The Whole Foods motto—“Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet” —can be found on the company’s Declaration of Interpendence webpage, which proudly announces that the “success in fulfilling our vision is measured by customer satisfaction.”
That “vision” turned a bit blurry earlier in the week when Whole Foods Market Inc., which operates 74 stores in California, agreed in Los Angeles Superior Court to pay $800,000 to the state for routinely overcharging customers.
While Whole Foods may “satisfy, delight and nourish” its customers, the company also weighs the salad bar containers with the salad, sells packages that weigh less than advertised and sells items by the piece instead of by weight. That is all illegal.
City attorneys of Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego pursued a civil protection case on behalf of the state after a yearlong investigation by state and county weights and measures inspectors.
City attorneys in those three jurisdictions will split $630,000 in civil penalties. Another $100,000 will be deposited in a consumer protection trust fund and $68,394 will go for court costs.
Whole Foods also agreed to a five-year injunction that requires them to conduct random audits at each of its stores four times a year, designate one employee at each store to accept responsibility for accurate pricing and appoint two state coordinators to oversee pricing, according to the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office.
The company also agreed to “charge accurate prices and provide the advertised weights on all items.” There was no mention from the city attorney what would happen after five years.
A statement from Whole Foods minimized the effect its practices had on consumer wallets: “Based on a review of our own records and a sampling of inspection reports . . . our pricing on weighed and measured items was accurate 98% of the time.”
Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky said a little goes a long way: “By adding the weight of containers and packaging, especially on higher-priced, per-pound items like seafood and meats and even prepared food, the extra charges can add up fast, and yet be hidden from consumers.”
Whole Foods, which has stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, had U.S. revenues of $12.9 billion in 2013.