Valentine's Day chocolate boxes look big, but have more plastic than ever

Valentine’s Day chocolate boxes look big, but have more plastic than ever

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Get ready for heartbreak in the candy aisle.

As Valentine’s Day arrives, the annual frenzy to buy or gift boxes of classic Russell Stover and Whitman’s Sampler chocolates that cost less than about $12 at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Target stores also increases.

But shoppers could be disappointed this year when they open those big red or pink heart-shaped boxes, according to a consumer advocate. That’s because the packaging is misleading, said Edgar Dworsky, former assistant attorney general of Massachusetts, editor of the website.

Sometimes there are precious little candies inside, he says.

Dworsky said his research shows that oversized boxes trick consumers into thinking there’s more chocolate inside when there isn’t.

Consumer watchdogs have a name for the tactic, called “slack-fill,” and it’s not allowed under federal law. Regulators judge whether a product is filled by comparing the capacity of the package to the amount of product it actually contains, he said. Then they determine if the extra space it contains is not functional and serves a legitimate purpose, such as product protection.

This is different from “narrowingphenomenon, a practice of product packaging that is typically triggered when inflation rises and business costs rise. To contain these costs, companies place products in packaging that appears smaller, lighter, and decorated with less flashy colors.

Dworsky said that a reader alerted him to chocolate boxes a few days ago and sent her proof of a box of heart-shaped Whitman chocolate samples.

The box, 9.3 inches wide and 10 inches high, had a net weight of 5.1 ounces. “It’s a pretty decent size,” Dworsky said. But when the box was opened, it contained 11 pieces of chocolate.

So Dworsky bought a few of this year’s Whitman boxes (priced at $7.99 each) and removed all of the packing material and interior inserts. “The chocolate pieces only filled a third of the box.”

Dworsky removed all of the wrappers from inside the Whitman's Sampler chocolate box and found that the chocolate pieces only filled about a third of the box.

Dworsky had no evidence that brands were skimping on chocolates compared to previous years. But CNN found a box of Russell Stover heart-shaped candy — with an expiration date of June 10, 2006, and kept as a memento by one of our employees — the same size, 9 inches wide by 10 inches high. .

It had 24 pieces.

Dworsky also found a 5.1 ounce Russell Stover heart with nine pieces of chocolate inside. “It’s almost double the size of the 4-ounce Russell Stover box, which has seven pieces,” he said.

“Imagine being the recipient of the biggest box. If you give it to your love on Valentine’s Day, they think it’s a decently sized big box of chocolate, but it only contains nine pieces” , he said. “It’s awful.”

Both brands disclose on their boxes the weight and approximate number of candies inside. Swiss chocolate company Lindt & Sprüngli, owner of the Russell Stover, Whitman’s and Ghirardelli brands, referred requests for comment to Russell Stover Chocolates.

Russell Stover Chocolates said it “works to make it clear to our customers what is included in our packages”.

“This includes sharing product weight and piece count across all of our Valentine’s Day boxed chocolates,” Patrick Khattak, vice president of brand marketing, said in an email to CNN Business.

Regulators have sued chocolate makers in the past for allegedly misleading packaging. California district attorneys filed a lawsuit in 2019 against Russell Stover and Ghirardelli for allegedly using fake bottoms and other deceptive tactics in some boxes and bags of chocolate, making the packaging fuller than it looks really was.

Prosecutors also accused Ghirardelli of using less cocoa in their products than intended.

The ADs, which included the Santa Cruz District Attorney, settle the case and companies paid a $750,000 fine without admitting any wrongdoing, but agreed to make packaging changes.

Santa Cruz Assistant District Attorney Edward Browne said he will look into this recent example of potentially misleading packaging by the companies. He said Dworsky contacted him about his most comprehensive report on Russell Stover and Whitman’s chocolate candy boxes.

“It is unfortunate that this situation persists. It’s also disappointing,” Browne told CNN. “We will take a look and see if companies are taking advantage of any exceptions to the law. There have been many exceptions added since our case in 2019 and they break the rule. »

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