Consumers have long referred to Whole Foods as "Whole Paycheck" for its high prices, but it isn't just sticker shock: Many locations of the Austin-based grocery chain are illegally overcharging customers.
New York Daily News reporters broke the story, finding that Whole Foods locations in New York City have been systematically overcharging customers for a host of foods since at least 2010. According to documents obtained by the paper, New York City officials have cited the chain 800 times for charging customers more than they should pay, and have levied over $58,000 in fines for those offenses in the past five years.
Much of the overcharging took place when customers were buying foods sold by weight. Inspectors from New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs undertook a sting operation last fall, wherein they weighed 80 different packaged foods labeled with a certain weight, and found that all 80 packages actually contained less food than they purported to -- from an 80 cent discrepancy to nearly $15 in overages for a package of prepared shrimp.
“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," DCA commissioner Julie Menen said in a harshly worded statement. "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 -- the city’s shoppers deserve to be correctly charged.”
Daily News reporters conducted their own, albeit informal investigation to confirm the city's findings, purchasing $100 worth of groceries from one location. They discovered a number of items that were improperly labeled, though errors went in both directions: A package of mini roast beef sandwiches labeled as weighing 3 ounces, and priced per ounce, actually varied in weight from 4.5 to 5.1 ounces. Meanwhile, breaded chicken breasts sold at $5.99 per 7 ounces in fact weighed in at anywhere from 6 to 9.2 ounces.
The shocking revelation comes almost exactly one year after Whole Foods was fined $800,000 for a similar pattern of overcharging in the Los Angeles metro area.
Whole Foods has disputed the findings stridently. “We disagree with the DCA’s overreaching allegations and we are vigorously defending ourselves," the company said in a statement to ABC. "We cooperated fully with the DCA from the beginning until we disagreed with their grossly excessive monetary demands.