Whole Foods apologizes for systematically overcharging consumers on pre-packaged foods.

Whole Foods Is Sorry It Systematically Lied About Some of Its Prices

Whole Foods Is Sorry It Systematically Lied About Some of Its Prices

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
July 2 2015 6:05 PM

Whole Foods Is Sorry It Systematically Lied About Some of Its Prices

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Oops.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Whole Foods, you might recall, is in the middle of a drastic rebranding. It’s working to transition from “whole paycheck” to “values matter,” and just last month announced a new line of stores designed specifically for millennials. So while it’s turning around and all, Whole Foods would also like to apologize for some things it did wrong—specifically, for systematically overcharging customers.

Yes, that’s right. Last week, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs said it was conducting an ongoing investigation into local Whole Foods stores after finding that the chain had “routinely overstated the weights of of its pre-packaged products.” That was true of meats, of seafood, of dairy, and of baked goods. Basically, nothing pre-packaged was safe. In all, the Department of Consumer Affairs tested 80 different types of pre-packaged products and found that each had some items with mislabeled weights. On top of that, “89 percent of the packages tested did not meet the federal standard for the maximum amount that an individual package can deviate from the actual weight,” the department reported. Hence “systematic problem.”

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Needless to say, the Department of Consumer Affairs wasn’t too pleased with this, nor can we imagine customers were once they found out. It also wasn’t the first time Whole Foods had been accused of iffy pricing practices. Last summer, Whole Foods agreed to pay $800,000 in California to settle an investigation of “statewide pricing inaccuracy.” In that case, investigators said Whole Foods had routinely failed to deduct the weight of self-serve food containers at checkout, labeled pre-packaged items as heavier than they actually were, and sold items per piece that it was legally required to sell by the pound. In New York City, Whole Foods faces fines of between $950 and $1,700 per mislabeling violation, and the Department of Consumer Affairs says there could be thousands of them.

It seems unlikely that Whole Foods will be able to get out of some sort of monetary penalty for its pricing mishaps in New York. But if nothing else, the company’s executives want you, potential Whole Foods shopper, to know that they are really, truly sorry. “Straight up, we made some mistakes, and we want to own that and tell you what we’re doing about it,” Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb says in a video released Wednesday. That said, he and co-CEO John Mackey also want you to know that—really, truly—it was all a big misunderstanding. “We know they’re unintentional because the mistakes are both in the customer’s favor, and sometimes not in the customer’s favor,” Robb continues. “It’s understandable that sometimes mistakes are made. They’re inadvertent. They do happen. Because it’s a hands-on approach to bringing you the fresh food.”

Robb and Mackey say they’re going to beef up training in stores to avoid future mistakes, as well as implement a third-party auditing system. In 45 days, they’re going to report progress to customers. Whole Foods is also encouraging customers to ask at checkout if they think they’ve found a labeling mistake; if there is one that hurts the customer, they’ll get the item for free. And then at Whole Foods all will be well, and this entire incident will be forgotten. Because at Whole Foods, values matter.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.