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Pennsylvania

Western Pa. dairies get creative to ensure eggnog supply

| Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015, 11:30 p.m.
Shaun Martin, operates the half gallon filling production line that is filling containers with egg nog, at the United Dairy plant in Uniontown on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Shaun Martin, operates the half gallon filling production line that is filling containers with egg nog, at the United Dairy plant in Uniontown on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015.
Half gallons of egg nog move along the production line at the United Dairy plant in Uniontown on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Half gallons of egg nog move along the production line at the United Dairy plant in Uniontown on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015.
Half gallon containers are filled with of egg nog at the United Dairy plant in Uniontown on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Half gallon containers are filled with of egg nog at the United Dairy plant in Uniontown on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015.
Chris Dunn moves crates of half gallon egg nog, at the United Dairy plant in Uniontown on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Chris Dunn moves crates of half gallon egg nog, at the United Dairy plant in Uniontown on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015.

The future of one holiday staple — eggnog — was placed in jeopardy this year when the deadly avian flu outbreak had dairy operators wondering if they could find enough eggs to make the creamy seasonal drink.

“Probably in early fall we were questioning whether we were going to be making eggnog,” said Evan Fineman, senior vice president at Galliker's Dairy.

The Johnstown-based dairy started buying eggs strategically months ago to ensure it had enough for its custard, French vanilla ice cream, eggnog and Holiday Nog, he said.

“We did the best we could, and we did secure them,” Fineman said. The dairy buys pasteurized liquid eggs to make its eggnog, he said.

Turkey Hill Dairy, based in Lancaster County, had to redesign its eggnog recipe from scratch after being hit with supply problems.

“It started in June, when the company that supplies our eggnog mixture told us that they didn't have enough eggs for this year,” said Derek Frey, product development and procurement manager. “We got nervous, but we didn't give up.”

Once Frey and his team found a large enough supply of eggs that they could buy, then spent hours of trial and error perfecting a new product that had the same flavor and consistency as in past years, he said.

The flu wiped out more than 49 million chickens and turkeys in 15 states last spring as the virus spread from the Pacific Northwest to Midwest farms, driving up egg prices and causing supplies to plummet.

Egg prices averaged $2.81 per dozen last month, 44 percent higher than October 2014, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. The price of eggs peaked this year in September at $2.97 a dozen, statistics show.

The higher cost of eggs means the price of Galliker's nutmeg-tinged holiday drink will “most likely be a little higher than it was in the past,” Fineman said. “The most important thing is we were able to get the eggs.”

Real eggnog is made by using an egg base, 6 percent butter fat, milk, sugar and spices. If producers couldn't secure enough eggs, they could make an alternative “eggnog dessert” that uses a different formulation, said David Berwick, sales manager of United Dairy.

United worked with its egg supplier in Michigan through the summer to secure enough for the more than 70,000 gallons of full-fat and low-fat eggnogs it makes annually at its Uniontown plant, he said.

“When (the flu) first hit, they called us and said it's going to be a real short supply here and we're going to have to limit our customers,” said Berwick. “They allocated us our needs, and then they may have shorted some other people (around) the country.”

Berwick said the egg base was double the price this year, but a decrease in the price of milk meant United did not raise the price of its eggnog this year.

The alcoholic eggnog found in state wine and spirits stores was unaffected, with no change in price or product availability, said Elizabeth Brassell, spokeswoman for the Liquor Control Board.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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