Whole Foods Market has agreed to pay $800,000 to three Southern California cities following a statewide investigation that found the chain had what prosecutors called “widespread pricing violations.”
The case grew out of an investigation of more than a year by state and county Weights and Measures inspectors, working with Whole Foods — an investigation that found the chain was charging more than the advertised price for a variety of food items in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Diego. Similar investigations by the Department of Weights and Measures have resulted in fines paid over the last few years by Walmart, Safeway and Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.
In a statement Whole Foods said its prices are accurate 98% of the time. “We will continue to refine and implement processes to minimize such errors going forward,” the Austin, Texas-based company said.
Among the allegations against Whole Foods, according to the Los Angles City Attorney: The chain failed to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up purchases for self-service foods from its salad bar and hot foods bar; it gave less weight than the amount stated on the label for packaged items sold by the pound; and it sold such items as prepared deli foods by the piece instead of by the pound, as required by law.
The court injunction, covering all 74 Whole Foods stores in California, will remain in place for five years. Under the agreement, Whole Foods said it would appoint two statewide coordinators to oversee pricing accuracy; designate an employee at every store to assure pricing accuracy; conduct random audits four times a year to assure that prices are accurate and proper weights are being deducted for all containers; and charge accurate prices and provide the advertised weight on all items.
The company also agreed to pay $798,394, including $630,000 in civil penalties, $100,000 for a consumer protection trust fund and $68,394 for investigative costs. The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office said it will also receive $210,000 in civil penalties.
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