Judge: Safeway 'local' produce not so local

Posted on March 7, 2014 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Safeway Inc. will pay $2,250,000 to settle a civil lawsuit alleging that the grocery chain engaged in unfair competition and false advertising, including misuse of the term “locally grown.”

The complaint, filed by the District Attorneys of nine counties including Sonoma, alleged that Safeway unlawfully charged customers prices higher than Safeway’s lowest advertised price, misrepresented the weight of certain Safeway-branded products, and made statements on in-store signage that conveyed the impression certain Safeway produce was “locally grown” when in fact they were sourced from other countries.

The complaint further alleged that Safeway failed to abide by provisions of a 2008 injunction requiring it to initiate and maintain a program to minimize pricing discrepancies.

The action was filed in Marin County Superior Court by Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s Environmental and Consumer Law Division along with the District Attorneys of Marin, Alameda, Fresno, Napa, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Solano and Ventura Counties.

The March 7 ruling orders Safeway to pay $2,250,000 in civil penalties, costs and restitution. The costs will reimburse state and local Weights & Measure officials, including the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner, Weights and Measures Division, which Ravitch said was instrumental in investigating the violations that led to the filing of the complaint.

The civil penalties will be divided amongst the prosecuting offices to be used to enforce consumer protection laws.

The judgment includes a permanent injunction that prohibits Safeway from engaging in false or misleading advertising; charging an amount greater than the lowest price posted for an item; failing to honor any valid Safeway coupons, discounts or offers; and failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose any inclusions, exceptions or limitations to any Safeway offers, coupons or discounts.

Safeway is also ordered to implement programs to increase price accuracy including increasing the number and visibility of in-store signs notifying consumers of the price accuracy policy; instituting training; and hiring an independent third-party auditor.

“We are committed to prosecuting pricing accuracy violations and ensuring that businesses charge customers accurately and in compliance with California law, Ravitch said. “Consumers should always watch as items are scanned at the register and check receipts to verify that they are charged the correct price.”

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