Massachusetts To Change Item Pricing Requirement In Grocery Stores

Jul 10, 2012

A new law was quietly approved at the Statehouse earlier this month that will make Massachusetts the last state in the county to eliminate the requirement for price stickers on each item on the shelves in grocery stores.   WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

          The historic change in the Massachusetts item  pricing law was approved by voice votes in both the Massachusetts House and Senate. The final approvals came during informal sessions, with relatively few legislators present in the chambers.  Governor Deval Patrick signed the law, with no public ceremony, on the day before the 4th of July.

          It marked a quiet resolution to a fight that waged for a decade between the supermarket industry and consumer groups.   Edgar Dworsky is a consumer advocate, who 26 years ago wrote the item pricing law that has now essentially been repealed.

          Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents the grocery and  supermarket industry said this change will benefit the consumer with more accurate pricing.

          Flynn said the law is a compromise. It does not do away with all price sticker requirements, but allows stores, beginning in January, to apply for a waiver. With state approval the stores can replace item pricing  by displaying prices on shelves in numbers at least one inch high, and by installing self-serve price scanners, one for each five thousand square feet of store space.

          Flynn said the waiver also includes an affidavit by which the store agrees not  to lay off any workers because they won’t need people to put price stickers on every soup can and ketchup bottle.

          The bill subjects stores to fines up to $5,000 for breaches of the item pricing waiver, and consumers who are overcharged can take an item for free, if its under $10, or get a $10 credit .

          Edgar Dworsky, founder of  Consumer, a non profit consumer resource guide, said the changes will make it more difficult for people to compare the price of an item in their basket when they come across a similar item on display elsewhere in the store.

          The accuracy of the self serve price scanners is also at issue.  The supermarket industry points to a state survey last year that found a greater than 99 percent accuracy rate. But Dworksy said a consumer test  of scanners in big box stores a few years ago found just 30 percent were functioning correctly

          Massachusetts, in 1998, eliminated the requirement for individual item pricing in non-food stores.

The same year the state adopted a price scanner accuracy law that was hailed as a strong consumer protection.