NEW YORK, June 24 (UPI) -- Investigators say Whole Foods locations in New York City regularly overcharge customers for pre-packaged foods sold by weight, a complaint the specialty grocery store has faced -- and had to pay for -- in the past.
The city's Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin on Wednesday announced an ongoing investigation into Whole Foods' pricing for pre-packaged foods. The DCA tested 80 different items and found all had mislabeled weights and 89 percent of the packages had a greater deviation from their labeled weight than federal regulations allowed.
"Stores routinely overstated the weights of its pre-packaged products -- including meats, dairy and baked goods -- resulting in customers being overcharged," a news release from the department said.
Customers were overcharged anywhere from $0.80 to $14.84 in one case for a package of coconut shrimp.
"DCA's findings point to a systematic problem with how products packaged for sale at Whole Foods are weighed and labeled," the news release said. The overcharges were especially prevalent in packages that had been labeled with exactly the same weight when it would be practically impossible for all of the packages to weigh the same amount."
Of the nine Whole Foods stores currently in New York City, eight were found to overcharge customers.
"It is unacceptable that New Yorkers shopping for a summer barbecue 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," said DCA Commissioner Menin. "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."
Whole Foods released a statement Wednesday, calling the DCA's allegations "overreaching" and saying it intends to "vigorously defend ourselves.
"We cooperated fully with the DCA from the beginning until we disagreed with their grossly excessive monetary demands. Despite our requests to the DCA, they have not provided evidence to back up their demands nor have they requested any additional information from us, but instead have taken this to the media to coerce us. Our customers are our number one stakeholder and we highly value their trust in us," a statement emailed to UPI said.
This isn't the first time Whole Foods has been accused of improperly labeling the weight of pre-packaged foods. In 2014, the company was ordered to pay $800,000 in civil fines after state and local authorities in California found evidence of the same practice.
In some instances, the grocery store failed to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up food from the fresh-food bars. In other cases, the company gave customers less food than the weight stated on the label.
In the settlement, which applied to 74 Whole Foods outlets in California, the grocer agreed to random audits of its stores and to commit to accurate pricing.
Kate Stanton contributed to this report.