The Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods, Nestlé USA and General Mills sued the United Egg Producers, United Egg Marketers, and 11 individual egg producing companies in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, in a complaint filed on Monday.
“Starting in at least 1999 and continuing through at least 2008, defendants unlawfully agreed to and did engage in a conspiracy to control supply and artificially maintain and increase the price of eggs,” the complaint alleges.
The plaintiffs claim they paid more than they should have for egg products as a result of the alleged conspiracy and are seeking damages, as well as a court order to ban egg producers from continuing to engage in the alleged improper acts.
The plaintiffs allege that egg producers used several coordinated strategies to increase the cost of shell eggs and egg products, including instigating the United Egg Producers (UEP) Certification Program. The program set limits on cage sizes and the number of hens a company could maintain, allowing producers to use the UEP stamp on products.
The food manufacturers claim that the UEP stamp was not driven by consumer demand, but became vital to producers when major retailers said they would only purchase UEP-certified eggs.
Apart from industry trade groups, other defendants in the case include Cal-Maine, Daybreak Foods, Hillandale Farms, Michael Foods, and Sparboe Farms.
This is not the first time that many of the defendants have been accused of fixing egg prices, and a federal judge ruled last month that another egg price-fixing class action lawsuit should go forward.
This latest case is Kraft Foods Global Inc. v. United Egg Producers Inc., 11-cv-8808, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).
No one from the United Egg Producers responded to a call for comment prior to publication. The cooperative claims to represent the ownership of about 95% of the nation’s egg laying hens.