Almost like clockwork it’s become the norm for Consumer Reports to roll out its tasting results of boxed chocolate candy in time for the Day of Love. Which as far back as 1996 has not bode well for Kansas City candy king Russell Stover.
“Russell Stover Candies was blindsided this week by Consumer Reports‘ pre-Valentine’s rankings of Boxed Chocolate,” I wrote in the Star back then. “KC-based Stover placed ninth in a field of 11 candies, garnering a lackluster ‘fair’ rating.
“Could have been worse.
“Sister company Whitman’s ‘Sampler’ box finished 10th. And the locally based, albeit Japanese-owned Price’s Candy Co. came in dead last.”
In 2002 Consumer Reports let up a bit, damning Russell Stover with faint praise by rating its chocolates as merely “good.”
“It’s kind of hard to understand. We do over $500 million in retail sales if you combine the two companies. Apparently, whoever did the sampling didn’t like (the candy) for some reason. There was some comment about indistinguishable cream centers or something – but we’ve been making orange creams, vanilla and maple nut the same way, really, forever and ever. For whatever reason, they didn’t like it, but the American customer says they like our candies. ”
In 2002 I turned the tables on the magazine and asked then Consumer Reports editor Margot Slade to explain it’s ratings.
“A consumer has many expectations on a car, it’s a complicated product,” Slade argued. “As opposed to chocolates, which are much less complex. You have a basic expectation on a box of chocolates.”
And that is, I asked?
“I think your expectation of chocolate is that it tastes good,” Slade told me. “And if it has a lemon filling, that it tastes like lemon.”
At which point I wondered how chocolate lovers might react if they bit into a Stovers and it tasted like a lemon.
Had Slade ever even sampled a Stover’s? I asked.
“I’m not going to tell you whether I’ve tasted Russell Stover or what I thought of it,” she shot back.
Which brings us to 2013 and Consumer Reports February issue.
“Russell Stover Assorted Fine Chocolates’ sweet fillings had mostly artificial flavors,” the mag snipes. “The quality of Whitman’s Sampler varied, and some nuts were stale.”
So much for the brickbats, now the bouquets:
“Artistic looking, ultrasmooth chocolate around bold, unusual combinations such as buttery caramels with a taste of chili-mango or balsamic vinegar. Not for the faint of heart.”
Chili mango and balsamic vinegar, how’d Russell Stover miss those?
And only $40 for an 8 ounce box. A Stover 16 ounce assortment retails for $11.99, twice the candy for a less than a third the cost.
But no balsamic vinegar…
“The 87-year-old confectionery manufacturer founded in the old downtown Jones Store building. Description of the company’s history, founded in 1913 by Charles Price, sold in 1982 to Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, then in 1990 to a Japanese subsidiary and again in 1996 to investors including David’s Cookies, with the factories at Richmond, Missouri, and Hunt Midwest SubTropolis closed in 2000.”