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Hey, Ghirardelli and Russell Stover, Where’s the Chocolate?

Six California district attorneys filed a complaint last month alleging that Ghirardelli and Russell Stover marketed some boxes and packages of chocolate that were “predominately empty” or that had large empty spaces or false sidewalls.

Readers of Mouse Print* know that this is called “slack fill” — nonfunctional empty space in an opaque product package. Manufacturers understand that consumers purchase products with their eyes. So if they can make the package look bigger, consumers will wrongly assume they are getting more product and thus more value for their money.

In the court case, the DAs alleged that some chocolate boxes had false bottoms, making the package look more filled than it really was.


Whitman's Sampler
Whitman’s Sampler Box with False Bottom

Another example is a bag of Ghirardelli chocolate squares that is full of air and not much chocolate:



The bag is seven inches high, but there is five inches of dead space inside.

The owner of both companies quickly entered into a settlement with the DAs and agreed to pay $750,000 in penalties and costs, and change some of their packaging practices.

Hats off to the California DAs who continue to publicly pursue weights and meassures violations for the benefit of everyone. More agencies around the country should step up and do the same.

And they can start with this one…


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5 thoughts on “Hey, Ghirardelli and Russell Stover, Where’s the Chocolate?”

  1. I understand that air space is needed to preserve chips, but for chocolate? That’s silly.

    I’ve never purchased chocolate from either of these companies so I’ve never known that the packages are mostly empty space. One can make an argument that the package label mentions the weight of its contents, but as was mentioned in the article, people buy things with their eyes and sometimes the visual package is misleading compared to the label.

    Edgar replies: And Wayne, the legal argument that the net weight is on the package, has not been upheld in court. The law disallows nonfunctional empty space in an opaque package.

  2. Ghirardelli and Lindt could change the packaging to get rid of all the extra space, It will just not look as good as what they currently have.

  3. You want to see the epitome of slack fill, check out those “holiday” gift baskets. IMO, 70% of the packaging is empty space.
    We used to get these from relatives, but told them to stop sending them and wasting their money.

  4. Is there a valid argument to be made that, for items that are commonly given as gifts, decorative packaging is a reasonable function (i.e., the dead space is actually functional because it allows for decorative packaging, which a closely packaged product couldn’t accomodate)?

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