Court awards companies $17.8 million in egg price fixing lawsuit

CHICAGO — An Illinois federal jury on Dec. 1 awarded $17.7 million to plaintiffs Kraft Heinz Co., the former Kellogg Co., General Mills, Inc. and Nestle USA Inc. in an egg price fixing lawsuit, according to Jenner & Block, the law firm that represented the plaintiffs. The companies are entitled to have the amount trebled, according to Jenner & Block.

Defendants in the case include Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., Rose Acre Farms, the United Egg Producers, Inc. and the United States Egg Marketers, Inc. Cal-Maine Foods has petitioned the court to enter a judgment in its favor, known as a directed verdict, notwithstanding the jury’s decision.

“Cal-Maine Foods respects the jury’s decision and appreciates that the damages awarded by the jury are relatively modest compared to the damages sought but remains disappointed with the verdict as Cal-Maine Foods continues to believe that the company did nothing wrong,” the company said.

The lawsuit originally was filed on Dec. 12, 2011, which was before Kraft Foods and Heinz merged and before Kellogg Co. spun off into WK Kellogg Co and Kellanova. The plaintiffs alleged the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to control supply and artificially maintain and increase the price of eggs. A jury in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled in the food companies favor on Nov. 20 of this year.

Cal-Maine cited improving the treatment of egg laying hens, which started about 20 years ago when the industry began adopting the United Egg Producers certified program, which was not designed to restrict supply and affect prices.

“The plaintiffs alleged that the prices they paid for processed egg products were increased by the defendants’ conduct,” Cal-Maine said. “The plaintiffs, however, continue to demand egg products created from UEP-certified eggs and/or eggs from hens that otherwise are humanely raised.”

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