California district attorneys said they scored a big win for consumers — or for chocolate-lovers at least — earlier this month.
Ghirardelli and Russell Stover have been fined $750,000 and must change their packaging after prosecutors accused both candy-makers of selling “misleading” chocolate containers that were “predominantly empty” and had “large void spaces around the actual product,” according to a complaint filed in Yolo County near Sacramento.
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig announced the fine and packaging changes last week after a judge approved a settlement with the chocolatiers on Jan. 9. Neither company admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement, prosecutors said in a news release.
“Consumers have the right to expect full value in their purchases,” Reisig said in a statement. “We will continue to aggressively monitor businesses and prosecute those that violate consumer protection laws.”
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Both candy companies are owned by Swiss chocolate-making powerhouse Lindt & Sprüngli, prosecutors said. Ghirardelli’s headquarters are in San Francisco, California, and Russell Stover’s are in Kansas City, Missouri, according to the district attorneys’ complaint.
Lindt did not immediately return a request for comment from McClatchy on Tuesday.
District attorneys from Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Fresno, and Santa Cruz Counties joined Yolo County prosecutors in reaching the settlement.
Ghirardelli was also accused of offering a chocolate product it said “contained more cocoa than it actually had,” Yolo County prosecutors said.
The complaint said the “unlawful and misleading” packaging violated consumer protection laws because containers included “non-functional slack fill” and had false sidewalls that make it look like buyers were getting more chocolate than they would find when they actually opened the containers.
“The sidewalls and volume provided no benefit to the contents of the packaging and misled consumers,” prosecutors wrote.
“Exhibit A” in the complaint included dozens of photos of the offending chocolate boxes and other containers, with rulers held up to the packaging to demonstrate the amount of empty space.
The settlement requires the companies to alter the sizes of some packages and to add a transparent window on the side of a stand-up “tent” bag so consumers will be able to peer inside it. The companies have discontinued producing many packages prosecutors flagged in the original complaint, according to the settlement.
Prosecutors emphasized the importance of consumers getting what they paid for — and the role product packaging plays in consumer protection.
“Enforcing product packaging requirements is key to ensuring that consumers receive the full value of their purchases,” Fresno County’s Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerry Stanley said in a statement.
The $750,000 from the chocolate companies will cover penalties and the costs of the investigation in various counties, the settlement said.