Investigators with the Department of Consumer Affairs say they’ve found fraudulent practices at Whole Foods Market locations in New York City where stores have been overcharging for pre-packaged foods.
The department says it tested 80 different pre-packaged foods sold at Whole Foods locations, and in every case, each one of them had mislabeled weights, leading to overcharging. And the DCA investigators say that 89 percent of the packages tested did not meet “federal standard for the maximum amount that an individual package can deviate from its actual weight, as set by the U.S. Department of Commerce,” reports NBC New York.
Overcharges ranged from $0.80 to nearly $15 over what the prices should have been.
“Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers," DCA Commissioner Julie Menin told NBC New York.
The findings, Menin says, point to a "systematic problem" with the chain’s pre-packaged food process. The DCA says the pre-packaged food items are routinely not weighed at all or weighed inaccurately.
“Some items had all been labeled with the same weight, despite the fact that it would be practically impossible for the individual packages of the items to weigh the same amount,” reports NBC New York. “These products included nuts, berries, vegetables and seafood. In some cases, the labeling issue was found with the same exact products at multiple stores throughout NYC.”
The fine for falsely labeling a package can be as much as $950 for the first violation and up to $1,700 for subsequent violations, says the DCA. The violations noted in this investigation could cost the retailer tens of thousands of dollars. But that hardly addresses the bigger problem: consumers being overcharged at the market already nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” for its high prices.
“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,” Menin said. "As a large chain grocery store, Whole Foods has the money and resources to ensure greater accuracy and to correct what appears to be a widespread problem."
In a statement to NBC New York, Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra said, "We disagree with the DCA's overreaching allegations." He said Whole Foods cooperated fully with the department until it made "grossly excessive monetary demands" to settle the dispute.
"Despite our requests to the DCA, they have not provided evidence to back up their demands nor have they requested any additional information from us, but instead have taken this to the media to coerce us," Sinatra said. "Our customers are our number one stakeholder and we highly value their trust in us."
This is not the first claim of Whole Foods overcharging. Organic Authority reported on a similar issue in California Whole Foods stores in 2014.
Now, the DCA says it may look at investigating all of the chain’s more than 400 stores for overcharging issues.
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