New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs has found that Whole Foods mislabeled many prepackaged items on its shelves, sometimes by less than a dollar, sometimes to the tune of nearly $15. The New York Daily News reports the following:
Inspectors weighed 80 different types of items at Whole Foods’ eight locations in the city that were open at the time. They found every label was inaccurate, with many overcharging consumers, agency spokeswoman Abby Lootens told The News.
Whole Foods wasn’t the only grocer to be found guilty of overcharging customers. One hundred and twenty markets across the city were tested and 77 percent were found to have mislabeled items. But all of those grocers don’t have the Whole Foods “whole paycheck” reputation. Moreover, Whole Foods has been fined previously for the same violation.
A spokesman for Whole Foods, Michael Sinatra, says the company “never intentionally used deceptive practices to incorrectly charge customers” but the company is “vigorously defending” itself while also giving money back to anyone who has been overcharged. It’s also worth noting that, in some cases, customers are undercharged.
If these weights are taken in-store, then it’s clear that the Whole Foods staff needs to be better trained. There are also things that the company can do to counter the idea that they’re trying to pull one over on customers, like installing more scales in the stores so shoppers can weigh their own items.
There’s also the point made by Jay Peltz, general counsel and vp of government relations for the Food Industry Alliance of New York, that the weight of items that come already in the package can’t really be controlled by Whole Foods.
But part of the reason people think Whole Foods is so expensive is that, compared to many other grocers, it is. Bad food like soda and chips are incredibly cheap when you compare it to the cost of many fresh fruits and vegetables. It used to be that you paid a premium for “farm fresh” and the like. But now that Walmart and other markets are getting into the organic game, Whole Foods can’t blame scarcity for the pricing.
Whole Foods needs to do a better job of explaining their pricing. Why are customers expected to pay $12 for a bunch of grapes? Why are the steaks at your counter so much better than the prepacked stuff at the local grocer? In other words, the company needs to better explain its value proposition to shoppers that now doubt it.
In just a few short years, the American consumer has gotten a little more savvy and a lot more conscious about what it eats. Whole Foods hasn’t kept up with them in some ways, which makes this investigation even more damaging.