Flats of eggs are processed at Golden Valley Foods in Abbotsford.

Border Towns — Canadian consumers buy millions of eggs in Washingon state

Between two and four million dozen eggs are sold to Canadians in Washington state each year.

It is estimated that B.C. farmers are losing sales of between two million and four million dozen eggs annually due to cross-border shopping.

That equates to $6 million to $12 million worth of farm gate sales.

In order to combat that loss, the BC Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) has embarked on a province-wide awareness initiative to put the economic impact of cross-border shopping into perspective for consumers. The  BCEMB spent more than a year researching the issue.

Executive director Al Sakalauskas said that 1.9 million households in B.C. are located within 75 kilometres of the border. No other province in the country has that kind of population density relative to the border.

The group’s study found that 76 per cent of those households have shopped in the U.S. in the past 12 months. Of those that did shop across the line, 26 per cent purchased eggs.

“We are talking about same-day excursions, not 24-hour stays.”

He said people are limited to bringing back two dozen eggs, but acknowledged there is no exact calculation of how many eggs are actually crossing the line.

“Our discussion with the border protection people is they are interested in immigration issues, guns, drugs and some of the more substantial societal issues, rather than whether people are taking a dozen eggs across.”

But why are people going to Washington for their eggs?

Price is a factor. The average cost for a dozen Grade A white eggs in Canada is about $2.79, compared to about $1.75 in the United States.

However, Sakalauskas noted the price becomes higher the further south one travels. The closer to the border, the more attractive the pricing becomes.

“They are catering to Canadians down there and  the American food industry has always used staple items as a draw.”

While the lower price is appealing, Sakalauskas said it’s not enough on its own to motivate people to shop in the U.S. He called eggs a “fill-in” item.

His studies indicate that groceries are not the primary motive for cross-border shopping. Clothing, shoes and gasoline are higher on the list of preferred items.

“You (consumers) wouldn’t primarily go there for that purpose. But the idea is ‘I’m already down here,’ so they do it.”

He explained with major stores like Costco and WalMart offering both retail and grocery items in the same locations, and other grocery retailers being located in or near shopping malls, consumers are merely picking up their regular shopping items during their excursions.

Those who purchase eggs in the U.S. are getting a similar product to those in Canada. Sakalauskas said the quality of the egg itself is “pretty equal,” as they all come from the same type of hen.

However, B.C. has different farm protocols in terms of “biosecurity” (measures reducing the risk of transmission of infectious diseases, invasive species or unwanted organisms.)

He called it a higher standard, noting that B.C. has 132 egg farmers as compared to the U.S. which has a smaller number of large producers.

“One egg farm in the U.S. can have as many eggs as the entire province of B.C.,” he said, noting that 56 companies in the U.S. produce 89 per cent of the eggs in America.

The BCEMB study is focused on the average, lowest cost egg. Sakalauskas said the same degree of lost sales due to cross-border shopping is not seen in the specialty egg market like organic eggs, free range or Omega 3 products.

For more on this issue, visit eggonomics.ca

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