Smart & Final to pay $175K for price gouging eggs during pandemic

The grocer Smart and Final has agreed to pay $175,000 in penalties to settle allegations of price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic, state prosecutors said Tuesday.

The California-based retailer, with stores in the Bay Area, allegedly gouged consumers by raising the price of eggs more than what was allowed by law following an emergency declaration by the governor triggering price gouging protections.

Prosecutors said Smart and Final elevated prices above the allowable limits on four premium egg products between March 4, 2020, and June 22, 2020.

"It is unacceptable to take advantage of hardworking families" during times of crisis, Attorney General Rob Bonta said.

He said this settlement should serve as a warning to other grocers.

California law makes it illegal during the 30 days following an emergency declaration to raise prices on goods and necessities like food by more than 10 percent above what they were immediately before the declaration unless the increase reflects increased supply or labor and production costs.

Some prices were as high as 25 percent above pre-emergency prices, Bonta said. He said the gouging occurred throughout Smart and Final's chain of stores.

The company operates stores in California, Arizona and Nevada and in Northern Mexico under a joint venture, according to the company's website.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared an emergency on March 4, 2020, and extended it by five months on April 3, 2020, according to the attorney general's office.

The investigation by state prosecutors alleges that Smart and Final sold more than 100,000 cartons of eggs at illegal prices while price gouging protections were in place.

Other price-gouging investigations are underway, Bonta said. He could not go into details.

Officials from Smart and Final did not immediately return a call seeking comment.