Eggs, booze, and dining out make up our food-themed Indicators of the Week. : The Indicator from Planet Money Tips, eggs and's a food edition of Indicators of the Week! We talk egg-spensive food costs and why at least one whisky drinker is upset with the maker of Fireball.

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Indicators of the Week: tips, eggs and whisky

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This is THE INDICATOR from Planet Money. I'm Wailin Wong.


And I'm Adrian Ma. And today we got a special food-themed edition of indicators of the week. And to join us, we've got Planet Money's Nick Fountain. What's up, Nick?

NICK FOUNTAIN, BYLINE: Yes, I am so excited. How's it going, guys? I love food stories. But I brought a little twist. I brought a liquor-themed story. I hope that's OK.

WONG: Nick, you are the perfect party guest 'cause now we have food and beverages.

FOUNTAIN: What's your story about?

WONG: My indicator is about why you might need to bring home more bacon to afford your eggs.

FOUNTAIN: Ba dum tsh.

WONG: I'll be here all week. Tip your waiters.

MA: And speaking of tips, that is what my indicator is going to be about this week. We got all of that coming piping hot out of the INDICATOR kitchen after the break.

So my indicator for this week is based on an article that I saw from the Associated Press. The headline was "Is Tipping Getting Out Of Control? Many Consumers Say Yes."

FOUNTAIN: Many consumers - love that framing.

MA: I should probably say off the bat that this article didn't have, like, a ton of data on that consumers part. There's, like, some anecdotes. But why I thought this was interesting is that this article was about something that we have all seen happen in recent years, which is you go to a shop. You know, it sells coffee or ice cream or whatever. And instead of seeing like a big, old cash register with a tip jar next to it, you see a little screen. After you buy something, it says, do you want to leave a tip?

WONG: And then you have to indicate how much of a tip you want to leave. And then you have to swivel the thing back to the (laughter) employee who then gets to see immediately what you've selected.

FOUNTAIN: It's awkward.

MA: And this is the thing that customers in this article said was that, like, when this happens to them, they feel some social pressure to leave a tip. And they don't necessarily like that. And there was actually some data in this article collected from a payments company called Square. And according to the most recent data that it's made public, tipping at quick-service and counter-service type restaurants - it increased about 17% over a year's period. And then for full-service restaurants, that increase was 25%. So those are my indicators of the week, 17 and 25%.

FOUNTAIN: That's a lot. What is going on there?

MA: So I reached out to Square. And a spokesperson there said that one of the things they think is going on is that some businesses are diversifying their revenue, right? If you're a coffee shop, for instance, maybe you've added alcoholic beverages or merchandise, and that can require more labor. More small businesses might be turning on the tipping feature to sort of reflect the additional labor that's involved. Full disclosure, by the way, I used to work in restaurants, so I am slightly biased when it comes to this story. My gut reaction at first was like, more tips? OK, cool. But as you can imagine, there's no shortage of opinions on this topic. Like, what is your reaction to this trend?

WONG: I went to the pie shop the other day, and they have a lot of merch, and so I bought a scented candle and a slice of pie and, like, a coffee. And then when I was presented with the big kiosk with, like, the screen, I was like, oh, I'll just, you know, default press, you know, like the 20%. And then the total was, like, really high. And I was, like, confused but also flustered, whatever. And then when I left, I was like, I had tipped 20% on a scented candle.


WONG: It's a good candle, I will say.

MA: So if you feel like this whole trend is making eating out a little too expensive for you, maybe you could always stay home and like, make an omelet or something, right, Wailin?

WONG: Maybe not an omelet. So my indicator, I have to say, is pretty grim. It is 44 million. That is roughly the number of egg-laying hens that have been depopulated since February of last year. This is according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

MA: What do you mean? They, like moved to Canada?

WONG: It does not mean they've been relocated to a like, nice pasture out in Canada, Adrian. It means the rapid destruction of animals in response to urgent circumstances. So the USDA says this depopulation is taking place because there's been so many outbreaks of avian flu in commercial egg facilities. So as of the end of last year, the average price of a dozen Grade A eggs was 4.25. And that's almost triple what it was at the start of the pandemic. And the USDA says one of the main reasons is avian flu. When avian flu is detected in a flock, the whole flock has to be destroyed. And then it can take some time to restore that population of hens. So the USDA says depopulation measures in commercial facilities has reduced the domestic supply of eggs by about 7 1/2% per month, on average.

