$42M is earmarked for restaurants alleging pork-price jiggering

Smithfield Foods has agreed to settle accusations that it colluded with competitors.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants that purchased pork products from Smithfield Foods between Jan. 1, 2009 and April 19, 2022 may be eligible for a share of the $42 million the vendor has agreed to pay to settle allegations of price fixing, according to a court-approved announcement.

The notice was issued by representatives of the plaintiff class in a class-action lawsuit brought against Smithfield and other pork suppliers in the U.S. District Court serving the Minnesota area. The other defendants, which include most of the restaurant industry’s biggest providers of pork, are not participating in the deal.

The court specified that Smithfield’s offer of a settlement does not signal the vendor is guilty of the price-fixing allegations lodged against it.

The plaintiffs’ group stressed that the announcement of a pending payout was made with the approval and encouragement of the court. The disclosure of the settlement is actually aimed at parties that would prefer to opt out of the settlement and take their chances in a trial. Operators who don’t regard the $42 million as fair have until Sept. 3 to mail in their rejection of the offer.  They are also invited to state their objections.

Only plaintiffs located in these states are eligible for a portion of the settlement: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Operators in the District of Columbia may also qualify.

The $42 million payment has yet to be approved by the court. It intends to hold evaluative hearings first, starting Oct. 22.

If the settlement is approved, the money would then be divvied up among the plaintiffs who agreed by default to settle.

The call for opt-outs and objections to the settlement is the latest development in a controversy that has embroiled many of the industry’s largest meat suppliers, including Tyson Foods, JBS, Swift and Hormel.  

The group was accused of collaborating to set and maintain the wholesale price of pork charged to foodservice customers. Such actions are violations of federal anti-trust laws.

The operators that were charged the allegedly rigged prices include LongHorn SteakHouse, Erbert & Gerbert’s, Joe’s Steak and Leaf, The Grady Corp. and others.

Similar actions aimed at poultry providers are ongoing.

The allegations of price fixing arose as the pandemic was upending the restaurant supply chain. Those disruptions helped to accelerate wholesale food inflation to the highest level seen in decades.

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