The way that prices are calculated based on a food's weight could be the tipping point in a new investigation into supermarkets overcharging customers

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
June 25, 2015
Corbis Images

If you've ever gasped when your grocery total flashed on the screen at Whole Foods, you're definitely not alone. (The health food chain didn't earn the nickname "Whole Paycheck" for nothing!) In fact, the Department of Consumer Affairs has opened an investigation looking into allegations that Whole Foods is "accidentally" overcharging a lot of people, a lot of the time-and so far, they're finding most of the complaints to be true.

But before you say "Bye, Felicia" to the popular market, know that it's not just Whole Foods. The investigatory undercover grocery buyers found similar problems at 73 percent of grocery stores they checked, showing that the pricing problems are endemic to the food industry. Still, investigators said Whole Foods was the worst offender on the list.

The problem comes mostly from pre-weighed and pre-priced items like those from the deli, produce, and bulk foods sections. After numerous, city-wide customer complaints, the DCA decided to do a "sting operation" and covertly test the products. They weighed 80 different items from eight locations in New York and found that the weights, and therefore the prices, printed on the packages to be inaccurate exactly 100 percent of the time, with the majority of the errors not in the customer's favor. (One package of deli shrimp was overpriced by $14!) (Use these tricks to Save Money on Healthy Foods.)

The Daily News reported that New York City's eight Whole Foods stores have received more than 800 pricing violations during 107 separate inspections since 2010, totaling more than $58,000 in fines.

Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra told the news site that the Texas-based chain "never intentionally used deceptive practices to incorrectly charge customers" and plans on vigorously defending itself against these allegations. He adds that the store is more than happy to refund money on incorrectly priced items. Maybe it's time for a sale on food scales?

Yet even if it's already infuriating that their berries cost double the price of the corner grocery (even if they are organic and worth it!), it is important to remember all the good changes Whole Foods has brought to the grocery industry. Take, for instance, their most recent initiative to sell "responsibly grown" produce-a program we wish all grocery chains would adopt. We'll just be weighing those locally grown apples ourselves first, thank you very much.

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