EGG prices are expected to soar 30pc by Easter because of the EU ban on battery hens. And the cost of other foodstuffs could also begin to rise as producers are forced to pass on the increases.
Improved welfare for hens has resulted in a Europe-wide shortage of eggs which is forcing up prices, the Irish Egg Association has said.
The price hike is already being felt in the baking and catering sectors and will soon make its way through to supermarket shelves, as new contracts are negotiated.
"We expect consumers will see increases of 20pc to 30pc by Easter," said Owen Brooks, secretary of the association which represents egg packers.
The average price of an egg was just 23 cents in 2011, so even with increases they remained a cheap source of protein, he said.
The latest inflation figures show that egg prices in shops have risen by 5pc in the last year, compared with a slight drop in general food costs.
A box of six large eggs costs around €1.69 and could rise to €2.19 following a 30pc hike.
He warned that bakers and manufacturers who use a lot of egg have seen much steeper increases with wholesale hikes of 50pc to 60pc already, which could rise to 100pc if the current shortage continues.
The EU introduced a ban on battery cages on January 1, meaning trade of eggs from poultry farms that haven't installed larger enriched cages is no longer permitted -- resulting in widespread shortages.
The UK's manufacturing sector is finding it particularly difficult to source all the eggs it needs and the shortages are increasing demand and lifting prices even for free range eggs that were not directly affected by the battery cage ban, Mr Brooks said.
Some 11 million eggs a week are produced in the Republic of Ireland, 60pc of which are from caged hens, though the vast majority of these units were upgraded.
Baker Dermot Walsh of M&D Bakery said liquid pasteurised eggs used by industry have become more expensive.
Some bakers and food manufacturers who used a lot of eggs were turning to substitutes such as milk-based protein to get around the price hikes, he said.
"I have been able to source plenty of free range eggs around me in Waterford, so I suppose the good news in that is free range sales are increasing because there's less of a differential on price," he said.
IBEC's food division chief Paul Kelly said that manufacturers who used a lot of eggs were watching prices, but in the current climate they would be reluctant to pass on higher consumer prices unless the problem persisted for several months.
"Food inflation has been very flat if you look at the latest figures, and with the squeeze on household spending it's very difficult to push through increases," he said.
The Irish Farmers' Association said that despite the exceptional demand and higher prices throughout Europe, producers here weren't getting more for their eggs even though they'd put in the enriched cages necessary to meet the new standards.