New York accuses egg farmer of spiking prices amid pandemic

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The New York lawsuit names Hillandale Farms Corporation, headquartered in Kent, Ohio, along with five other companies that use the Hillandale name.

Hillandale is often ranked among the top five egg producers in the United States. It sells to several supermarket chains with stores in New York City including Stop & Shop, Western Beef, BJ’s Wholesale Club, and Associated Supermarkets.

Between January and early March, Hillandale sold eggs to Western Beef at prices ranging from 59 cents to $ 1.10 a dozen. Then on March 15, two days after President Trump declared a national emergency in response to the coronavirus, the lawsuit says Hillandale increased its price to $ 1.49.

The company continued to raise its wholesale prices as the pandemic grew fierce, peaking at $ 2.93 per dozen at the end of March. Prices charged to Western Beef did not return to normal levels until early May, according to the lawsuit.

Other stores have seen similar increases. At Stop & Shop, the price Hillandale charges fell from as low as 85 cents a dozen in January to $ 3.15 in early April.

The lawsuit argues that Hillandale raised prices using a “feedback loop” system in which it coordinated with a market research firm, Urner Barry, to justify the price gouging.

Authorities say the feedback loop worked like this: Hillandale and other egg farmers told Urner Barry about their assessment of egg prices; Urner Barry used these evaluations to create “indexed” prices that she sent to producers; finally, egg farmers sold eggs at the price set by Urner Barry, citing the index as a “fair” pricing method.

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