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Consumer Protection Unit


June 24, 2014

Adam Radinsky, Head, Consumer Protection Unit
Santa Monica City Attorney's Office

Whole Foods Markets has agreed to a court judgment under which it will pay nearly $800,000 in penalties and investigative costs and will be subject to a five-year court order, after a statewide investigation uncovered widespread pricing violations throughout the state of California.

The final court judgment has been entered in the Santa Monica courthouse of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The civil consumer protection case was brought by the City Attorneys of Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and San Diego, on behalf of the People of the State of California.

The case grew out of a more than one-year investigation by state and county Weights and Measures inspectors throughout California. Inspectors found that Whole Foods was charging more than the advertised price for a wide variety of food items. The problems included:

  • Failing to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up charges for self-serve foods at the salad bar and hot bar;
  • Giving less weight than the amount stated on the label, for packaged items sold by the pound; and
  • Selling items by the piece, instead of by the pound as required by law (such as kebabs and other prepared deli foods)

Whole Foods Market California, Inc. (which controls all Whole Foods stores in northern California) and Mrs. Gooch's Natural Foods Markets, Inc. (which controls southern California stores) are bound by the terms of the judgment.

The court injunction will remain in place for five years. It covers all 74 Whole Foods stores in the state of California.

Under the agreed court order, Whole Foods is required to:

  • Appoint two "state coordinators" to oversee pricing accuracy at Whole Foods stores throughout California;
  • Designate an employee at every store in the state who will be responsible to assure pricing accuracy throughout the store;
  • Conduct random audits at each of its stores, four times per year, to assure that all prices are accurate and that proper weight is being deducted for all containers; and
  • Charge accurate prices and provide the advertised weight on all items.

As part of the court judgment, the companies will also pay $798,394 in penalties and costs. This includes $630,000 in civil penalties, $100,000 paid to a statewide weights and measures enforcement trust fund, and $68,394 in investigative costs.

"Consumers have a right to accurate pricing - and the right to pay for only what they bought," said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky. "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."

Radinsky added: "We hope this case will serve as a wake-up call to supermarkets and other food retailers to make sure their per-pound charges are accurate. Consumers should always pay close attention to their purchases and make sure that the store deducts the weight of all packaging and containers."

There are three Whole Foods Markets in Santa Monica.

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