Super-Sol to Pay Up for Overcharging

The Super-Sol supermarket chain and its subsidiary, Universe Club, yesterday apologized for having overcharged customers and promised to compensate shoppers. But a consumer watchdog said that the compensation may not go far enough.

In a random check of 30 stores belonging to big supermarket chains or their subsidiaries, the Israel Consumer Council found that about half the stores overcharged for products subject to price regulation by the state, which is a criminal offense. Some 65 percent of the overcharging related to dairy products. The worst offender was Super-Sol. Some 82 percent of its branches were found to overcharge.

"Super-Sol's management apologizes to its customers for the mistake in tagging price-regulated products at Super-Sol and Hyper-Neto branches, as was brought to its attention by the Consumer Council," Super-Sol announced yesterday. "This mistake was caused by regrettable human error and was immediately corrected two weeks ago."

To compensate shoppers, Super-Sol said that it would grant a special discount on the offending products until the end of 2004. Shoppers will receive double the difference, or two agorot for each agora that the supermarket charged above the permissible price.

But David Gedalya, manager of Super-Sol subsidiary Universe Club, argued that Universe Club is the only chain in Israel that grants a 5 percent discount to club members throughout the year, including on regulated prices. Thus the findings would only relate to the 4 percent of the chain's customers who do not belong to its club, he said, and Universe Club will therefore grant the compensation discount only to non-club members.

The products for which Super-Sol overcharged were mayonnaise (Mayonit and K'Mayonnaise), Osem spaghetti-macaroni, 5 percent cottage cheese, milk (1 percent and 3 percent), Gush Halav yellow cheese, Gilboa yellow cheese, No. 1 eggs (in one-dozen cartons) and 38 percent cream.

The Consumer Council said that it cannot automatically settle for Super-Sol's declared compensation. The compensation must genuinely cover the damage caused, so it must be equal to the period of time during which prices were excessive, it explained. But since the council's checks, conducted two months ago, found that the overcharging at that point had been going on for at least four months, the five-month compensation period proposed by Super-Sol might be insufficient.