A California Grocery Chain Owes $175k For Pandemic Price Gouging

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery shopping was pretty fraught. Many of us will never forget the long wait times to get into and check out of supermarkets and the limited availability of customer-hoarded goods such as toilet paper and bottled water. Nor will we ever forget the masking and sanitizing requirements for entry.

Though many of the irregularities are easing in most places, the ripple effects from those strange times are still echoing throughout the food industry. For example, supply chains remain disrupted, and some customers see yet another wave of empty store shelves. In some cases, shoppers are reckoning that they were, well, ripped off during the pandemic. For example, according to a recent article published by the Associated Press (AP), a California-based grocery store chain, Smart & Final, is under fire from the state for engaging in price gouging during the early days of the pandemic.

Smart & Final raised prices on its organic and cage-free eggs

According to its website, Smart & Final is a California-based warehouse and grocery chain with more than 250 locations in the western United States and northern Mexico. And this week, the chain agreed to pay $175,000 in penalties in response to allegations that its stores engaged in price gouging during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic between March 4, 2020, and June 22, 2020. According to the Associated Press (AP), Smart & Final sold more than 100,000 cartons of organic and cage-free eggs marked up by more than 10 percent.

When California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the encroaching pandemic on March 4, 2020 (via CA.gov), price gouging protections were put in place through August of that year to protect consumers. But in response, California Attorney General Rob Bonta told the AP that Smart & Final violated those protections by raising prices on eggs, a staple item at grocery stores. Many customers noticed the price gouging, filing complaints with Bonta's office.

"​Today's settlement should serve as a warning to grocers and other sellers of essential supplies, follow state price gouging laws, or you will pay the price and be held to account," he told the AP on Tuesday.