In a landmark case centered around egg price fixing, a US jury has ruled that major egg producers, including the industry heavyweight Cal-Maine Foods, must pay a combined $17.7 million in damages to several food manufacturing giants. This decision comes after the producers were found culpable in a prolonged lawsuit alleging price gouging.
As per federal regulations, this sum is set to triple, amounting to approximately $53 million. Cal-Maine Foods, based in Mississippi and recognized as the largest egg producer in the US, expressed disappointment with the verdict and is considering an appeal.
Egg Price Fixing 2023 Verdict
The lawsuit, initiated in 2011, implicated Cal-Maine, Rose Acre Farms (the second largest producer) and trade groups United Egg Producers and United States Egg Marketers. Plaintiffs including Kraft Foods, The Kellogg Company, General Mills and Nestlé accused them of conspiring to limit egg supply, aiming to artificially hike prices. Methods alleged included exporting eggs to reduce domestic availability and curbing chicken numbers through various strategies, including cage space and flock reduction.
During their deliberation, jurors were instructed to disregard recent fluctuations in egg prices. On November 21, the jury at the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois sided with the plaintiffs, agreeing that from October 2004 to December 2008, these practices by egg producers harmed the food companies as customers.
This ruling in the case — Kraft Foods Global, Inc. et al. v. United Egg Producers, Inc. et al. — was announced on December 1 in the same court.
Despite the verdict, Rose Acre Farms has strongly contested these findings. According to Reuters, Rose Acre Farms insisted on its innocence, denying any role in an anti-competitive egg price-fixing conspiracy and expressed its intent to pursue all available legal options, including appeals for post-trial relief.
Similarly, Cal-Maine Foods responded to the verdict with disappointment. In its statement, the company acknowledged the jury’s decision but maintained its belief in its innocence, noting the relatively modest damages awarded compared to those sought. Cal-Maine Foods has also petitioned for a court ruling in its favor and is considering further appeals.
The case has also spilled over into the political arena. John Rust, a key figure in Rose Acre Farms who is also running for US Senate in Indiana, criticized US Representative Jim Banks for allegedly favoring large corporations over American farmers in the wake of the jury’s decision. Rust warned voters about Banks’ stance, suggesting it would harm agricultural interests.
In response, Banks dismissed these accusations, asserting that voters would not support a candidate he labeled as untrustworthy.
Consumer Egg Prices
After reaching a record-high average price of $4.82 in January 2023, egg prices have started to show a significant decrease. As reported in October 2023, the average price for a dozen Grade A eggs has dropped to $2.07, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In a notable forecast made earlier this year, Seth Meyer, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) chief economist, predicted a substantial decrease in wholesale egg prices for 2023. Speaking at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum in February, Meyer estimated a 26.8 percent reduction in egg prices over the course of the year.