Supermarkets socked with $380,000 in fines five months ago for violating city regulations haven't learned their lesson: A new blitz by Department of Consumer Affairs inspectors found the compliance rate actually went down from 48 to 33 percent after the penalties were issued, officials said yesterday.
More shockingly, Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz said that based on the experience of its inspectors, New Yorkers can expect to get ripped off one of out every three times they pass through the supermarket check-out counter.
"The industry is really thumbing its nose at New York City consumers," declared a furious Mintz.
In a sweep over the last four months, inspectors visited 408 supermarkets -- 83 of them twice -- and issued almost 750 new violations totaling $310,000 for infractions that included inaccurate checkout scanners, no prices on individual items, taxing merchandise that's not taxable and not having produce scales available to customers.
Inspectors have now issued $690,000 in fines since August.
But, as Mintz put it, "The real story is the overcharging."
He said his inspectors would typically pick 25 or 50 items off supermarket shelves -- about 20 percent on sale -- and run them through the register.
In nearly a third of the cases, Mintz said, inspectors were overbilled for at least one item -- a rate he described as "appalling."
Overall, only 33 percent of city supermarkets are in compliance with all city regulations.
During a previous sweep in August, the compliance rate was 48 percent -- a record low at the time.
Asked if supermarkets were deliberately cheating their customers, Mintz said: "I can't answer that. In all my interactions with the heads of supermarkets and the heads of the supermarket industry, the one thing I never heard from any of them is acknowledgement they have a problem and are working to fix it. I think that speaks volumes."
Industry officials questioned the city's methodology, claiming Consumer Affairs has refused to share the raw numbers.
"All we want to do is see the information," said John Rogers, president of the Food Industry Alliance representing 800 markets here.
"We have no reason to believe -- and we believe it's an overstatement -- to say one out of three customers are being overcharged. We believe that's not the case at all."
Pat Brodhagen, the group's vice president, said that if an inspector bought 25 items at three locations and was overcharged for only one item, that one-in-75 instance would meet the national industry standard of a 98 percent accuracy rate.
"It's still a violation and needs to be corrected," Brodhagen said. "It's hard to achieve 100 percent. Most stores give the item away for free if the price is wrong."
Mintz attacked that reasoning as a "diversionary tactic," pointing out that his agency encountered the rip-offs by sampling just 25 to 50 items from shelves usually lined with 30,000 to 40,000 products.
Mintz argued that, if anything, the latest findings understate the extent of the overcharging problem.
Mintz also said industry representatives don't have to look far for the data they're demanding since the violations are in the hands of their members.
Friday, January 7, 2011
1 in 3 NYC supermarkets will rip you off.
Ridiculous (but not surprising). From NY Post. Thanks Jen K!