Attorney General Martha Coakley said today that she will review what she called "anecdotal reports" of price gouging by stores selling bottled water, even as bottled water manufacturers stepped up production in a rush to supply the Greater Boston area.
"We have begun hearing anecdotal reports of the possible price gouging of store-bought water,'' Coakley said in a statement. "Businesses and individuals cannot and should not take advantage of this public emergency to unfairly charge consumers far beyond what they would typically charge for water. Our office will be sending out inspectors to review reports of price gouging and also conduct spot-checks of local businesses to assure that consumers are being protected. If we discover that businesses are engaging in price gouging, we will take appropriate legal action."
Bottled water manufacturers said they were increasing production, but that their ability to supply the region was limited by a shortage of drivers on Sunday.
"We have plenty of water," said Larry Gillis, with Nestle Waters North America, which makes Poland Springs bottled water and has a factory in Framingham. "Finding fleet resources to get the product we need into MEMA has been the challenge ... we're really just scrambling."
In addition to Nestle, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is working with Belmont Springs and CPF out of Ayer to get water to those most in need, said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the state agency.
"They've committed to the better part of a million gallons a day from each of them," Judge said.
And that means area suppliers are working overtime, pumping up production at regional bottling facilities and coordinating deliveries.
Ralph D. Crowley Jr., head of Polar Beverages in Worcester, said the company emptied out its Worcester plant last night and trucked in loads of water from its New York facility.
"We just put pallets of water on them and pallets of seltzer on them and we're just going to stores," Crowley said. Today, the company has a team of roughly 200 people coordinating deliveries to stores, whether or not those stores have put in orders.
"We've called in our truck drivers, we've called in our production people, and we've called in our sales force," Crowley said.
Supermarkets like Stop & Shop and Shaw's have been checking in with suppliers to keep water on the shelves. A Stop & Shop on Morrissey Boulevard received two emergency shipments Sunday morning, and was still out of water by 10:45 a.m. Up the road, Shaw's had stacked cases of water near the door, and customers were loading up -- though they couldn't take more than four each.
"We're doing everything we can to access all the water possible. We are continually shipping water to all the stores in the affected markets," Shaw's said in a statement. The supermarket company has 33 Shaw's and Star Market locations affected by the state's boil water order.
Local Stop & Shop supermarkets have been getting deliveries all night, according to spokeswoman Faith Weiner.
"We're shipping water to the stores as quickly as we can," Weiner said. She said that the stores are being restocked with water that's already in the Stop & Shop supply chain, so the chain "is not raising prices."
Although prices in many stores appeared normal, consumers have reported scarcity in some towns, and some have complained of price gouging. A call to the Attorney General's office, which handles consumer complaints, was not immediately returned.
Erin Ailworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is the full text of the attorney general's statement:
We have begun hearing anecdotal reports of the possible price gouging of store-bought water.
Businesses and individuals cannot and should not take advantage of this public emergency to unfairly charge consumers far beyond what they would typically charge for water. Our office will be sending out inspectors to review reports of price gouging and also conduct spot-checks of local businesses to assure that consumers are being protected. If we discover that businesses are engaging in price gouging, we will take appropriate legal action.
We are continuing to coordinate with the Governor's Office to monitor this situation. We encourage consumers to report instances in which they believe that the price of water has been sharply raised to take advantage of the water emergency. If you believe that you have been a victim of price gouging, we ask that you file a complaint with our office at www.mass.gov/ago/consumercomplaints or call our consumer hotline at 617-727-8400.
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