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IT'S DIFFICULT for many shoppers in New York State to price their groceries -- and toughest of all in Western New York, according to a survey released here Thursday by the New York State Public Interest Research Group Inc.

Many grocery items are no longer individually marked, although the law says they should be. What's more, the study showed, in some stores even the price markings on the shelves are inadequate.

In eight local stores surveyed, nearly half of the 3,000 items examined were "inadequately item-priced." The survey defines inadequate as carrying price tags on fewer than half of the items in a particular commodity category.

The Western New York figures were considerably worse than those in the rest of the state. The report indicated that 24 percent of items in the 92 stores it surveyed statewide were inadequately item-priced, compared with 49 percent here.

"Our figures show that consumers often cannot find prices either on the products themselves or the shelf. They must wait until they get to the cash register," said Angela Ledford, an author of the report.

h State legislation allows for only 4 1/2 percent of most supermarket items to be exempt from individual tickets.

That law, which NYPIRG says is being "openly defied," is under attack this year. It must be renewed by the state Legislature and already is in committee.

Meanwhile, proprietors of grocery stores with optical scanning devices are demanding to be exempt from ticketing individual items. With an optical scanning device, a detailed price receipt is provided at the register.

NYPIRG, a not-for-profit research in WNY
and advocacy organization, conducted its survey last February. It checked supermarkets in New York City, Long Island, Rockland and Westchester Counties, the Capital District, Binghamton, Buffalo, Cortland and Syracuse.

The organization says no store should be exempt from marking individual items. Consumers need item prices to enable them to check prices against items in other parts of the store,Cannot distribute vertically NYPIRG says. And item pricing, it says, also helps shoppers to keep a running tab of their purchases as well as check on the accuracy of the optical scanner.

But grocery retailers disagree.

Wegmans, for instance, is "totally committed to getting the law changed," a company spokesperson said on Thursday. NYPIRG data show that 93 percent of the items in Wegmans' Alberta Drive store were inadequately marked by unit price.

"It's more important that consumers should get accurate price information on the shelf tag and at the checkout than on a tiny tag many people can hardly see," said the Wegmans representative, adding that of 16,500 "consumer communications" last year, there were only 20 complaints about price marking.

Wegmans has devoted a great deal of time to posting accurate shelf tags because, it says, accurate item marking is impossible under today's labor conditions. Thousands of price changes are made each week, and stamping every product correctly is difficult.

A spokesman for Tops Friendly Markets said Thursday that the company is studying the situation. In two Tops stores surveyed, 54 and 52 percent of items were inadequately item-priced. At two other local supermarkets, Super Duper and Bells, 4 and 3 percent respectively of the items surveyed were inadequately marked, the survey showed.

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