It’s lunchtime. You’re hungry. You want (hell, need) food right now. Logically, you venture to the local Whole Foods, dodge through the throngs of people inside, pay no mind to the enormous line — it moves quickly — and snag a sample on your way to the pre-packaged foods. You feel good about your healthy lunch choice… until that cashier drops a price bomb on you.
Is that small package of all-natural, organic, GMO-, antibiotic-, and pesticide-free morsels of food really worth that much?
Well, I know I’m not alone in this feeling. In fact, the great city of New York agrees. And NYC has launched various investigations into Whole Foods Market since 2010, finding that they consistently overcharge customers. The 800 violations found during 107 different inspections since then have amounted to over $58,000 in fines (you know, roughly what they charge for a chicken).
The most recent probe was conducted last fall by the Department of Consumer Affairs, specifically focusing on the weight marked on pre-packaged products. Abby Lootens, an agency spokeswoman, told New York Daily News that every label was found to be inaccurate, many overcharging customers.
Whole Foods is adamantly defending themselves, though DCA Commissioner Julie Menin isn’t having it. Though 77% of the 120 other grocery stores citywide were also hit with violations, Whole Foods was the most egregious offender. Menin’s inspectors reported it as the “worst case of overcharges that they’ve ever seen.”
Defenders of the city’s major food retailers and wholesalers, like Jay Peltz, general counsel and VP of government relations for the Food Industry Alliance of New York, argue the issue is an account of the manufacturers who deliver pre-packaged, pre-sealed, and pre-labeled products that retailers have no control over in terms of packaging and weighting. It’s a fair argument, I suppose, but Whole Foods’ pricing discrepancies appear rather systematic.
Most consumers genuinely buy into the Whole Foods brand, believing they’re paying higher price for a more wholesome, higher quality product. And while that may be true, it doesn’t necessarily justify all their steep prices.
Steph is a native New Yorker with a love of culture, creativity, and communications. She’s a foodie, nutrition junkie, yogi, wine-lover, bookworm, world traveler, style-addict, and people person. She also runs her event planning company, Orchard + Broome.