Whole Foods co-CEOs John Mackey and Walter Robb admitted that the supermarket chain did overcharge New York City customers in a YouTube video posted Wednesday. But their apology placed the blame on employees incorrectly stating the weight of products, and not everyone accepted the C-suite’s apology.
Mr. Mackey and Mr. Robb admitted that Whole Foods had incorrectly priced store products, with containers of sliced fruit as a backdrop. Last week, New York inspectors revealed that the grocer had been consistently overcharging customers in eight of the nine Whole Foods locations in New York City since 2010, The Christian Science Monitor previously reported.
The investigation found that Whole Foods overstated the weight of prepackaged items, like meat, dairy, and baked goods; overcharged at scanning stations, and added tax to items that should not be taxed. Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin told The Associated Press that the problems continued even after Whole Foods was informed of the investigation.
“Straight up, we made some mistakes,” Robb said in the video. “We want to own that and tell you what we’re doing about it.”
The CEOs said the mistakes had to do with employees handling fresh products in the stores, like making sandwiches or cutting fruit.
“In these areas, there is a very, very small percentage, that they’re mis-weighing errors,” Mackey said. Robb followed up, saying that they know they are not intentional, because the weighing errors sometimes worked out in the customers’ favor.
The co-CEOs said Whole Foods will increase training both in New York stores and other US locations and give customers their food for free if there is a mistake in the weight of its fresh products, but only if the miscalculation is not in the customer’s favor.
The supermarket chain will also implement a third-party auditing system that will track Whole Foods' progress on the problem. In 45 days the company will update customers on what progress it has been made. Neither Mackey nor Robb said who the third party auditor will be.
Social media was divided on the apology. At press time, the YouTube video had 31,489 views, 75 likes, and 59 dislikes. The comments ranged from some users accepting Whole Foods' apology, while others blasting the company for their wrongdoing.
“I appreciate Whole Foods' co-CEOs and this video,” one user, Rolando Huerta, wrote in a comment on the company’s video. “My main concern for Whole Foods isn't this issue. It's namely the perception that ‘healthy’ or ‘organic’ foods are somehow ‘luxury’ items, or ‘ethical’ items. I think that the foods Whole Foods Market carries are of the best quality in the market – honestly.”
“So basically ‘We were greedy and now really sorry that we got caught,’” user "BRInle" wrote in another comment. Others chimed in, stating that they were not going to shop at Whole Foods ever again.
On Twitter, the conversation wasn’t much different:
Still, the Whole Foods apology came off better than many recent corporate pleas for forgiveness. Lululemon co-founder and former chairman Chip Wilson stepped down in 2013 after issuing a formal apology for his comment that “some women’s bodies just don’t actually work” for his company’s yoga pants, as previously reported by The Monitor. But his apology fell flat, and critics slammed Mr. Wilson for being “insincere” and failing to address the women he may have offended.
Last year, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney issued a company-wide apology after telling analysts that he would not retire because “the heart will still be beating, the employees will still be cowering.” He said the comment was a “a joke gone bad,” according to The Seattle Times. In October 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was asked whether women should ask for raises and said they shouldn't "because that's good karma,” USA Today reported. Mr. Nadella apologized, saying that he interpreted the questions “super narrowly” and that his answer was wrong.