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Some Valentine’s Chocolate Boxes Only Half Full

Special Valentine’s Edition

Stephen J., a Consumer World reader, wrote to us a few days ago about a timely subject — Valentine’s Day candy — and in particular, heart-shaped Whitman’s Samplers.

Whitman's heart box

This box is about 9.3-inches wide and 10-inches high — so it is a pretty decent size. What you can’t see too clearly in this picture is the net weight: 5.1 ounces.

When our consumer opened the box, he got a big surprise.


Whitman's inside

There were exactly 11 pieces of chocolate inside, and there looked to be more empty space than candy. “What a rip off,” he said.

We purchased a box of these chocolates for $7.99 at Walgreens and discovered when removing the plastic spacer insert, the chocolate pieces only filled approximately one-third of the box.


Whitman's actual contents

Under federal law, most packages are not allowed to have a lot of unnecessary (“nonfunctional”) empty space. That’s called “slack-fill.” To test for slack-fill, regulators measure the capacity of the package and compare it to the volume of product it actually contains. Then they determine whether the empty space is really necessary, such as for protecting the product or other functions.

It is our opinion, while dividers between pieces can protect the candy, the amount of space used here for that purpose seems extreme. All that extra space makes the package much larger than necessary and thus could mislead a prospective purchaser into believing that the box contains more candy than it really does.

As it turns out, Whitman’s is not the only brand doing this. Russell Stover, which makes Whitman’s Samplers, is also selling 5.1-ounce hearts in an almost identical box under its own name and they only put nine pieces of chocolate in it!

Russell Stover

While both brands disclose the number of pieces in the box, that information is only on the back label in small type. Here’s the Russell Stover back label.


Russell Stover Nutrition label

To further demonstrate the degree of overpackaging in the 5.1-ounce box, note how much larger it is than their 4.03-oz one, which contains seven pieces.


Russell Stover 4-5 oz boxes

We asked the company twice to comment and justify the way these products are being packaged and sold. They did not respond. They did tell the Washington Post that both the net weight and the number of pieces of chocolate are noted on the box.

Four years ago, we reported on Whitman’s when six California district attorneys filed a lawsuit against the company for using false bottoms in some Whitman’s boxes. The DAs settled the case and were paid $750,000 by Russell Stover and another company which had also been charged with violations in the case.

The lesson here for consumers is to check the net weight on the label so you are less likely to be misled by packaging tricks. In addition, some retailers’ websites have pictures that show exactly what is inside some of these heart-shaped boxes.

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20 thoughts on “Some Valentine’s Chocolate Boxes Only Half Full”

  1. The lesson always seems to come back to, “As a consumer you should spend less time shopping and more time intensely investigating everything you purchase before you but it, to make sure you’re not getting robbed.

    I think the California lawsuit is a big part of the problem, states need to stop just settling these cases. No one except the state and lawyers benefit when these lawsuits are settled. I don’t think this is an example of where we need new laws, just that the existing laws need to actually be enforced. A better plan would be to continue the lawsuit into court and actually punish the company for breaking the law.

    Outside of that, if they’re going to settle, then rules should be setup in the settlement, something like, “The company agrees that if it is found to have violated package disclosure laws again in the ten years following this settlement then the company agrees that the next time they’ll owe an extremely large amount of money. Pursuant to that, the company agrees to regular inspections of shelf products by the state to ensure that the products packaging conforms to present packaging and disclosure requirements.

    Whitman is owned by Russel Stover, which was bought by Lindt-Spruengli in 2014. In 2019 (when the lawsuit took place), Lindt-Spruengli’s operating profit was $593 million. Now I’m a capitalist through and through, I’m happy to see companies be successful and make money in their markets, but the $750,000 settlement constitutes 0.13% of their net profit from that year.

  2. Well one thing is for sure here. Both packages are in the shape of a heart which is certainly going to have some functional slack-fill to protect those precious pieces of candy from getting damaged in transit.

    Now based on that one image of the open heart package that is 10 inches tall I guess that you could cut the box height by 33% to fit all the candy in it with limited slack fill BUTT you could have like twice the amount of candy in that same box based on all that empty space I see.

