According to the Los Angeles Times, the supermarkets were found to have overcharged customers on pre-packaged and weighted items such as fried chicken, bulk coffee, salads and fish. One example was found when an inspector bought a salad from the salad bar and discovered that the store charge for the weight included the packaging. Another inspector bought four packages of fried chicken which were short by 3.5% each.
The Times reports that while this may not sound like a huge fraud, such short-changes add up. "Ralphs is taking money out of their customers' pockets," said Deputy City Atty. Don Cocek, who is prosecuting the case. "It might just be 95 cents, but if you add that up over the number of stores they have times the number of times they sell that item times 365 days a year, this becomes a huge ripoff."
A spokeswoman for Ralphs, Kendra Doyel, said she felt the chain was unfairly singled out and that the shortages were not purposely fraudulent. "There's absolutely no malicious intent in this situation whatsoever," she told a press conference. "It would be an oversight."
Unfortunately for Ralphs, it is an oversight they have been accused of before. The Times reports that Ralphs was previously issued notifications after package inspections and test purchases showed violations. The company was fined $6,500 in 2008 and $10,400 in 2009. But as the city attorney said, those fines didn't seem to make an impact.
Based on the 27 overcharge violations found during the investigation of January 20 to March 9 of this year, Ralphs and parent company Kroger are facing fines and penalties of up to $256,000 each.
- Ralphs accused of overcharging customers, false advertising (Los Angeles Times)
- Ralph's Grocery and Parent Company Charged for Overbilling Customers (Press Release, Office of Los Angeles City Attny.)
- Do Stores That Offer Loyalty Cards Have a Duty to Notify Customers of Product Safety Recalls? (FindLaw's Writ)