Grocery store chain settles with state, agrees to pay $175,000 in fines
Smart & Final grocery stores illegally raised prices on certain egg products at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when in-store items were particularly scarce, Attorney General Rob Bonta said Tuesday.
Attorney General Bonta said the state and the grocery store chain have reached a settlement that includes $175,000 in fines, and the company is permanently prevented from future violation of state price gouging laws and related executive orders.
Smart & Final raised the prices of four organic and cage-free egg products during the pandemic, the attorney general said.
Some prices were raised by more than 10% over pre-pandemic levels with no accompanying increase in supply costs, Attorney General Bonta said. The grocery company sold more than 100,000 cartons of unlawfully priced eggs, he said.
“While these were premium products, remember during these times, shelves were often bare. There weren’t a lot of choices, and consumers had few, if any, choices so they bought what was there,” Attorney General Bonta told reporters Tuesday.
The attorney general said the price increases were chain-wide.
“It’s unacceptable to take advantage of hardworking families,” he said.
Smart & Final has many locations throughout California, including several in the Santa Barbara area.
One store is located at 3943 State St. and another at 217 E. Gutierrez St. There is a store at 7090 Hollister Ave. in Goleta and a location at 850 Linden Ave. in Carpinteria.
The Commerce-based company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the News-Press.
On its website, Smart & Final said it offers cage-free egg options in the majority of its stores and had a goal to provide only cage-free eggs by 2025.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in early March 2020, triggering California’s price gouging protections.
California’s Penal Code 396 deems it unlawful to sell goods and necessities, including food items, at more than 10% higher than prices before the emergency declaration for the first 30 days of the declaration. Gov. Newsom extended the price gouging protections for an additional five months.
The Attorney General’s Office said it was assisted by the Alameda and San Mateo County district attorney’s offices in the investigation.
“Today’s settlement should serve as a warning to grocers and other sellers of essential supplies: Follow state price gouging laws, or you will be held accountable,” Attorney General Bonta said.
Individuals who would like to report potential price gouging can do so here: oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company.