Whole Foods, long nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” by some shoppers, has been overcharging New York City customers for pre-packed food. According to astatement released by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, the upscale chain has “routinely overstated the weights of its pre-packaged products — including meats, dairy and baked goods,” while inflating the prices of those items. The agency says that after testing more than 80 pre-packaged goods at eight Whole Food stores around the city, it found that price gouging varied from “$0.80 for a package of pecan panko to $14.84 for a package of coconut shrimp.”
DCA commissioner Julie Menin was blunt in her assessment of how pervasive and serious the overcharges are. “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,” she said in a press release.
An example of overpriced and inaccurately weight-labeled Whole Foods products cited by the agency in its press statement reads as follows:
- DCA inspected eight packages of vegetable platters, which were priced at $20/package. Consumers who purchased these packages would have been, on average, overcharged by $2.50—a profit of $20 for the eight packages. One package was overpriced by $6.15.
- DCA inspected eight packages of chicken tenders, which were priced at $9.99/pound. Consumers who purchased these packages would have been, on average, overcharged by $4.13—a profit of $33.04 for the eight packages. One package was overpriced by $4.85.
- DCA inspected four packages of berries, which were priced at $8.58/package. Consumers who purchased these packages would have been, on average, overcharged by $1.15—a profit of $4.60 for the four packages. One package was overpriced by $1.84.
This isn’t the first time Whole Foods has landed in hot water for questionable pricing. DCA pointed to a civil consumer protection case brought against the company following a 2012 investigation of prices at Whole Foods stores around California. The case resulted in an $800,000 fine for the grocery market chain.
Whole Foods may find itself facing similar penalties in New York. According to the DCA release, fines for falsely labeling a package can go as high as “$950 for the first violation and up to $1,700 for a subsequent violation. The potential number of violations that Whole Foods faces for all pre-packaged goods in the NYC stores is in the thousands.”