TURNER — A Pennsylvania egg producer with a farm in Turner has been accused of gouging prices to the tune of $4 million amid the coronavirus crisis earlier in the year. 

Authorities in New York have accused Hillandale Farms of doubling, tripling and quadrupling prices as demand soared during the early days of the pandemic. 

The lawsuit, filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, said Hillandale had no motivation other than greed to jack up its prices when the country began to panic over COVID-19 at the start of the year. 

The lawsuit focuses specifically on gouging in New York, where prosecutors allege that panicked shoppers were forced to pay ridiculously high prices for eggs. 

“Hillandale’s conduct has wrought great damage upon consumers in New York,” according to the suit. “Hillandale has sold over 4 million cartons of price-gouged eggs in New York, causing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of New York consumers . . . to pay sharply increased prices of eggs purchased at retail.” 

Hillandale, which has been known to donate eggs to area food banks in previous years out of its farm in Turner, has denied the accusations. If there were price hikes in the egg market, company officials said, it was due to disruptions to the economy as a result of COVID-19. 

“We are a family-owned and operated business that has been selling eggs since the late 1950s,” the company said in a statement issued in response to the suit. “As one of the larger egg producers in the country, we — including our more than 1,500 employees — take great pride in the quality of our products and the integrity of our operations. We were shocked and dismayed to learn of the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive disruption in every sector of the economy, including the egg industry,” the statement continues. “As retail demand for eggs reached historically high levels earlier this year, our dedicated personnel rose to the challenge and worked tirelessly to meet that demand through the most consistent production and delivery measures possible. We wanted to be sure that eggs would remain on store shelves for customers in New York and other markets.” 

According  to the lawsuit, between January and early March, Hillandale was charging buyers between 59 cents and $1.10 for a dozen eggs. But the company hiked the price to $1.49 on March 15, just two days after the U.S. declared a national emergency due to the virus, and the price soared to $2.93 a dozen by the end of the month. Prices did not return to normal until May, according to the suit. 

Hillandale produces eggs at factory farms in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine and Iowa. The company moved into facilities in Turner in 2015 after taking control of the former DeCoster Egg Farm. 

The lawsuit asks that Hillandale be ordered to provide an accounting of its egg sales between late winter of 2019 until the present date. It also asks that Hillandale be forced to forfeit profits made through alleged gouging and that they be fined a civil penalty of $25,000. 

“We are prepared to defend against these allegations in court, if necessary,” Hillandale wrote in its statement. “Regardless, we will continue to focus on our goals of producing quality eggs at fair prices, humanely caring for our chickens, treating our employees well, and maintaining our more than 60-year reputation of integrity within the food industry.” 

An aerial photo of Hillandale Farms operation in Turner. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Comments are not available on this story.