    If you did go to the official Russel Stover website they certainly show off rectangle packages of candy with far less slack fill. Even the Assorted Milk Chocolate Floral Heart, 10 oz. image shows off far less slack fill for a heart shaped box.

    Now you do not want to give your loved one a tiny looking box of candy on Valentines day so you are going to opt for a bigger sized looking heart but the problem here is those small weight packages have too much slack fill and are worth the skip.

  3. You know, Forrest Gump had it right when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I don’t think he meant “You never know how few you’re gonna get,” which he might have said today.

    Excessive packaging is nothing new, of course. Have you opened up a bag of family-size potato chips lately, or cereal? The package size is family, but the contents must be for quite a tiny family. In the case of Valentine’s Day candy, besides the buyer being duped, consider the disappointment of both, when the recipient opens the box. I’m sure the giver expected to give a lot more to their sweetie than mostly paper and air.

    Even though the description is on the box (net weight and number of pieces), who ever reads that mouse print? You walk down the aisle and in 30 seconds you’ve picked out what appears to be a nice, big box of chocolates. So caveat emptor, until such over-packaging ends. It’s one of the worst forms of shrinkflation.

    • ” who ever reads that mouse print?”
      The old saying “you snooze, you lose” comes to mind. How many times have I seen shoppers just snatch the first item from a store shelf without actually reading the label(s)? ‘Tis always wise to read the amount in the package and the expiration or good by dates. Most people do neither and have only themselves to blame for what they get. This situation is only getting worse from my observation of the store employees who now do the shopping for others who want their groceries chosen for them and then delivered. Caveat Emptor.

  4. Maybe it’s not quite as bad as it appears. You should notice something as soon as you pick the box up and feel how light it is

    • Well at least they are pricing the package based on the amount of candy in the box so that Whitman Sampler Box with 11 pieces of candy would be 5-6 bucks with all that functional slack-fill.

      A fully loaded box with limited functional slack-fill would be like 10 bucks.

  5. I had the same thoughts as Billy, above, when I first commented. But who’s really perceptive enough to notice the light weight, and associate that with a lack of contents? I’d like to think I am, but I’d probably never notice.

  6. These companies know what they’re doing and it’s just plain wrong. Bad for the consumer and bad for the environment. The last thing our planet needs is more excess packaging!

    • I agree. Additionally, their “nut free” chocolates always have tiny labeling that basically says they probably soaked their chocolate in tree nuts.

  7. To anyone that thinks this particular practice is nothing new, it most certainly IS when it comes to boxed candy. It’s unprecedented deception in my 64 year lifetime. The solution shouldn’t be that the customer needs to beware and spend hours in a store with a magnifying glass to avoid being duped, especially when other brands follow suit. It becomes impossible to avoid and the “new normal”. Young people think older people are a bunch of old cranks but we know better about the way things used to be. Unfortunately they just accept it and shrug as if it’s no problem. Well it is a problem because now even more unnecessary packaging is being manufactured that ends up in landfills and we continue to get less for our money. But that’s like the big elephant in the room that no one is addressing.

  8. Skip the fattening, diabetes inducing crap and give her a card and say I love you. The cost is about the same (yea, a hallmark card is about $7.00 these days!!)

  9. Funny you should say this! I bought myself a box of Russell Stover Valentine’s Day candy yesterday–the same one pictured above. This isn’t the first year they’ve shorted we consumers, but it’s the year I decided to write to them. It’s infuriating, disappointing and wrong and I also called them out on their environmental infraction using so much packaging. So far I’ve not received an answer, but I’m going to post your piece on my fb page and ask everyone to write a complaint. Of course, I doubt most will do it, but who know?! Thank you for your watchdogging!

  10. In addition t misleading consumers, environmentally – I wonder how much this extra apckaging is really just waste. The can do better!

    • Well the less candy in the box the less plastic you need to use. Just look at the image of the candy with no plastic in it once more. An Easy 50% of the box is empty space so far less plastic and cardboard is needed for the candy you get.

  11. To make sure you know what in your box of chocolates, go to your local Sees Candies or small business owner chocolate shop and by your chocolate by the pound. It’s cheaper, you get to choose what you want and supports good businesses.
    Who cares about a heart shaped box? It’s just landfill refuse.

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