NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Whole Foods has sometimes been called “Whole Paycheck” because of its prices, and now, New York City investigators have alleged that the chain has routinely overcharged customers.

As CBS2’s Diane Macedo reported, the Department of Consumer Affairs said it is one of the worst violations inspectors have ever seen.

Investigators discovered the grocery chain has routinely overcharged customers for pre-packaged products — including meats, dairy and baked goods, the department said.

“One of the things that we have found is extensive overcharging at supermarkets really throughout New York City, with Whole Foods in particular,” said Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin.

The department said it all started in the fall, when an initial investigation showed Whole Foods was mislabeling weights on pre-package products. When investigators went back in this winter they found the labels were still wrong.

Investigators tested 80 different types of pre-packaged products at eight stores open in the city at the time of the investigation and found all of the items had mislabeled weights, making most of them more expensive, the department said.

“Individual packages were routinely not weighed, or were inaccurately weighed – resulting in some very significant overcharges for consumers,” Menin told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.

The overcharges ranged from 80 cents for pecan panko to $14.84 for a package of coconut shrimp, the department said. In one case, a vegetable platter priced at $20 per package was overpriced by $6.15.

“(The prices) were off significantly, whether it was produce; whether it was fruit, vegetables, chicken. Sometimes it was $2, sometimes it was $6. We found cases of $14 on platters,” Menin said. “I mean, his is unacceptable.”

Menin added in a news release that Whole Foods “has the money and resources to ensure greater accuracy and to correct what appears to be a widespread problem—the city’s shoppers deserve to be correctly charged.”

But Whole Foods customers had mixed reactions.

“That’s terrible,” said Whole Foods customer Eric Lind. “I hope they correct it in the future.”

“It’s not uncommon, but at the same time, it’s happened in some cases where I had the advantage,” said Whole Foods customer Jeff Kurland.

Whole Foods representatives would not go on camera. But in a statement, Whole Foods said it never intentionally used deceptive practices and disagrees with the city’s findings.

The company also said it refunds any items incorrectly priced, 1010 WINS reported.

“We disagree with the DCA’s overreaching allegations and we are vigorously defending ourselves,” Whole Foods said in a statement. “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.”

But Menin said the overcharges were part of a repeated pattern.

“We have been for months meeting with Whole Foods, but unfortunately, we are finding his conduct over again and again and again,” she said.

The city also said the claim about refund officers is tough for consumers to prove, and anyone who thinks he or she was victimized should contact the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The fine for falsely labeling a package is up to $950 for the first violation, and up to $1,700 after that. Consumer Affairs said the potential number of violations that Whole Foods faces in its New York City stores is in the thousands.

The company already paid an $800,000 fine for similar violations in California in 2012.


Leave a Reply