What began with a single complaint about an overcharge at the grocery store expanded into a nationwide investigation.
As a result of persistent undercover and computer assisted reporting, this series holds one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers accountable for disproportionately overcharging customers and violating a court order requiring that they provide overcharged items for free.
Following viewer complaints, KPIX Consumer Investigative Reporter Julie Watts went undercover shopping at five Safeway stores in three counties. Not only was she overcharged five times, but store employees repeatedly violated a 2008 court order. Watts later obtained email evidence that the company’s “Business Ethics” department encouraged the practice.
She then submitted public records requests for Scanner Inspections to all 21 states with Safeway operated stores. When the California Department of Measurement Standards essentially denied the request by redacting most of the inspections, Watts submitted individual requests to each county in the state. This ultimately resulted in a total of 1853 inspection reports which revealed, among other things, that Safeway is more likely to overcharge than competitors.
The investigation then turned to a questionable relationship between the grocery industry and the California Department of Measurement Standards, the state agency responsible for the oversight of grocers and retailers.
Resourcefulness when faced with opposition to FOIA requests resulted in one of the most extensive grocery store overcharge databases in the state. Consequently, state attorneys subpoenaed the documents and data gathered for this investigation.
Both state and federal law enforcement agencies opened investigations into Safeway Inc. citing these reports. Safeway later settled with the state in one of the most significant judgments of its kind.