Three Additional Chicken Antitrust Lawsuits Filed By Wawa, Bob Evans Farms, and The Fresh Market

Adding their names to close to 150 plaintiffs in the broiler chicken consolidated antitrust litigation in the Northern District of Illinois, Wawa Inc., Bob Evans Farms Inc., and The Fresh Market Inc., filed individual complaints on Friday against chicken companies. The complaints were moved into the consolidated case on Tuesday under Judge Thomas M. Durkin.

The defendants include a list of broiler chicken producers including Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, Case Farms, and Foster Farms. The list also includes at least 18 businesses, some of which comprise multiple named defendants, and Agri Stats which the plaintiffs included because it reportedly allowed the companies to share prices and facilitated or assisted in the antitrust activity by sharing data.

Friday’s complaints were similar to a complaint filed by Wing Zone earlier last week and many others filed by farms, restaurants, and grocers. The complaint said there is one “single national market for Broilers” and cited that between 2008 and 2013 the market value for broiler chickens varied from $21.8 billion to $30.7 billion. They claimed the price has grown nearly 50 percent because of the defendant’s manipulation by reducing production.

The grocery and food producing companies claimed that beginning in 2007 Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson, and a few other producers tried to raise the price of chicken by reducing production levels. When this attempt was unsuccessful, the plaintiffs alleged that they changed strategies in 2008 and included more of the major producers in the broiler industry.

Noel W. White, CEO of Tyson, announced in a January 2008 event, according to at least one of the complaints, that the company had “no choice” but to “raise prices substantially.” Pilgrim’s Pride allegedly gave a similar statement. The complaints further alleged that the defendants took part in other strategies in the conspiracy, including not entering long-term contracts which have a fixed price, selling between the defendants, and increasing chicken exports.

The plaintiffs in the cases averred that the characteristics of the broiler chicken market made it susceptible to collusion because it is highly concentrated and has been consolidated. Further, there are no substitutes available for broiler chickens outside of the industry. 

The three plaintiffs, represented by Carlton Fields, P.A., claimed they were harmed by the increased broiler chicken prices and asked for a judgment against the defendants, damages, and a jury trial.