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Walmart to Pay Millions for Meat Dept. Overcharges – The Back Story

This is the craziest case MrConsumer has ever seen in his 47 years as a consumer advocate. While you may have heard about this case last week, what wasn’t reported was the clever way Walmart pulled off the alleged overcharging scheme.

Walmart was sued by a consumer claiming that for years the company has manipulated the weight and price of packaged meat, poultry, and fish sold by the pound, as well as certain bagged produce, such that shoppers were charged more than the lowest represented price per pound shown on shelf tags and signs.

Most of the overcharges occurred on “rollback” or sale/reduced items. Look at this example from the lawsuit.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Walmart turkey

Turkey was 98 cents a pound according to the Walmart sign, but they were marked $1.48 a pound — 50 cents higher. So this 15-pound turkey the consumer was going to buy should have cost $15.07 and not $22.76 as marked. Instead, at the checkout, while the system was properly programmed to charge the 98 cents per pound price, it deceptively changed the weight to now be over 23 pounds. And magically, the consumer was charged the full $22.76 price on the tag — close to an eight dollar overcharge.

Here’s another example.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Walmart pork chops

The shelf label for these pork chops says they are $4.67 a pound, but the package is marked $5.17 a pound – 50 cents higher. Doing the math, the total price of that package should be $9.25, not $10.24 — which is almost a dollar higher. Yet, when the customer went to buy it, the checkout system somehow manipulated the weight of the item, raising it to 2.19 pounds instead of the actual weight of just under two pounds. The result, while the consumer was charged the price marked on the package, that was based on a higher price per pound than it should have been.

Walmart denies any wrongdoing but has tentatively agreed to settle the case for $45-million. Customers who purchased eligible groceries sold by weight from Walmart between October 19, 2018 and January 19, 2024 qualify for the settlement. If you have receipts, you can get two-percent back on eligible items up to $500. Others can get up to $25 depending on how many items they purchased.

June 5th is the deadline to submit a claim. Be sure to read the FAQs at that link.

Now my question for you, dear readers, is this: What was Walmart trying to do with this crazy practice of manipulating the net weights on the sales receipt? Were they really trying to intentionally defraud shoppers by cleverly making the sales receipt look like shoppers were charged the price on the item and the correct price per pound? If so, every state AG and weights and measures official across the country should go after them. However, I suspect something else was really going on here — some alternate explanation — but I just don’t know what it is.

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Oy Vey: Passover Matzo Packages Shrink

Shoppers may do a double take when checking out the Passover food display at some local supermarkets this year because the traditional five-pound bundles of some brands of matzo have been downsized to just four pounds.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Manischewitz matzo packages4-lb. and 5-lb. Manischewitz matzo bundles

Both Manischewitz and Yehuda, two leading brands of kosher foods, just introduced four-pound packages of this Passover staple in addition to their traditional bundle which has five one-pound packages and has been around for decades. (In the late ’50s or early ’60s, my father used to take me to the Horowitz-Margareten matzo factory in New York to buy five-pound packages of matzah.)

“Passover matzo has been one of the few products that has escaped shrinkflation until now,” explained Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “On top of that, some stores are raising prices too, so it is a double whammy for shoppers.”

Kayco, which owns Manischewitz and distributes the Yehuda brand, explained that “consumer need” drove the decision to offer both four and five-pound bundles, with individual supermarkets deciding which they will carry. It also said that raw materials and packaging costs have gone up.

Stop & Shop, a leading supermarket chain in the Northeast, where the new four-pound packages were first spotted in Boston, said in an emailed statement in part:

Stop & Shop is now stocking both 4- and 5-pound matzos at our stores for our customers who celebrate Passover. What we heard from many of our customers is that they didn’t utilize all of the product in the 5-pound bundles, which comes at a higher price point, so we now offer both sizes to help our customers save money and reduce waste. … Like other retailers across the country, we have faced increased costs from our Kosher suppliers in 2024 so customers may see higher prices on some items.

In fact, the new four-pound Manischewitz and Yehuda matzo bundles are on sale at Stop & Shop in Boston for $5.99 this year, a dollar more than last year’s price for the five-pound size. That translates to a 50-percent price increase per pound. For decades, Stop & Shop and some other chains have sold five-pound packages for only $4.99 perhaps as a loss leader. The five-pound bundles are $6.99 this year at Stop & Shop, for example – a 40-percent price hike. (See update at the end of this story.)

4 and 5 pound matzo at S&S in Brookline, MA4-lb and 5-lb matzo bundles at a Brookline, MA Stop & Shop

Not all major matzo manufacturers have followed Kayco’s lead. The makers of Streit’s and Aviv matzo say they have not downsized their brands. For its part, a manager at Aron Streit, Inc. said in reply to a customer’s question, “I am not sure what our competitors are thinking or doing, but we are still only selling five-pound bundles and definitely are not changing that anytime soon.”

The manufacturer of Aviv matzo, a popular Israeli brand sold in the United States, speculated that perhaps Kayco was jumping on the shrinkflation bandwagon.

Not all supermarket chains have moved away from the traditional size and price for Passover matzo. Star Market and Shaw’s in New England and Jewel-Osco in Chicago, divisions of Albertsons Companies, for example, still offer five-pound packages of Manischewitz, Yehuda, and Streit’s matzo for $4.99 on sale. And they are even offering an additional $1-off digital coupon on Streit’s.

5-lb matzo bundles for $4.99 at Star Market in Boston

A spot-check of Passover product sale prices this year at Stop & Shop in New Jersey compared to their sale prices last year reveals some significant price increases.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Passover price comparison

Shrinkflation has hit other Passover products in recent years. Yehuda matzo farfel went from a nine-ounce canister to an eight-ounce box. And Goodman’s macaroons, which were traditionally sold in 10-oz. cans, were downsized to nine ounces last year and came packaged in resealable bags.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Goodman's macaroons

April 5 UPDATE

Stop & Shop in Monroe Township, New Jersey, in their April 5 – 11 circular, advertised some of the key items in our comparison at a lower sale price:

Updated Passover prices

And Stop & Shop stores in the Boston area also lowered some prices as of April 5. For example, four and five-pound bundles of matzo as pictured above are one dollar less.

If you spot a newly downsized product, please send details and pictures to: Edgar(at)MousePrint.org .

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Fine Print Is Not Just in Print Anymore

We’re celebrating April Fool’s Day a week early with a little bit of consumer humor.

Remember those old Federal Express commercials with actor John Moschitta rapid-talking his spiel?

Well, almost two decades later, he is not alone any longer. This time, however, even faster speed-talking is used to make important disclosures and disclaimers in a radio commercial for a Boston-based financial advisory service.

*MOUSE PRINT:

That was perfectly understandable, right?

We asked the company, Hackmann Wealth Partners, if those disclosures were required by certain regulations and whether they would make future ads more understandable. They did not respond.

Presumably the disclosures said something like what is stated in a footnote on their website:

Investment advisory services offered through Brookstone Wealth Advisors, LLC (BWA), a registered investment advisor. BWA and HWP Inc, DBA Hackmann Wealth Partners, are independent of each other. Insurance products and services are not offered through BWA but are offered and sold through individually licensed and appointed agents.

Radio listeners deserve to be able to hear and understand what these folks glossed over in their commercial.

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