OUNCE FOR OUNCE

New Yorkers complaining about Whole Foods prices were actually getting ripped off, the city says

Whole Foods grocery stores in New York City have been labeling a variety of items with the wrong prices, according to an investigation by the city’s department of consumer affairs. The agency said it found more than 800 pricing violations in local Whole Foods stores since 2010.

Many of the violations are related to pre-packaged foods, such as chicken breasts and ready-to-eat sandwiches, that are individually priced by weight. For example, multiple packages of breaded chicken breasts, with weights ranging from six to nine ounces (170-255 grams), were identically labeled, and priced at $5.99 for seven ounces. In some cases, items were underpriced, but the majority of inaccuracies led to too-high prices.

“Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers,” said Julie Menin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. Potential fines of up to $1,700 per mispriced item could ultimately total millions of dollars, the agency said in a statement. Whole Foods, which was penalized with an $800,000 fine for similar offenses in its California stores last summer, said in a statement:”We disagree with the DCA’s overreaching allegations and we are vigorously defending ourselves.”

Consumers have long joked that the grocery chain, which specializes in notoriously expensive natural and organic products, should be called “whole paycheck.” Despite a reputation for higher prices, a Bloomberg Intelligence study found that it actually had the second-lowest prices among New York City grocery chains. Whole Foods has made an effort to lower some of its prices, and is even launching a new chain of “value” stores to appeal to younger and less wealthy consumers.

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