What Should I Do If The Prepackaged Produce At The Store Is Priced Incorrectly?

Some days it’s just easier to pick up a prepackaged meal from the grocery store; whether it’s grabbing a container of pre-cut fruit for a picnic or a plate of shucked corn for the grill, the pre-measured and individually packaged items can be convenient. But what happens when the weight of the container you snatched doesn’t match the price and weight on the label?

That’s an issue an Illinois woman recently encountered at her local Jewel Osco store while perusing the produce area for fruit.

The woman recalls in a Facebook post that she noticed a package of two fruit skewers that she thought would be the perfect addition to a summer meal.

There were about 16 packages priced between $8 and $10. The label on the tray showed that the fruit was priced at $3.99/pound.

“I thought that was high for two little fruit skewers,” the woman says. “I decided to throw it on the vegetable scale only to find out it was just over one pound. They priced it double the weight.”

The woman says she approached an employee who offered to discount the fruit and that a produce manager would fix the issue in the morning. Unsatisfied with that response the woman continued to talk with the employee who said he would reprice them right away.

However, three days later she stopped by the store again only to find the same issue.

“The package we took a picture of weighed one pound but was charged for 2.75 pounds,” she says, noting that another employee promised to once again fix the issue.

Consumerist dispatched a trusted ally in Illinois to check out a different Jewel Osco store to see if the issue was a one-off or perhaps a bigger issue.

While our secret shopper didn’t find any issues as glaring as those alleged by the Facebook poster, there were a few discrepancies with weighted, prepackaged items.

The biggest disparity was found in a package of chicken kabobs. The net weight on the label was listed as 1.88 pounds, but our shopper found the actual weight was 1.74 pounds.

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At $7.99/pound the price difference wouldn’t be significant for one customer, but for hundreds it would add up to be a larger chunk of change.

Similarly, a package of beef kabobs, marked at .59 pounds actually weighed .5 pounds. Again, not a huge difference, but over time it certainly adds up.

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Conversely, a bowl of watermelon chunks weighed more than the package label. The tag showed the bowl weighed 35 ounces, while in reality it weighed 44 ounces.

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While it might be understandable for a grocery store that deals with hundreds of prepackaged products each day to have slight variations in weights and measurements, it can still cause a problem for customers and retailers.

A rep for Jewel Osco tells Consumerist that the company apologizes for any inconvenience to customers and that the situation has been corrected to ensure it does not happen again.

So what can a customer do if they feel the products they are looking to purchase are mislabeled because of weight?

First, they should speak with a store manager to address the issue. If that doesn’t work, they should contact their state’s Weights & Measures Department.

Doug Rathbun, Bureau Chief for the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Weights & Measures, tells Consumerist that once contacted, the agency will send an inspector to check on the store’s scales and other systems.

“If they feel that things aren’t kosher in any way, they can call us,” Rathbun tells Consumerist. “It is a common occurrence, but not dramatic. We do get complaints of all shapes and colors as it were. We’re more than happy to send an inspector over to address the concerns.”

“Typically for one consumer, it’s a matter of $0.15 to $0.20, so they might not consider it worth calling us,” he says. “But if they take an aggregate amount of 15 to 20 packages, then it can be quite a lot.”

In an attempt to head off such complaints, inspectors from the agency check and certify every weight and measuring device used for trade and commerce each year. Once inspected, a badge is placed on the scale.

Ensuring that the color of the badge matches the current year is another way consumers can verify that the scale has been certified. This year, the Illinois sticker is purple.

However, because there are so many retailers that use scales, Rathbun cautions that it’s possible a 2015 sticker is still on some scales.

When an inspector is dispatched to a retailer after a customer complaint, Rathbun says they conduct a variety of testing methods depending on the product in question.

There are several things to consider when determining the weight of a product. For example, items can be created in a random or standard package. Retailers are also required to deduct the weight of the packaging materials when weighing a product for price.

In come cases the inspector will have a cashier weigh the product and compare that result with a second scale in the store.

If the tests show there has been a violation of the Weights & Measures Act, the Department can choose to take the retailer to hearing. The fine for such a violation is $500.

Depending on the severity of the violation, the Department’s attorneys can decide whether to issue a fine for each instance a package is mislabeled or simply one fine for the overall issue.

Rathbun again urged consumers to reach out to a manager at their retailer before filing a complaint with the Department, suggesting that if the business isn’t being malicious, they’ll likely be open to fixing the issue.

If you feel that a product isn’t being priced correctly based on weight, the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Weights & Measures office offers customers a handy guide with tips on getting a true measure.

And just in case you’re wondering how our secret shopper’s trip ended:

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