TEXAS -- Over the last month, nearly 6,000 Texans have contacted the Texas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division with complaints of price gouging related to the COVID-19 crisis. More than 500 of those complaints were filed in Austin and San Antonio alone.
- Dozens of complaints filed against small chain grocery stores
- Stores claim that vendor prices have increased
- AG Ken Paxton released a strict warning
Out of the thousands of price-gouging complaints submitted, dozens were directed at “mom and pop” or small chain grocery stores. Thrif-T-Mart in southwest San Antonio faces roughly a dozen complaints of price gouging. Rep. Philip Cortez, D-117, filed one of them.
"I don't think any resident would feel that seven bucks for a gallon of milk is normal,” commented Cortez.
Cortez’s complaint centers on a social media post that showed Thrif-T-Mart selling essentials like water, milk and eggs at “exorbitant” prices.
"This part of my district is an older part of my district--it's inner-city, there's a lot of families that have been here 40-plus years, a lot of seniors on fixed incomes,” said Cortez. “The last thing that I want is a business taking advantage of any of those residents."
Spectrum News did reach out to Thrif-T-Mart for comment, but did not receive a response.
"It's not appropriate, it's unethical and illegal, potentially,” remarked Cortez.
Poco Loco Supermercado is another store facing roughly a dozen complaints. Ronak Vyas, accounts executive for Poco Loco, admits the small chain has raised its prices, but says it had no choice.
"Our margin we can cut down, but we have no control over on prices from the vendors,” said Vyas.
According to vendor slips provided by Vyas, back in January, Poco Loco was being charged $29.12 for 300 large AA eggs. By March, Poco Loco was being charged $39.79 for just 180 AA eggs.
With only eight stores in Travis County and Hays County, Vyas said Poco Loco operates at a disadvantage compared to the bigger players in the grocery store industry.
"H-E-B and Walmart have their own warehouses. There are pallets and pallets they can stack for one and a half months or more than that,” commented Vyas. "I don't have a storage facility."
The lack of a warehouse means Poco Loco can’t stockpile products when they’re sold at cheaper prices. Instead, Vyas said they’re reliant on vendor availability and prices that vary week-to-week, prices that have been skyrocketing.
"It's almost a 30-40 percent rise on the prices,” said Vyas.
According to Vyas, Poco Loco has cut its profit margins to help soften the blow for customers, but it doesn’t stop people from complaining about the high prices, and those tightened margins are now venturing into dangerous territory.
"We have to sustain,” said Vyas. “We have 200 employees right now. We need to pay them."
So far, the Attorney General’s office has filed just one lawsuit related to price gouging and the COVID-19 crisis. The AG’s office can’t comment on ongoing investigations; however, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a stern warning to retail suppliers last month.
“My office will work aggressively to investigate and prosecute any price-gouger who takes advantage of a disaster declaration by selling necessities at an excessive price, including retail suppliers in grocery and pharmacy chains,” said Paxton. “No one is exempt from price gouging laws in Texas, and those who violate the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act will be met with the full force of the law.”
If you feel you’ve been the victim of price gouging, you too can file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s office by calling Office of the Attorney General’s toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508, or by filing a complaint online at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer-protection.