American supermarket chain Whole Foods was recently investigated by the New York Department of Consumer Affairs (NYDCA) for “systematically” overcharging customers for pre-packed foods in its New York City locations. Whole Foods Market (WFM) is best known for featuring foods for the health-conscious consumer, sold without artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors, preservatives and hydrogenated fats. Whole Foods has become a staple within the food and supermarket industries, even being noted as one of the best companies to work for and a high-end retail brand.
Whole Foods, however, is no stranger to controversy. In previous years, John Mackey was found to post commentary on Yahoo! Finance boards under an assumed name, making disparaging comments toward former president Barack Obama, and allegations of racial discrimination against Spanish-speaking employees. In this case, Whole Foods came under first in California in regard to false advertising and unfair competition. The company failed to remove the weight of fresh food containers, put in less than the stated weight and sold items by piece instead of pound. In New York, the DCA’s investigation proved its allegations to be true, when nearly 90 percent of tested packages exceeded the Department of Commerce’s minimum package deviations. Consumer perception of the brand dropped to its lowest point ever recorded. Despite showing some improvement, scores are still in the negative.
Whole Foods’ brand took a hit with its unethical business practices. For the company to claim that consumers come first and then to vigorously deny proven allegations against it, the company looked contradictory in the public eye. The first priority of any business should be the consumer, who spends their hard-earned money on products and services. Whole Foods owed it to its customers to be fair and honest across the board, especially in this case, but it did not. It and Mackey’s actions went against business ethics and perhaps the most important tenet of all: keeping the customer first.
- ABC News. (2015, July 2). Whole Foods CEOs Apologize for Overcharging Customers. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EK7dAcVBLA
- Imbert, Fred. “Agency Says Whole Foods Overcharges: ‘Worst Case of Mislabeling’.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 24 June 2015, www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/agency-says-whole-foods-overcharges-worst-case-mislabeling-n381026.
- Stempel, Jonathan. “Lawsuit accusing Whole Foods of overcharging is revived: U.S. appeals court.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 2 June 2017, www.reuters.com/article/us-wholefoods-lawsuit/lawsuit-accusing-whole-foods-of-overcharging-is-revived-u-s-appeals-court-idUSKBN18T2AL.
- “Whole Foods Accused of Overpricing Pre-Packaged Food.” Fortune, 2 June 2017, fortune.com/2017/06/02/whole-foods-overpricing-food-lawsuit/.