Agency Probes Pricing of Prepackaged Items at Whole Foods
Its nickname is “Whole Paycheck” — but Whole Foods’ high prices were generally thought to be part of its luxury mystique, not wrongdoing or mislabeling.
But now that New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs is investigating the grocery chain for “systemic overcharging for pre-packaged foods,” that may change.
“It is unacceptable that New Yorkers shopping for a summer BBQ or who grab something to eat from the self-service aisles at New York City’s Whole Foods stores have a good chance of being overcharged,” DCA Commissioner Julie Menin said in a statement. “Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers, which DCA and New Yorkers will not tolerate.”
Whole Foods — with nine stores in the city and one coming to Harlem — said any overcharges were not intentional.
“Because we always strive to satisfy and delight our customers, it has always been our policy to fully refund any items found to have been incorrectly weighed or priced,” Whole Foods said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post.
“We assure our shoppers that we’ve NEVER intentionally used deceptive practices to incorrectly charge customers. Due to the ongoing nature of this matter, we have no further comment other than to say we disagree with the findings and we’re vigorously defending ourselves against allegations to the contrary.”
The agency said it tested 80 kinds of prepackaged products at New York Whole Foods outlets and found that all had mislabeled weights. The U.S. Department of Commerce says a package can deviate from its stated weight by only so much, according to DCA; 89 percent of the packages DCA tested did not meet this standard.
The DCA’s conclusion: “New York City stores routinely overstated the weights of its pre-packaged products — including meats, dairy and baked goods — resulting in customers being overcharged.”
One notable alleged overcharge: an extra $14.84 for a package of coconut shrimp. But the shrimp wasn’t the only problem. The DCA offered other specific examples:
∎ DCA inspected eight packages of vegetable platters, which were priced at $20 per package. Consumers who purchased these packages would have been, on average, overcharged by $2.50 — a profit of $20 for the eight packages. One package was overpriced by $6.15.
∎ DCA inspected eight packages of chicken tenders, which were priced at $9.99 a pound. Consumers who purchased these packages would have been, on average, overcharged by $4.13 — a profit of $33.04 for the eight packages. One package was overpriced by $4.85.
∎ DCA inspected four packages of berries, which were priced at $8.58 per package. Consumers who purchased these packages would have been, on average, overcharged by $1.15 — a profit of $4.60 for the four packages. One package was overpriced by $1.84.
“DCA’s findings point to a systematic problem with how products packaged for sale at Whole Foods are weighed and labeled,” the agency said in a statement. “The snapshot suggests that individual packages are routinely not weighed or are inaccurately weighed, resulting in overcharges for consumers.”
This isn’t the first time Whole Foods has faced accusations of overcharging. After a similar investigation in California in 2012, the company paid $800,000 in penalties, the DCA said.