We Need the Eggs

Yerevan is in an egg crisis. There are no eggs to be had in most shops. Why?

According to the newspapers, there just isn't enough eggs to go around. Radio Free Europe writes:
The government blamed the unprecedented shortages on increased consumer demand stemming from household preparations for the New Year and Christmas holidays. Its critics claimed, however, that they were caused by a de facto monopolization of yet another sector of the Armenian economy.
Buying eggs in Yerevan shops became all but impossible on Monday after their retail prices of jumped by at least 40 percent, to between 80 and 120 drams (33 U.S. cents) apiece, in a matter of days. The situation hardly improved the next day.
The government and the country’s leading egg producers and food retailers have still not clearly explained the reasons for the crisis. The businesses declined comment on Tuesday.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Economy Ministry said only it both producers and trading companies have begun importing eggs from abroad to satisfy “the population’s additional demand.”
The State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) said it has launched an inquiry aimed at determining whether the shortages resulted from any anti-trust practices. Still, a SPEC official, Aram Sahakian, suggested that “speculative commercial demand” is to blame for them.
My mother-in-law told us that yesterday eggs were selling for as high as 140 dram (about 39 cents) each at City Yerevan, but she was able to find them at Nor Zovk up the street for 60 dram each (God bless His Holiness), which is the usual price. Our neighborhood Star had zero eggs in stock last night--in its place were squeeze packs of mayonnaise all lined up in neat rows. The word on the street is that the owner of that supermarket chain, parliament member and infamous oligarch Samvel Alexanyan, purchased tons of eggs to stockpile and sell them in his City Yerevan supermarkets--known for selling bootleg vodka--at prices nearly three times higher than usual. The lowest price I have personally seen for a single egg anywhere in recent memory has been 50 dram.

Sure enough, City Yerevan is today selling eggs at a higher price than other stores, assuming you can find them. Out of the five supermarkets we visited during our evening walk, only two had any eggs--City Yerevan for 75 dram each and SAS at 60 dram. The price went back to somewhat normal only after the scandal was well out in the open.

I just read a report on News.am about the egg crisis. A representative of a national consumer advocacy group named Frunze Hayetyan said that the price hike is mainly due to the increase in chicken feed costs as well as increased demand for eggs--apparently Armenians are consuming 1.5 times more eggs than they did a year ago.  I wonder how he came up with that bizarre statistic? An increase in consumption coincides with more mouths to feed. And the exodus trend hasn't reversed since the end of 2009.

I heard another rumor spread by one of the opposition newspapers that the president's brother had a hand in the great egg conspiracy--domestic inventories were prevented from hitting the shelves so that he could import them from Iran to sell on the marketplace at his own set price. But somehow I have a hard time buying into that.

I don't remember Armenians suffering from an egg shortage for New Year's in the years that I've been around for the holidays, and I know there wasn't a crisis like this last December. The currency exchange rate, however, always seems to fluctuate in favor of the seller, that's for certain. It's strange to think that demand for eggs has nearly doubled in 12 months time, and I have a hard time believing that egg producers are simply not able to meet the need. Egg companies know full well that this is the busiest season of the year for buying food products, so they would be prepared to sell all they could. The silence from the egg producers is dubious as well.

Artur has a lot more to say about this rotten egg business on his blog.  Seems he had a lot more difficulty finding eggs than we did. To be honest, my wife and I were clueless about the egg shortage until my mother-in-law revealed the good news about the sighting--she bought ten for us.

Hopefully, the government will start taking measures to ensure that this unexpected price manipulation will not happen ever again. No one is going to believe that egg supplies just happened to run out because people suddenly decided to eat three-egg omelets. For those who were lucky enough to find them, enjoy as long as you can before the desperate search for egg bliss resumes.


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