Whole Foods has agreed to pay nearly $800,000 to settle complaints of overcharging customers throughout California, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.
A one-year investigation by state and county Weights and Measures inspectors found Whole Foods was charging more than the advertised price for food due to several problems.
Investigators found stores failed to deduct the weight of containers when charging for self-serve foods from the salad bar and hot bar and overstated the weight of products sold by the pound. The grocery chain was also accused of selling items, such as kebabs and other prepared deli foods, by the piece rather than by the pound as required by law.
The agreement was reached with the city attorneys of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Diego. All 74 Whole Foods stores in California are subject to the five-year court injunction.
Under the terms of the agreement, Whole Foods must appoint two state coordinators to oversee pricing accuracy at stores throughout the state and designate an employee at each store responsible for ensuring pricing accuracy. The chain will also conduct random price checking audits at each store four times a year.
“We’re taking action to assure customers get what they pay for,” LA City Attorney Mike Feuer said. “No consumer should ever be overcharged by their local market.”
Whole Foods will pay $630,000 in civil penalties, $100,000 to a statewide consumer protection trust fund and $68,394 in investigation costs. The LA City Attorney’s Office will receive $210,000 of the civil penalties.
Whole Foods spokesperson Marci Frumkin said the company cooperated with prosecutors. She said a review of investigative reports and the company’s records found their pricing for weighed and measured items was accurate 98 percent of the time.
“While we realize that human error is always possible, we will continue to refine and implement additional processes to minimize such errors going forward,” she said.
Whole Foods Market California, Inc., and Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets, Inc., which controls the stores in Southern California, are bound by the terms of the judgment.
The City of Los Angeles has ten Whole Foods Markets, including stores in Porter Ranch, Woodland Hills, Tarzana and Sherman Oaks.