Sticker shock has always been part of the shopping experience at the city’s Whole Paycheck luxury stores, but now it turns out some of these prices may be illegal. An investigation by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs has uncovered some shady price tags at our fleet of Whole Foods stores that show customers have been overcharged for their already pricey pre-packaged goods. “DCA tested packages of 80 different types of pre-packaged products and found all of the products had packages with mislabeled weights,” according to a DCA press release. And we were just starting to trust you, Whole Foods.
The investigation looked at products that are weighed and labeled and found a “systematic problem” whereby customers were routinely overcharged for things like nuts, snack foods, poultry and other grocery products. Eight packages of chicken tenders—priced at $9.99 per pound—were inaccurately priced and labeled to the tune of a $4.13 overcharge to the customer per package, a store profit of $33.04 for the set. DCA says one package was overpriced as much as $4.85. “Additionally, 89 percent of the packages tested did not meet the federal standard for the maximum amount that an individual package can deviate from the actual weight, which is set by the U.S. Department of Commerce.”
A current Whole Foods employee, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, says the issue is incompetence. He says the company was aware of the labeling issue but actually eliminated the job position responsible for checking price tags, sales signs and tare weights in a bid to save money.
This isn’t the first time the chain has been accused of and cited for overcharging customers. Last year, the company was fined nearly $800,000 in California for not deducting tare weight, selling less than the weight on products sold by the pound and other violations. Not to be outdone by our neighbors to the West, “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,” according to DCA Commissioner Julie Menin.
One might chalk this up to a bad employee or two at a distribution center, but given the extreme nature of the overcharging, the corporate indifference to it, and the California case, corporate culture seems to hold significant responsibility here.