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District Attorney

Posted on: October 27, 2020

News Release: Safeway Settles Consumer Protection Case for Price Gouging During COVID-19 Pandemic

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—October 27, 2020

Contact: Scott Alonso, 925-536-8110 cell

scott.alonso@contracostada.org

Safeway Settles Consumer Protection Case for Price Gouging During COVID-19 Pandemic

Martinez, Calif. – Today, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announces a $140,000 settlement against Pleasanton-based Safeway, Inc. as part of a settlement of a civil consumer protection investigation involving price gouging. Specifically, Safeway was charging above the legal limit for two products of hand sanitizer. The investigation was conducted with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

Specifically, Safeway started selling Raff Distillerie Hand Sanitizer and Ocean Fresh Pump Gel Hand Sanitizer after Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order related to price gouging during the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The executive order specifically prohibits a business from charging an excessive amount for a product they sell.

“The violations at issue here are serious by their very nature. Little can be more serious than a violation of a Governor’s Emergency Order during a State of Emergency. The ongoing pandemic has affected the lives and personal hygiene practices of millions of people in California,” District Attorney Becton stated. “Public health officials were advising constant hand-washing to prevent the spread of the virus. If soap and water was not available, hand sanitizer was recommended as the next best thing. These are the items that Safeway sold or offered for sale at ‘unconscionably excessive’ prices.” 

When the pricing issue was brought to Safeway’s attention, they immediately responded and corrected the prices to comport with the Governor’s Order. The investigation did not reveal any other actionable price gouging violations by Safeway.

According to the data provided by Safeway, the number of Ocean Fresh units sold or offered for sale at such prices was 65,088 and the number of Raff Distillerie units sold or offered for sale at such prices was 22,713. Thus, the total number of potential violations is 87,801. A violation under state law occurs when a product is individually sold above the legally permissible price.

In total, the consumer protection investigation found Safeway sold the products as follows:

Raff Distillerie Hand Sanitizer

--Sold at $5.99 ($1.84 mark up per unit, 47 cents higher than allowed)

Ocean Fresh Pump Gel Hand Sanitizer

--Sold at $9.99 ($4 mark up per unit, $1.01 higher than allowed)

A local consumer contacted the DA’s Office Consumer Fraud Hotline at 925-957-8608 and notified our Office in May about potential price gouging at a Safeway location in Concord. Since March, our Office has received and investigated a significant number of complaints related to possible cases of price gouging in the county. Residents can also email DA-ReportFraud@contracostada.org to report any consumer issues during the pandemic. 

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