Major US Food Companies Prevail in Price-Fixing Lawsuit Against Egg Producers

In a significant legal victory for several major U.S. food manufacturers, an Illinois jury has ruled against prominent egg producers in a price-fixing lawsuit, a case that has been active for over a decade. 

The lawsuit, Kraft Foods Global Inc. v. United Egg Producers Inc., No. 1:11-cv-08808-SCS (N.D. Ill.), which was filed in 2011, alleged that egg producers conspired to inflate egg prices between 2004 and 2008. This verdict represents a critical juncture in antitrust litigation, particularly in the food and agriculture sectors. 

The Case at a Glance

Kraft Foods Global, Inc., The Kellogg Company, General Mills, Inc., and Nestle USA, Inc. were among the plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit against egg producers, including Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Rose Acre Farms Inc., United Egg Producers Inc., and United States Egg Marketers Inc. The allegations centered around a purported conspiracy to limit the U.S. supply of eggs, thereby driving up prices. After careful deliberation, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, determining that these actions took place predominantly between 2004 and 2008.

Unanimous Decision by Illinois Jury

The jury’s unanimous verdict found that the egg suppliers engaged in anticompetitive behavior, including, without limitation, exporting eggs to lower domestic supply and employing tactics, such as reduced cage space and early slaughter of chickens, to halt competition.

Shifting Sands in Antitrust Litigation

This case was tried under the “rule of reason” test, which examines the balance of anticompetitive harm versus purported procompetitive benefits of the agreements or actions at issue and is often preferred by defendants. However, the plaintiffs urged that the “per se” test applies, which presumes anticompetitive effects and obviates part of plaintiffs’ burden to prove their case. The victory for plaintiffs, despite the application of the rule of reason, is noteworthy, considering that the per se test often favors plaintiffs, while defendants aim to have the rule of reason apply. 

The outcome demonstrates the complexity and evolving nature of antitrust law, particularly in cases involving intricate market dynamics and practices. This may indicate a broader shift in how courts interpret and apply antitrust laws in similar cases, potentially leading to more stringent scrutiny of corporate practices.

Beyond the Price of Eggs

The ramifications of this case extend well beyond the courtroom. In an era of heightened consumer awareness and economic volatility, the ruling underscores the critical role of open market competition in ensuring competitive prices for essential goods. 

The fact that egg prices have fluctuated significantly in recent years illustrates the vulnerability of staple foods to market manipulations. This case serves as a cautionary tale about the potential impact of anticompetitive practices on everyday consumers, especially during periods of economic stress.

A New Era in Food Industry Oversight

The outcome of this trial could herald a new era of heightened antitrust enforcement within the food industry. With this precedent, other companies may be more cautious of their market practices and dealings with competitors. 

This case could also inspire regulatory bodies to take a more proactive stance in monitoring and investigating potential antitrust violations in the food and agriculture sectors. The public attention garnered by this case may prompt lawmakers to reevaluate and potentially strengthen antitrust regulations to better safeguard consumer interests and market openness in these industries.

A Turning Point in Antitrust Litigation

The Kraft v. United Egg case, with its complex legal issues and significant economic implications, highlights the ongoing challenges in balancing purported collaborative corporate practices with open market competition. We will continue monitoring the evolving landscape of antitrust law, especially in the food and agriculture sectors in the United States.  Contact Nematzadeh PLLC by calling us at (646) 799-6729 or emailing for a confidential, free consultation.

Justin Nematzadeh
About the Author
Justin S. Nematzadeh, Esq. is the Founder and Managing Member of Nematzadeh PLLC. From practicing at the most prestigious law firms in the world on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants, Justin possesses a wealth of experience. He has amassed a track record of results through first-chair litigation—especially in trials—on behalf of asset managers, small businesses, large corporations, entrepreneurs, government entities, public and private institutional investors, and individuals. Justin specializes in litigation concerning antitrust, business disputes, class actions, contracts, intellectual property, securities fraud, real estate, and qui tam and whistleblower matters. Acclaimed with highly coveted awards, Justin has been integrally involved in litigation that has recovered over $3.53 billion for litigants. If you have questions about this article, contact Justin today here.