Whole Foods Hit with Charges of Price Gouging

Some more superstitious folks say bad news comes in threes. That’s apparently true for Whole Foods. The grocer is still reeling from two very high-profile PR disasters. Now they are facing another. Allegations of unfair pricing.

Now, most people freely admit Whole Foods prices are high. Hence the derisive nickname “Whole Paycheck”. But people still loved to shop there. After all, the company was celebrated for clean stores and quality food. People, at least some of them, didn’t mind paying extra for that level of quality and experience.

But they didn’t realize HOW much more they were paying. Now, according to reports by CNN, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs says it uncovered, “systematic overcharging for pre-packaged foods” at NYC’s Whole Foods locations.

The department commissioner, Julie Menin, told CNN: “Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers…”

Worst. Case. In Their Careers. To employ a technical PR industry term: ouch!

The report says the investigators looked at 80 different sorts of food and found NONE of them had correct weights. In addition, nearly 90 percent of the packages “violated federal rules” about how much a package can deviate from stated to actual weight.

How much did these incorrect prices cost customers? According to the report, the overcharges ranged from about 80 cents to more than $14 for a single package of shrimp. These are not the prices. That’s how much OVER the actual price the labels charged.

Many items fell in the $2 to $6 too much range. Not a small sum when you are considering this is per item.

There’s really no good way to spin this for Whole Foods. The company should have been paying VERY close attention to its products and pricing in the wake of the two previous PR scandals. But, apparently, either this was intentional, or someone else was asleep at the wheel over there at Whole Foods.

This story is still developing, so hasn’t been a huge fallout yet, but when the consumer public does get wind of this latest issue, you can bet Whole Foods is going to feel the unforgiving lash of public displeasure. They need to get ahead of this, and they need to get there before this thing becomes a meme.

Chris Burch is a venture capitalist and founder of Burch Creative Capital.

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