That heart-shaped box of chocolates may be only half full this Valentine’s Day.
It is not the result of a manufacturing glitch. Instead, it is an effort by certain brands to use bigger boxes to prompt consumers to think they are getting more for their money than they really are, according to Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World.
“This is about ‘overpackaging,'” he said.
The issue was brought to Dworsky’s attention this week when a reader who bought a box of chocolates wrote to express his outrage about the contents.
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Upon further investigation, Dworsky found Russell Stover and Whitman’s Sampler chocolates, which sell for around $7.99, only contained between nine and 11 candy pieces, in the 9-inch-by-10-inch-size box.
That leaves about two-thirds of the box seemingly empty, according to Dworsky.
“I just find it troubling that consumers can be misled in this way,” he said.
Whitman’s and Russell Stover brands are sold by the Russell Stover Chocolates company, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
How to spot a ‘downsized’ candy gift
The easiest way to spot these issues before you buy is to look at the net weight on the packaging, Dworsky said. The brand’s boxes were 5.1 ounces.
A federal “slack fill” law makes it illegal for companies to use larger packages than necessary, he said. Nevertheless, some companies may experiment with packaging in a bid to cut costs, which in some cases has led to lawsuits.
Companies may also turn to shrinkflation, where a product’s quantity is downsized but the price stays the same.
“Candy is one of the categories that tends to be downsized periodically,” Dworsky said.
The top items that tend to get downsized, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, include household paper products, snacks, and pastries, including sweet rolls, coffee cakes and donuts.
A Morning Consult poll conducted in August found more than half of adults — 54% — have seen, read or heard about shrinkflation, while almost two-thirds — 64% — are worried about it.
“When you notice that the package is smaller or you’re getting less for the same price, it’s especially frustrating,” Emily Moquin, food and beverage analyst at Morning Consult, previously told CNBC.com.
But there is still some good news this Valentine’s Day. In fact, one of the most traditional gifts isn’t subject to shrinkflation.
“A dozen roses, thank God, is still 12,” Dworsky quipped.