New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Julie Menin has announced that the high-end Whole Foods Market supermarket chain is the subject on an ongoing investigation after the agency found that eight of the company’s nine stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn routinely overstated weights of its pre-packaged products – including meats, baked goods, seafood and dairy – resulting in customers being overcharged.
The DCA tested packages of 80 different types of pre-packaged items and found all of them to have mislabeled weights. Additionally, 89% of the packs were said to not meet the federal standard for the maximum amount that an individual package can deviate from the actual weight, which is set by the US Department of Commerce. The overcharging was said to be as high as $14.84 for a package of coconut shrimp.
Whole Foods has vehemently denied the allegations, insisting it has never intentionally used deceptive practices to incorrectly charge customers.
The alleged overcharges were said to be especially prevalent in packages that had been labeled with exactly the same weight when it would be practically impossible for all of the packages to weigh the same amount. These products included seafood, chicken, berries and vegetables. In some cases, this issue was found for the same exact products at multiple stores.
For example, the DCA inspected eight packages of chicken tenders, which were priced at $9.99 per pound. Shoppers who purchased these packs would have, on average, been overcharged by $4.13 – a profit of $33.04 for the eight packages. One package was allegedly overpriced by $4.85.
“We disagree with the DCA’s overreaching allegations and we are vigorously defending ourselves, said Michael Sinatra, the Austin, Texas-headquartered company’s public affairs and public relations manager for the Northeast region. “We cooperated fully with the DCA from the beginning until we disagreed with their grossly excessive monetary demands. 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. Our customers are our number one stakeholder and we highly value their trust in us.”
Meanwhile, the Whole Foods chain, which specializes in organic food has been dubbed “Whole Paycheck” by budget-minded shoppers for years due to perceived every day high prices in comparison with those of most other retail operators, continues to move forward with plans to open smaller stores with lower-priced items under its “365 Everyday Value” private label. They will be geared toward a younger-generation clientele as well as other consumers seeking a quick, convenient way to shop for competitively priced groceries.