Target Corp. has joined a growing list of retailers suing the country's largest chicken suppliers over accusations of inflating poultry prices.
In a federal lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Illinois, Target named 20 defendants including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's Pride, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms. Also listed is Agri Stats Inc., a data service used by the beef, pork and poultry industries that has been at the center of other meat-pricing lawsuits.
Minneapolis-based Target, which operates about 1,900 stores throughout the United States, is a direct purchaser of broiler chickens, birds bred for their meat.
\"At Target, we expect our vendors and partners to act with integrity and are committed to providing our guests with everyday low prices on the products we sell,\" said Jenna Reck, a Target spokeswoman, in a statement Monday. \"Like several other retailers, we're aware of the anti-competitive actions that certain poultry companies took to illegally inflate prices for retailers and consumers. We filed a lawsuit against these suppliers to recoup the unfair costs that Target was charged for nearly a decade and protect guests and retailers against this harmful behavior in the future.\"
Target referred to an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2016 against the chicken suppliers in which they are accused of coordinating their output and limiting production to increase prices of broilers. The producers allegedly conspired to exchange sensitive, nonpublic information about prices, sales volume and demand, including through Agri Stats. Several well-known restaurant chains and grocers have signed onto the lawsuit including Cracker Barrel, Wawa, Hy-Vee and Aldi.
\"Follow-on complaints like these are common in antitrust litigation,\" a spokesman for Tyson said in a statement to Bloomberg News. \"Such complaints do not change our position that the claims are unfounded. We will continue to vigorously defend our company.\"
Last week, fast-food restaurant Chick-fil-A also filed suit against poultry producers for price fixing.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been conducting an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing in the broiler-chicken industry, and several industry executives have been indicted, including the former CEO of JBS-owned Pilgrim's Pride.
In October, Pilgrim's Pride — which has a plant in Cold Spring, Minn. — agreed to pay $110.5 million to settle federal charges that it had helped fix prices and then passed on the higher costs for chicken to consumers, restaurants and supermarkets.
Last year, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota named Cargill, Tyson Foods, National Beef Packing and JBS USA Food Co. as part of a case alleging that they suppressed the prices they paid for cattle and inflated the prices of beef they charged consumers.
A Minnesota federal judge dismissed the case in September, though amended complaints were allowed to be resubmitted. Agri Stats was implicated in that lawsuit and another ongoing case involving pork prices and Hormel Foods Corp. and several other companies, including Tyson Foods, JBS USA and Smithfield Foods.
Includes reporting from Bloomberg News.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495