Whole Foods Markets has agreed to pay nearly $800,000 to settle allegations it overcharged customers across California for a variety of items, the Los Angeles City Attorney's office said Tuesday.
The case grew out of a year-long investigation by Weights and Measures inspectors for the state and county. Whole Foods cooperated with the probe, the City Attorney's Office said.
Among the moves needed for remediation, Whole Foods will pay $798,394 in costs and penalties and appoint “state coordinators” to oversee pricing accuracy at all 74 of its California stores.
“We've alleged multiple violations occurred regarding overcharges,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in an interview. “I think it's really important to focus on the results. Whole Foods is required to pay penalties, but more important than that they have agreed to take some very important steps to ensure that no consumer fails to get what they pay for in the future.”
The investigation determined that Whole Foods failed to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up charges for self-serve foods at the salad bar and hot bar, giving customers less of their purchase than the amount stated on the label for packaged items sold by the pound. It also sold its prepared deli foods by the piece instead of by the pound, as required by law.
The court injunction is the result of charges involving unfair competition and false advertising, prosecutors said.
Monetary damages include $630,000 in civil penalties — $210,000 each to the city attorneys of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Diego — $100,000 for a consumer-protection trust fund and $68,394 to reimburse county and state agencies for conducting the investigation.
“What's important about the civil penalties is they get poured back into consumer-protection work in the future,” Feuer said.
The injunction includes these requirements for Whole Foods:
• Designate an employee at every store in the state to verify pricing accuracy.
• Conduct random audits at each of its outlets four times a year to confirm that all charges are correct and that proper weight is being deducted for all containers.
• Provide the advertised weight on all items.
The company, which has 36 stores in Southern California — including 12 in L.A. County — wrote in an email that it has a near-perfect pricing record.
“Whole Foods Market takes our obligations to our customers very seriously, and we strive to ensure accuracy and transparency in everything we do,” said Marci Frumkin, executive marketing coordinator for the company's Southern Pacific Region. “Based on a review of our own records and a sampling of inspection reports from various city and county inspectors throughout California, our pricing on 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.”