As Japan battles bird flu crisis, eggs are off the menus in restaurants

As a result of the record-breaking pandemic of avian influenza in Japan, a number of residents are forced to make the switch. This has resulted in the slaughter of millions of poultry, a shortage of eggs and an increase in the price of egg-based dishes. In short, eggs are becoming a luxury item. 

Eggs are a fixture in Japanese cuisine, appearing in dishes such as egg rolls, omurice and soft-boiled yolks on ramen. Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is an infectious disease of poultry and wild animals that has existed for a century.

Scientists speculate that mutations in the virus are to blame for the current global pandemic, which is the worst ever. Japan in particular has been severely affected. It has been compelled to euthanize a record 17 million chickens or roughly 9% of egg-laying females. 

In the past year, wholesale egg prices have increased by more than 70%, according to local egg vendors. According to JA. Z-Tamago, a member of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, a kilogramme of medium-sized eggs now costs approximately 350 yen ($2.62). The price shock is less severe for consumers but the impact is felt through the removal of items from the menus. 

McDonald’s Japan had to notify customers last month that it may have to halt sales of its popular Teritama burgers during peak hours. Teritama is a portmanteau of teriyaki sauce and the Japanese word for eggs, tamago. While McDonald’s was able to diversify its egg source so as not to affect its regular offerings, spokesman Jonathan Kushner told sources that the company was “monitoring the situation closely.” He mentioned that as the country’s supply was unstable it was difficult to predict what the summer and fall situations will be like.

Beginning this month, food company Kewpie, known for its distinctively flavored mayonnaise produced from egg yolks, will increase prices by up to 21%. Even with the price increase, the company anticipates a 47% decline in net income this fiscal year due to the rising cost of eggs. Small businesses have also been compelled to reduce their operations.

In February casual dining restaurant chain Skylark Holdings suspended sales of a number of menu items, including fried rice with eggs and crepes. Approximately 28% of listed Japanese restaurants have suspended or are contemplating suspending sections of their menus. This is according to a study of 100 restaurants conducted by Teikoku Databank. Given the mass slaughter of chickens, the company added that it did not expect the egg supply in Japan to “normalize” in the near future. 

Katsuhiko Kitahara, an executive research fellow at Norinchukin Research Institute, forecasts that production will not entirely recover as the bird flu outbreak shows no signs of abating. The high cost of feed is anticipated to force some farms out of business, he told sources. Consequently, there has been an increase in the number of chefs and cooks pursuing alternatives. For instance, the Nissui Corporation produces tamagoyaki, a Japanese omelet roll, from Alaskan pollock.

Since the second half of 2022, the egg-allergy-friendly product has been available on store shelves. The company’s spokesman, Tetsuya Iida told sources that it was never a “best-seller.” However, this year has seen a fivefold increase in supermarket shipments.