PHOENIX -- State inspectors say some Arizona pet food shops are taking more of a bite out of consumers than they should.
A report released Tuesday by the Department of Weights and Measures found nearly half of the 22 shops inspected at random charged customers a different price at the register than was posted on the shelf. Shawn Marquez, the agency's director of compliance programs, said while the errors were more likely to be in the customer's favor, some people were being charged more than they expected.
Marquez also said that inspectors found bags of dog and cat food, even from national companies, that weighed less than the price listed on the bag. But he said there is a plausible explanation for some of what may have occurred.
“It has a tendency, because of what it's made of, to lose moisture,” he explained.
“And it tends to lose weight,” Marquez continued.”So the older the product is, chances are that it may have lost some moisture.”
But Marquez stressed that, whatever the reason, if a bag is short-weighted, it cannot be sold. And those that were found lacking were removed from the shelves.
The department is best known for its price and scale inspections of grocery stores and other retailers. In particular, the agency verifies that the price listed on the shelf is what the computer calls up when the item is scanned at the register.
Marquez said, though, that his inspectors are as interested in ensuring that Fido gets the same consumer protections as his master.
“The pet food stores are nothing more than the grocery stores for animals,” he said. That means there's a good chance that people with dogs and cats are going to have to go into one of these specialty shops at one time or another.
And Marquez said the same principles that govern what grocers can do apply at pet shops.
“You have to have a price on stuff,” he said. “It's got to ring up the same as whatever they're advertising.”
And he said the scales in the store used to price things like bulk dog biscuits have the same accuracy requirements as those at the register of grocery stores to price bananas and plums.
The issue of weight, he said, also is not unique to pet shops. Marquez said the key is to be sure that manufacturers and retailers deliver what was promised, whether it's Cheerios or kibble.
“The golden rule is you've got to meet or exceed the stated weight,” he said.”So if it's a 10-pound bag, it can't be nine.”
And that, he said, means the contents.
“If you can't eat it, you shouldn't charge for it,” Marquez said. He said that's why when his inspectors come up with something that appears to be short-weighted, they actually tear open the bag or box and separate out the contents from the packaging materials.
“It applies to us humans,” he said. “And it applies to our dogs and cats as well.”
In a prepared statement, agency director Kevin Tyne said the results of these inspections show “more work needs to be done” by the pet food stores to come into compliance with Arizona pricing laws. And he said the fact that most of the errors found were in favor of customers is not an answer.
“Our inspectors select items at random,” Tyne said. “If we are finding even one overcharge in 25 it's one too many.”