At the beginning of WWI, Britain was only about 40% self-sufficient in food, a major problem given the tonnage of ships sunk by German submarines. Unsurprisingly, food prices rose.

In First World War Britain (2012), Prof. Peter Doyle states:

Prices of most commodities rose by 50% over the period of the war, others by much more. Fresh meat would increase by some 100% (imported, frozen meat almost twice this); fish by almost 200%, sugar by 250% and fresh eggs by 400%.

(my highlighting)

In 1914, Britain (pdf, 2014) was 100% dependent on imports for sugar yet was 50% self-sufficient in fresh eggs. For meat products, the percentages were not that much better than for eggs.

Why did the price of eggs rise so much more than for other basic foods?

Some possible reasons I've thought of are (1) people started eating more chicken because of the shortage of meat or (2) other areas of agricultural production were prioritized. However, I've found no evidence for either. In fact, for the latter, the opposite may have been true as people were allowed to keep chickens (and pigs) in allotments.

Another possible reason might be that demand for eggs rose sharply because of the high protein content, but the only evidence I've found for this is this article, The National Egg Collection for Wounded Soldiers and Sailors 1914-1918.

One source which might provide the answer is Peter Dewey, British Agriculture in the First World War but Google books doesn't allow much searching in this case.

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    I believe the basis for your price comparison may be invalid. With Calories and protein restricted, people will seek the cheapest Calories and protein they can find, which will tend to balance price per Calorie. What was the ratio of price per Calorie and price per gram of protein between various protein sources before and after rationing? I predict a levelling of both. (Note that 1 Calorie = 1 kilo-calorie is the traditional unit of food energy.) Dec 9, 2018 at 13:36
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    @PieterGeerkens Unfortunately, Doyle doesn't give any details on the basis for these price increases. There are surprisingly few specifics online, just general statements like 'food prices rose by xx% between XX and XX'. On rationing, I've found no mention of eggs being included. In fact, it seems there was little govt. interference in general until 1917. Dec 9, 2018 at 14:16
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    What happened to price of chicken feed? If that rose it would drive prices up, and if eggs weren't rationed the market price would rise to balance supply and demand. Dec 9, 2018 at 14:23
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    @PieterGeerkens Now that's an interesting question. Also, feeding chickens as a child, I remember some odds & ends from the kitchen were included in the mix - but in WWI people were urged not to waste e.g. stale bread so stuff that they might have given to chickens was already being consumed. Dec 9, 2018 at 15:01
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    Perhaps because eggs need to be fresh? They've got a very limited shelf life and are difficult to ship. Fish, meat and sugar are easier to ship than eggs.
    – MCW
    Dec 9, 2018 at 17:35

2 Answers 2


Producing eggs on a large scale requires feeding your hens grain. I deduce that the shortage of shipping space meant that priority would have been given to grain for human consumption, so the price of chicken food would rise.

Since eggs weren't rationed during WWI, but meat was, demand for eggs would rise. With production costs and demand both rising, eggs would become more expensive.

During WWII, eggs were rationed, and people were encouraged to produce their own, presumably as a result of WWI experience.

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    This is logical - but is it accurate? However it is unsupported by any referenced evidence, in particular for the key implied claim that "imported grain was necessary for feeding egg-laying chickens". Dec 9, 2018 at 18:26
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    @PieterGeerkens: Clarified the distinction between sources and deductions. Rationing in the UK during WWI is generally less well documented than for WWII. Dec 9, 2018 at 19:33
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    As Pieter already said, logical, but lacks evidence. Also, meat rationing wasn't introduced until April 1918 so this only works if egg prices shot up towards the end of the war. Dec 10, 2018 at 13:50

It's called the substitution effect in economics.

Eggs are fundamentally cheaper than other forms of protein such as meat or fish.

When shortages of "high end" proteins cause their prices to rise, people "trade down" to eggs.

The prices of eggs rise less in absolute terms than those of the other proteins.

But eggs rise more in percentage terms (from a much lower base). because of people "leaving" other proteins and substituting eggs.

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