Fresh & Easy Ordered to Pay More Than $800k for Overpricing Violations

The chain will also implement a program to give money back to consumers if they're overcharged in future

The owner of Fresh & Easy grocery stores was ordered to pay more than $800,000 to settle a lawsuit claiming the chain charged higher prices than were posted on store shelves.

The chain, owned by British supermarket giant Tesco, will also have to institute a three-year-long "Get It Free" program that will give shoppers $3 back on items if they're overcharged, according to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office. The stores will have to give away for free the item if it is advertised at less than $3 when overcharging occurs.

Each store will be required to post a sign at every checkout explaining the policy, which is detailed in the final judgment (PDF).

The settlement was approved last week by a San Diego Superior Court judge last week after prosecutors in Riverside and San Diego counties brought the civil case.

Following the settlement, Fresh & Easy issued a statement saying, "We take price integrity very seriously and regret and unintentional pricing discrepancies that may have occurred. We have already put programs in place to help avoid mistakes like this in the future."

The settlement applies to stores statewide, prosecutors said.

There are more than 160 Fresh & Easy locations in Southern California, where Tesco began opening stores a little more than five years ago. In December, the company said it may sell or close the money-losing chain.

When shoppers went to purchase goods that Fresh & Easy stores offered for sale in advertising circulars and on shelves, the items were priced higher than advertised, according to the district attorney's offices in Riverside and San Diego counties, as well as the San Diego city attorney's office.

Meat and seafood packages were often priced higher per pound, prosecutors alleged.

"Meat, fish, poultry -- products for the wrong price per pound. In terms of the scanner issue, it was all across the board. It could have been any product," said Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Elise Farrell.

At a Fresh & Easy location in South Los Angeles on Tuesday, several shoppers said they had in fact been overcharged. Still, some were forgiving, saying they hoped the store did not get shut down.

"I don't want them to overcharge, but we definitely don't want to see them go away," said customer Scott Culbertson.

Weights and measures inspectors in a dozen California counties documented package overcharges during 124 investigations at 82 Fresh & Easy stores, according to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.

Fresh & Easy will pay $230,000 in penalties to Riverside County, while the city and county of San Diego will receive more than $600,000, prosecutors said.

The chain is also requirement to make payments to several additional counties and to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

NBC4's Ted Chen contributed to this report.

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