Last updated on March 2nd, 2021 at 10:00 am
As toilet paper disappeared from store shelves in mid-March, the price increases put in place by some stores may have tipped into illegal price gouging, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
On March 25, the department said it had issued cease and desist letters to 16 companies for potential violations of Wisconsin’s price gouging laws. Those laws prohibit stores from raising prices on consumer goods and services by more than 15% over the highest price during the 60-day period before an emergency declaration was put in place.
Companies are allowed to exceed that threshold if the price does not exceed the cost plus normal markup of the product.
DATCP provided the names and locations of companies receiving the letters, along with which items had allegedly violated the price gouging rules. BizTimes requested copies of the letters to see the prices the stores were charging for those items.
Toilet paper was the most frequently listed item in DATCP’s cease and desist letters. An Ace Hardware in Delavan received a letter for selling a single roll of toilet paper for $1.99 while a Dollar Tree in Marinette received a letter for selling a generic 12-pack of toilet paper for $26.99, a per roll price of $2.25.
The Marketplace Foods in St. Croix Falls received a letter for selling a Cottonelle 9-pack for $15 while the Walgreens in Cudahy was selling a Charmin 12-pack of double rolls for $19 and received a letter. The Walmart at 3355 S. 27th St. in Milwaukee received a letter for selling the Angel Soft 425-Sheet Mega pack for $19.58, compared to a previous price of $9.98.
Rice was another frequent item in the DATCP letters. Asian International Market and C&S Vliet Supermarket in Milwaukee and Pacific Produce in Oak Creek all received letters for their prices on 50-pound bags of rice. The previous prices were in the $30 to $40 range while the prices DATCP saw ranged from $52.99 to $69. El Rey also received a letter or a bag of rice priced at $16.99.
Also included in El Rey’s letter was 24-packs of bottled water priced at $19.99. Martrangas in Racine, priced at $10, and Restaurant Depot in Milwaukee, priced at $14.16 compared to $5.32 previously, also received letters for their 24-packs of water.
Grainger and Menards also received letters for the pricing of their masks. The Grainger letter was for surgical masks with a price of $1 per mask with a minimum order of 500,000, up from 17 cents per mask. The Menards letter was for a 2-pack of N95 masks, originally priced at $6 to $8 but sold for $39.95.
The letters ask companies to reply with information about their pricing for the products, include highest price from the previous 60 days, differences from in the products and relevant trade area and other documentation.
Get more news and insights in the March 30 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee: