New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing egg producer Hillandale Farms for allegedly gouging its prices during the pandemic.
James’s office announced this week that it filed a lawsuit against Hillandale—one of the largest egg producers and wholesale distributors in the country—for allegedly charging consumers up to four times as much for a carton of a dozen eggs than it had before the COVID-19 crisis began. The lawsuit claims that the Ohio and Pennsylvania-based producer made around $4 million by illegally increasing its prices on around 4 million cartons of eggs sold in New York State between March and April.
“The lawsuit alleges that Hillandale has raised its prices not because of increased costs, but simply to take advantage of higher consumer demand during the pandemic,” said a press release announcing the lawsuit.
In the first few months of the pandemic, grocery prices saw spikes not seen since 1974. American consumers paid an average of 2.6 percent more in April than they did in March, and the largest price increases were for eggs, which saw a 16.1 percent rise during that time. The egg industry has said that while demand for eggs in grocery stores spiked in the first few months of the pandemic, egg producers were still struggling, as restaurants and hotels were closed.
In January, Hillandale charged Western Beef supermarkets a range of 59 cents to $1.10 for a carton of eggs, according to James. In mid-March the egg producer raised that price to $1.49, and eventually increased it to $2.93, said James’s office. The lawsuit also alleges that Hillandale illegally raised its prices on eggs sold to the US Military Academy at West Point, and a number of grocery stores, prompting complaints from customers to the attorney general’s office.
Hillandale’s prices follow an index published by a market research company called Urner Barry, but James claims these indexes are based on price assessments conducted by egg producers, creating a “feedback loop.” In a statement sent to the New York Times, a Hillandale spokesperson denied the lawsuit’s allegations, saying the company’s pricing has been consistent for decades, and pointing to the fact that the price of eggs is now lower than it was a year ago.
James’s office is seeking to recoup money from Hillandale for New York consumers who bought its eggs during March and April.