Hearne: Consumer Reports Disses Russell Stover, Lauds Christopher Elbow

p14695-Abilene-Russell_StoverAnother Valentine’s Day, more brickbats and bouquets for local¬†chocolatiers…

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.”

candy2Stover honcho Tom Ward‘s take on the past bash:

“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:

Christopher_ElbowKC chocolatier Christopher Elbow came in second – out of 32 – in the “excellent products only” category with the following comment:

“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…

price_2109524bIncidentally, the 87 year-old Price Candy Company – founded in KC by recently deceased socialite Charles H. Price family – went toes up in 2000, according to the Kansas City Public Library.

“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.”

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7 Responses to Hearne: Consumer Reports Disses Russell Stover, Lauds Christopher Elbow

  1. Rick Nichols says:

    I guess that sweet honeymoon’s really over –
    Once again CR belittles KC’s Russell Stover.

  2. Indeed says:

    Christopher Elbow does great work. It may not be for everybody, his stuff does retail for a lot of money, and sure some of his flavors seem a little trend-happy, but he puts quality ingredients into what he does. There are other chocolate and candy makers in town who do quality work, as well.

    As Consumer Reports said, Russell Stover’s is mostly artificial flavors. Their products are made for long shelf life at the drug store, which isn’t exactly a sin, it just is. I personally don’t mind spending more for an occasional sweet if the quality is there.

  3. Choc Lover.... says:

    The Ward family are thieves in their role as Chocolate Raiders of Tasteless Confectioniary…..most of their chocs taste waxy and have a listless color of age and past due expiration dates…..too bad about Price Chocolates….at least they were way more tasty and fresh… See’s Candies are the way to go…one of Mr. Buffet’s fine firms.

  4. Super Dave says:

    Stover is a company I do believe is dying. It’s going to be a slow death but a death none the less unless they change their marketing tactics. They are still popular but I think only to a crowd who time and time goes back to them buying candy only because it’s who they have trusted for many years. Stover was a very strong company years ago but as people who I have known who worked there as well say they are not keeping up with modern changes or tastes and losing market share each year.

  5. tiad says:

    They should be forced to take the “brand name” off the product (“Russell Stover”) when no one resembling a Stover family member is even remotely involved in it any longer.

  6. smartman says:

    Perhaps a licensing agreement is in order for CE to make lowbrow chocolate under the name Hearne Christopher Elbow, with candies named after certain “people”

    The Harley, tastes like crap, shaped like mini dog turd

    The Urich, stale and uninteresting.

    The Glaze, full of chemicals and fake ingredients, squirts in your mouth when you bite into it.

    The Lefty, tart, tangy and irreverant

    The Hearne, old and dried out

    • the dude says:

      The dude, yummy sweet chocolate filled with rich, creamy nougat and caramel exploding in yo’ mouf.

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