Paying more for groceries? CT investigating if stores are price gouging

Stores said they’re being unfairly singled-out, and Republicans called the probe an election-year stunt.

John Craven

Apr 11, 2024, 10:03 PM

Updated 38 days ago

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Think you pay too much for groceries? Connecticut’s attorney general does too. On Thursday, he launched an investigation into whether grocery chains are price gouging.
But stores say they’re being unfairly singled-out, and Republicans called the probe an election-year stunt.
STICKER SHOCK
Shoppers are looking for any way to save these days.
“Can I show you some coupons?” one customer at the Norwalk ShopRite said. “My husband doesn’t shop. He’s not going to notice, so somebody has to.”
Grocery prices jumped 1.2% in March over last year after previously leveling off, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday. A pound of uncooked ground beef averaged $5.42 – up more than 20 cents since February. A dozen Grade-A eggs cost $1.40 more than in March 2022.
It’s not just food, though. Overall, consumer inflation rose more than expected in March – boosted by gas, rents, auto insurance and other items.
ATTORNEY GENERAL INQUIRY
State Attorney General William Tong wants to know whether inflation is raising grocery bills – or price gouging.
“It's taking advantage of people,” he told reporters. “It’s charging an excessively high, or unconscionably high, price.”
Tong plans to send letters to every grocery store in the state, seeking information about their supply and overhead costs since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The move comes after a recent Federal Trade Commission report found that national chains’ profits keep rising – despite inflation. In 2015, they earned 5.6% above costs. By last year, that figure jumped to 7%.
STORES RESPOND
The grocery industry said it was blindsided by Tong’s announcement on Thursday. The Connecticut Food Association said that looking at a handful of national retailers’ profits – without investigating the rest of the supply chain – is “comparing apples and oranges.”
“All of these businesses have different business models,” said Wayne Pesce. “They have different cost structures. They have different supply chains.”
Pesce noted that only two retailers examined by the FTC even operate in Connecticut – Amazon/Whole Foods and Walmart – and they are national chains that own much of their supply and distribution network.
“The food community is a very large ecosystem,” he said. “You want to single out grocery stores? Well, let’s talk about food trucks and restaurants and commissaries who have had to raise prices because their costs went up.”
PRICE GOUGING LAW
Tong said he would like to investigate the rest of the supply chain but that his hands are tied.
“Our price gouging statute still limits us to the immediate retailer,” he said. “We don’t have the ability to go up the chain to producers, manufacturers.”
To fix the problem, top Democrats pledged to expand Connecticut’s price gouging law this session.
“Grocery stores have made a mess on Aisle 5, and we need the Attorney General to help us clean it up,” said state Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk). “We want to be able to expand that so he has the authority and the ability to look at this a little more deeply, and has the authority to get to the bottom of the causes of some of these issues.”
POLITICAL BATTLE
Democrats in the state Senate asked Tong to launch the probe after seeing the FTC report.
“Profiteering and price gouging tend to rear their ugly heads during times of crisis,” said Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven).
Republicans called the inquiry a political stunt in an election year.
“Democrats are using a flimsy study to gaslight frustrated residents by trying to shift blame away from the Biden administration’s failures to get inflation under control,” state Senate Republican Leader Stephen Harding (R-Brookfield) and House Minority Leader Vin Candelora (R-North Branford) said in a joint statement. “Instead of this transparent PR stunt, Democrats should look in the mirror and face the reality that their decisions, coupled with Bidenomics, have compounded the financial stress faced by residents who are tired of paying an arm and a leg for a bag of chips.”
GOP lawmakers also blamed Connecticut’s mileage fee on larger trucks that deliver groceries.
“It is hypocritical for Connecticut Democrats to be talking about how unaffordable groceries are,” said Harding and state Sen. Heather Somers (R-Groton). “Democrat-supported policies have repeatedly driven up the cost of everything in Connecticut. They are responsible for the crisis.”


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