Imagine the outrage that gripped Paige Stemm when she opened a box of Junior Mints and found it was not filled to the brim with the luscious peppermint-filled dark chocolate buttons.

Did she complain to the management at Walgreens, where she paid about $1 for the box? Did she fire off an angry tweet or email to the company, shaming its owners with her discovery of the too-empty (in her opinion) container?

No, she took her grievance to court. Her lawyers claim the Junior Mint box is "misleading, deceptive and unlawful conduct" of the mint-maker, Chicago-based Tootsie Roll Industries. "They have created this oversized theater box, and it misleads consumers because consumers believe they're getting more candy when they purchase a box of Junior Mints than they're actually getting," said attorney Christopher Moon, who seeks undisclosed damages and an order that Tootsie Roll either fill the box more or reduce the size of the packaging. The case was scheduled for an initial hearing Thursday.

Yes, some lawyers have discovered a tasty line of business: Federal class-action lawsuits related to what's called "slack fill" in food packaging - air space in layman's terms - have surged, according to a post on americanbar.org. And it's not just Junior Mints and other candy in the crosshairs. These suits challenge pharmaceutical, food, and consumer-products companies, too.

Many companies respond tartly that allowing air space in packages can protect the product, preventing, for instance, a potato chip demolition derby in a jostled bag. Junior Mints lawyers argue that breathing room in the box protects the candy. Moon asserts that too much space "actually can increase the chances that the candies will be damaged because they move around quite a bit." We'll leave the legal merits of these arguments to a judge.

But is there anyone in America who doesn't know that their boxes of candy, cereal, and other products aren't necessarily filled to the brim? Or that you could jiggle the candy box to determine how much is inside? Or that you could read the contents weight on the label? Or that you could reflect that you've bought Junior Mints (or whatever your favorite candy) for years now, so where's the surprise?

Beyond that, sympathies lie squarely with - the mints. Any packaging change that could damage them should be opposed.

So shake the box, candy neophytes, if you feel compelled to determine how full it is. But gently, gently.

 

- Chicago Tribune