Whole Foods Market is paying $800,000 in penalties after an investigation found the supermarket chain overcharged customers throughout California.
During a yearlong investigation, state and local inspectors found the Austin, Texas, grocer charged more than advertised for a wide range of food products, according to a statement from the Santa Monica city attorney's office.
Problems included failing to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up fresh food, putting smaller amounts into packages than the weight stated on the label, and selling items by the piece instead of by the pound, as required by law, the statement said.
Santa Monica Deputy City Atty. Adam Radinsky said that shoppers have a right to transparent pricing.
"By adding the weight of containers and packaging, especially on higher-priced, per-pound items like seafood and meats and even prepared food, the extra charges can add up fast, and yet be hidden from consumers," he said in the statement.
In response, Whole Foods said it cooperated with the city attorneys and strives "to ensure accuracy and transparency in everything we do."
"Based on a review of our own records and a sampling of inspection reports .... our pricing on weighed and measured items was accurate 98% of the time," the company said in a Tuesday statement. "We will continue to refine and implement additional processes to minimize such errors going forward."
Whole Foods, which operates 74 stores in the California, agreed to a five-year court injunction. Under the injunction, the company is required to conduct random audits, charge accurate prices, and appoint employees to oversee pricing accuracy statewide and also within each store in California.
The city attorneys of Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego all worked on the civil consumer protection case. The judgment, which was entered into the Los Angeles County Superior Court, applies to Whole Foods Market California Inc., which controls the Northern California stores, and Mrs. Gooch's Natural Foods Markets, which operates the Southland locations.
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12:41 p.m.: The story was updated with the response from Whole Foods Market.