SAN DIEGO - The owner of Fresh & Easy grocery stores was ordered to pay $833,136 to settle a consumer protection case brought by prosecutors in San Diego and Riverside counties, alleging the grocery chain charged more for meat and seafood than prices posted on store shelves.
Prosecutors from the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, the San Diego City Attorney's Office and the Riverside County District Attorney's Office alleged that Fresh & Easy posted prices that would be charged for items and then charged more at checkout.
There are 163 Fresh & Easy stores in California, 17 in San Diego County. Tiffany Trader goes to the chain once a week.
"They have good prices and I like the way their foods are scaled to serve one or two people," she said.
Trader was surprised that the grocery store chain was caught overcharging customers at the register.
"Our citizens need to have confidence when they shop that the price advertised is the one that is charged," said San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. "Actions like this are important to ensure that businesses deal fairly with their customers and compete fairly in the marketplace."
San Diego Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp on Friday ordered Fresh & Easy to pay penalties and costs and to institute a "Get It Free" program to settle the case.
For the next three years, shoppers at Fresh & Easy stores throughout California will be entitled to get $3 off the lowest advertised price of an item when they are overcharged at the register. If the lowest advertised price for the item is $3 or less, then the consumer will receive it for free.
Trader believes the punishment fits the crime.
"If they are allowed to get away with it, then it will continue so I'm glad the city cracked down on them," she said.
The grocery store must also have corporate person and an in-store employee whose only job is to make sure the prices on the shelf are correct and updated.
The case was brought to prosecutors by weights and measures officials in 12 California counties when they documented scanner and package overcharging during 124 inspections of 82 Fresh & Easy stores.