Nature’s Garden Natural Foods and Shoes, an Exeter Township health store, explained the basis for its pricing of protective masks, a practice that led to allegations of price gouging by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
In a statement released Tuesday, June 9, by its attorney, Matthew M. Setley, Nature’s Garden said protective N95 masks were difficult, if not impossible, to come by during the period where price gouging is alleged.
“Through supply chains, Nature’s Garden was able to acquire masks overseas at a price well above what the wholesale price should have been,” the statement said. “Nature’s Garden itself was price gouged by its overseas mask supplier.”
Nature’s Garden paid the steep price for the masks, as its owners believed it essential to make masks available to its customers and its community, the statement said.
Its customers included doctors, nurses, and other front-line workers in the battle against COVID-19, many of whom had no other means of acquiring masks, the statement said.
“In selling them,” Setley said, “Nature’s Garden charged a price commensurate with the inflated price it needed to pay to acquire the masks.”
In a statement released Monday, June 8, the Attorney General’s Office said it had received a tip that Nature’s Garden was selling face masks at unlawful prices as defined by the state Price Gouging Act.
In Pennsylvania, price gouging is defined as selling items at 20 percent higher than normal during a state of emergency.
“This was unknown to Nature’s Garden when it sought to provide masks to its community through whatever means it could,” Setley’s statement said.
Under an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreement with the state, Nature’s Garden was fined $1,400 and agreed to a restitution arrangement with affected customers.
Nature’s Garden agreed to assist the Attorney General’s Office in any investigation of the overseas supplier of the masks, Setley said.
The effect of the agreement, Setley said, is that Nature’s Garden will no longer be able to supply masks. It cannot acquire masks at a price lower than the limit at which it can sell them, Setley said.
“Nature’s Garden will continue to do its best to promote and protect the health and wellbeing of its community,” Setley said. “It tried in this instance and failed because it was unaware of the specifics of the price gouging law.”