MA: So classic supply and demand situation, right? You got the supply of eggs getting constricted. The prices go up. But, you know, I can't help but wonder about this other thing that I've been hearing about, which is some people saying that maybe there's some collusion going on.

WONG: Right. So there's this farmer advocacy group called Farm Action that wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the government to investigate the country's major egg producers, you know, to see if they've engaged in unfair practices to drive up the price of eggs. And this group says supply chain disruptions like avian flu don't fully explain the huge increases we've been seeing.

MA: All right. So some people think maybe there's a conspiracy to make us all pay more for our omelets. Other people think that there's just a very sad avian flu going on. What is my toddler, who subsists on eggs - what am I supposed to do about this?

WONG: Well, I once had a toddler, now a more fully grown child, who is allergic to eggs. So I learned a lot about egg substitutes.

FOUNTAIN: All right.

WONG: And you know what's so interesting? - is you can take the liquid at the bottom of a can of chickpeas, and it behaves the same as eggs. It's called aquafaba. Did you know this?

MA: I like to make cocktails sometimes, and apparently, you can use aquafaba in a cocktail, too, like, where you would normally use an egg white. And they'll shake up the same way.

FOUNTAIN: Hey, speaking of cocktails, y'all, there is a reason we saved my indicator for last, and that is because we're going to take shots. You ready?

WONG: Um...

FOUNTAIN: So we sent you all a bottle of Fireball whiskey. First of all, have you - either of you had Fireball before?

WONG: No, never in my life. I've barely had whiskey.

FOUNTAIN: It's quite an experience. Let's take a sip.

MA: I've got to open this bottle first.

WONG: This plastic cap is so hard to get off.

MA: My gosh, this stuff smells strong. OK, cheers.

WONG: It is really strong.

FOUNTAIN: What do we think?

MA: That is not as bad as it smelled.

FOUNTAIN: (Laughter).

WONG: Oh, yeah. It's like sweet and cinnamon-y.

FOUNTAIN: Very cinnamon-y. And there is a reason I asked you guys to drink during the day. And that is because my indicator of the week is 50, as in 50 milliliters, 'cause I don't want to talk to you about the big bottles. I want to talk to you about a class action against the maker of Fireball that has to do with the little bottles of this stuff. You know what I'm talking about? Those little bottles of liquor that you can get on planes?

WONG: Like a minibar size.

MA: A fun size.

FOUNTAIN: Exactly. So I don't know if you noticed this, but not too long ago, in some states, these tiny, little bottles of Fireball started showing up in places you shouldn't really be able to buy liquor, like gas stations. Anyways, it turns out this is a very clever workaround because Fireball actually makes two products. One is the whiskey you just drank. And the other, the one being sold at gas stations, is a malt beverage, basically beer. But the little bottles look so similar, except here, look at the label. I posted it in our chat. Just read for me what that tiny, little lettering on the malt beverage says.

MA: Malt beverage with natural whiskey and other flavors and caramel color.

FOUNTAIN: So basically, fireball is selling whiskey-flavored beer, and they're selling a lot of it because they can sell these teeny, tiny bottles of beer in places where you can't usually get liquor. But people think it's liquor because it looks very similar to their whiskey bottles, except for the fine print, which is so tiny that you can't even really read it. Anyways, that's why there's this lawsuit. By the way, the maker of Fireball declined to comment for this story, but I did talk to the lawyer who filed this class action. His name is Spencer Sheehan.

You know, I'm a little torn about this case. Like, on the one hand, you're going to get a nice payout if this ends up - the class ends up being certified.

SPENCER SHEEHAN: I don't have anything. I've not received anything.

FOUNTAIN: I know, but years down the line, you could.

SHEEHAN: Years, yes. Yes. When you have grandkids.

FOUNTAIN: But, you know, he says regulators aren't really doing anything about this. So if it weren't for him, who else will speak for the booze drinkers of America, I guess?


WONG: This episode was produced by Noah Glick, with engineering from Josh Newell. Sierra Juarez checked the facts. Viet Le is our senior producer. Kate Concannon edits the show, and THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.


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