Wayne Mooney may work for the world's largest chicken company, but this time of year, all he can think about is Easter egg hunts and lots of baskets filled with brightly colored works of art.
Mooney is vice-president of egg sales and marketing for Pilgrim's Pride Corp, which produces about 528 million table eggs each year. He is charged with making sure the company keeps retail customers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Brookshire's stores well-stocked during Easter.
In the three weeks leading up to Easter weekend, Pilgrim's Pride ramps up production to about 12 million eggs per week in response to demand that could exceed 150 percent of the normal weekly average. According to the American Egg Board, it's not uncommon for American consumers to scoop up more than 1 billion eggs in the week before Easter.
But egg companies haven't always been able to ramp up production that quickly. Improved technology, refrigeration and distribution networks have helped dramatically reduce the time from farm to market.
"Things are much different today than they were 40 years ago," he said. "Back then, egg companies built their inventories much earlier to meet demand for holidays. They would begin putting eggs in cold storage 60 to 120 days before Easter. Today, for the most part, an egg is laid today and is at market tomorrow."
Indeed, the eggs in a grocer's dairy case are fresher than ever. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) typically inspects and grades eggs the same day they are laid. The USDA specifies a 30-day window from the time the egg is graded until the time it must be gone from the store shelf.