New York Attorney General Letitia James sued one of the country's largest egg producers on Wednesday, alleging they systematically gouged grocery stores and military bases during the pandemic -- raising prices as much as five-fold in some cases.
Hillandale Farms, one of the country's five largest egg producers, allegedly made $4 million in profits from those sharp price increases, James's office said -- not because of higher costs, but purportedly just to take advantage of demand.
“In less than two months, Hillandale made millions by cheating our most vulnerable communities and our servicemembers, actions that are both unlawful and truly rotten," the attorney general said in a statement. "As this pandemic ravaged our country, Hillandale exploited hardworking New Yorkers to line its own pockets."
The attorney general's office cited multiple examples, including one grocery chain that was being charged as little as 59 cents a dozen in January -- and by the height of the pandemic was being charged $2.93 a dozen. The suit filed in state court in New York City alleges that Hillandale raised prices on eggs sold to Stop & Shop, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Associated Supermarkets.
James also called out alleged gouging for military commissaries, noting that Hillandale charged West Point 84 cents a carton in January and $3.15 a carton by April. Commissaries at Fort Hamilton and Fort Drum were also impacted, the attorney general said.
The lawsuit seeks restitution and civil penalties. In a statement in response to the lawsuit, Hillandale denied any wrongdoing regarding potential price-gouging.
"Historically, eggs, like some other commodities, have been subject to volatile pricing. As an example, prices for eggs are now below what they were in August 2019, and well below what they were in January through March 2019," the statement read. "But our approach to pricing had been consistent for decades, and without complaint, whether that has led to profits or losses, and the last several months have been no exception."
The company said that the retail demand for eggs hit "historical high levels earlier this year," and that they worked to meet that demand to ensure eggs would remain on store shelves in New York and elsewhere.