Whole Foods is expensive. Everyone knows it and yet somehow so many people still shop there; we’ve all just come to accept that Whole Paycheck is what it is, just like how people who would rather not have to chew their food have come to accept that those fruit-and-veggie juices will cost at least $10.
Nowhere is this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ attitude about high prices on grander display than New York. Questioning why anything costs so damn much — apartments, coffee, cocktails, this list could go on forever, because everything — is like asking why the sun insists on rising in the east. Which is maybe how grocery shoppers in Gotham wound up getting fleeced by Whole Foods for the past five years.
The New York Daily News is reporting that the City of New York has launched an official probe into Whole Foods Markets. Why? Because “dozens of inspections dating back to at least 2010” reveal that the upscale chain has been regularly overcharging customers.
The Department of Consumer Affairs conducted a string operation last fall that “specifically checked the accuracy of the weight marked on pre-packaged products.” Here’s what they discovered (emphasis added):
Inspectors weighed 80 different types of items at Whole Foods’ eight locations in the city that were open at the time. They found every label was inaccurate, with many overcharging consumers, agency spokeswoman Abby Lootens told The News.
Plenty of other New York food shops appear to abide by the same sketchy practices: 77 percent of the 120 grocery stories included in the investigation had at least one violation to their name. But Commissioner Julie Menin told The News that Whole Foods was the guiltiest offender by far, sparking the full investigation that took place last year: “Our inspectors told me it was the worst case of overcharges that they’ve ever seen.”
Whole Foods has been fined over and over again for the same violations, including adding taxes to items that aren’t even taxable and overcharging at the scanners. And last summer, Whole Foods settled a similar investigation in California by paying $800,000.
Through a FOIA request, The News found that Whole Foods stores in New York “have received more than 800 violations during 107 separate inspections since 2010, totaling more than $58,000 in fines.”
Of course it is bad for karma to bask in the missteps of others, but there is something satisfying about finding out that the notoriously high-priced chain — so high-priced, in fact, that the company is opening a chain of lower-priced stores called “365” to lure in cash-strapped youngins away from Trader Joe’s — is actually overcharging to a criminal degree. This is especially bad timing, as competition in the affordable-organic marketplace grows ever fiercer: over 2,000 Walmart stores have separate organic produce sections. Consumers who want organic food have more options than ever before; as Whole Foods loses that monopoly, customers are more and more likely to balk at the notion of paying exorbitant prices for basics easily procured elsewhere.
Naturally (pun intended!) Whole Foods is adamant that this is not the case and a representative assures The News that the store will totally refund whatever may have been incorrectly priced. This is useful news, surely, to all those shoppers who’ve been holding onto Whole Foods receipts from the past five years in anticipation of this day.