The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has alleged that Whole Foods Market, Inc. “routinely overstated the weights of its pre-packaged products—including meats, dairy and baked goods— resulting in customers being overcharged.” According to a June 24, 2015, press release, DCA found mislabeled weights on 80 different types of products sold at New York City locations, with 89 percent purportedly failing to meet federal standards “for the maximum amount that an individual package can deviate from the actual weight.”

“The overcharges ranged from $0.80 for a package of pecan panko to $14.84 for a package of coconut shrimp,” claims the agency. “The fine for falsely labeling a package is as much as $950 for the first violation and up to $1,700 for a subsequent violation. The potential number of violations that Whole Foods faces for all pre-packaged goods in the NYC stores is in the thousands.”

In particular, DCA noted that packages of nuts, berries, vegetables, and seafood were often labeled “with exactly the same weight when it would be practically impossible for all of the packages to weigh the same amount.” The agency also cited similar issues uncovered by a 2012 investigation of California stores that led to a civil consumer protection case filed by city attorneys for Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego. Additional details about the settlement of that case appear in Issue 528 of this Update.

“It is unacceptable that New Yorkers shopping for a summer BBQ or who grab something to eat from the self-service aisles at New York City’s Whole Foods stores have a good chance of being overcharged,” DCA Commissioner Julie Menin is quoted as saying. “Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers, which DCA and New Yorkers will not tolerate. As a large chain grocery store, Whole Foods has the money and resources to ensure greater accuracy and to correct what appears to be a widespread problem—the city’s shoppers deserve to be correctly charged.”