


States Eggs (in millions)
Iowa 14,499
Ohio 7,685




California 5,451


Eggs are sold as commodities. The USDA provides marketing statistics for various segments of the egg market. One measure is the historical tracking of the number of eggs cracked or broken. That information is then broken down by whole, whites or yolks. Eggs are also measured by frozen and dried forms, as well as by shell.

Industry Consolidation

Egg production has changed to a more vertically integrated system over the last 45 years. The egg industry has exhibited the most dramatic change toward a more vertically integrated system, proportionately more than broiler and turkey production.

According to the American Egg Board (2013), there are presently 59 egg-producing companies with 1 million plus layers and 16 companies with greater than 5 million layers. There are approximately 172 egg-producing companies with flocks of 75,000 hens or more. These companies represent about 95 percent of all layers in the United States. In 1987, there were around 2,500 operations.


Egg exports consist of eggs for consumption, eggs for hatching and egg products for prepared and baked foods. During 2012 exports of U.S. eggs and egg products were valued at more than $503.5 million, a 16 percent rise from 2011. The top markets were (in order): Canada, Mexico, Japan and Hong Kong. Canada purchased eggs and egg products valued at nearly $84 million in 2012. (FAS)


Canada is the top supplier of eggs and egg products imported into the United States, followed by China and Taiwan. The total value of those imports was $42.9 million in 2012. (FAS)


The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for administering a mandatory inspection program for egg products under the authority of the Egg Products Inspection Act of 1970. The Act and its associated regulations require that all commercial egg-breaking and egg-processing plants operate under continuous USDA supervision.

Poultry litter and the associated disposal is also regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Groundwater protection issues are important considerations, as are odor and nuisance of poultry production facilities. State and local agencies are also involved with the enforcement of these regulations.


Because of increased attention on consumer health, on environmental concerns and in issues from the animal welfare groups, designer and specialty eggs are niches in the egg market worth examining. Organic eggs, range eggs, cage-free eggs and omega 3 eggs are some examples of niches that are of interest and have experienced growth in the marketplace.

Egg production is expected to total 8.0 billion dozen in 2014, a gain of 1.9 percent from the previous year. Table egg production is expected to total 6.9 billion dozen, 2 percent higher than in 2013. Production is expected to be boosted by lower feed costs and better general domestic economic conditions. Egg producers are expected to have had the consistently higher prices they need as an incentive to expand production. (ERS 2013)

Better overall economic conditions in 2014 are expected to generate greater demand for shell eggs and egg products, especially from the food service sector. However, higher production is expected to offset the demand and leave overall wholesale egg prices in 2014 at $1.07 to $1.16 per dozen, down somewhat from the expected average price in 2013. (ERS 2013)


American Egg Board

Chickens and Eggs Annual Summary, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.

Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.

Global Ag Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service, USDA.

Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, ERS, USDA.

Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: Tables, ERS, USDA.

Poultry Production and Value, NASS, USDA.

Profile created September 2004 and updated October 2013. Links checked December 2013.