Reese's Promotion May Violate State, Federal Law

Consumers can only see "no purchase necessary" after buying and opening the package.

Two packages of Reese's peanut butter cups in Ann Arbor, Mich., Oct. 13, 2023.
Two packages of Reese's peanut butter cups in Ann Arbor, Mich., Oct. 13, 2023.
AP Photo/Dee-Ann Durbin

Reese's may be in violation of state and federal laws with its new sweepstakes offer currently advertised on packs of peanut butter cups.

The promotion on two-cup packages reads "You could win $25,000" and, in smaller print, "See details inside." But only after consumers have bought and opened a package can they see the small print: no purchase is necessary to enter the sweepstakes.

The Reese's contest was first reported Monday by Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate and former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts, who runs the Consumer World website.

Sweepstakes are primarily governed by state laws, which require that no purchase is necessary to participate. A contest that requires a purchase is a lottery, which is subject to different rules.

Three federal agencies β€” Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Postal Service β€” also enforce laws governing sweepstakes depending on the type of promotion. The Postal Service requires mailed sweepstakes offers to make clear that no purchase is necessary, for example. The FTC doesn't govern sweepstakes specifically, but has broad laws prohibiting "unfair and deceptive acts."

Hershey Co., that Pennsylvania candymaker that owns the Reese's brand, said late Monday that its website contains full details of the promotion. It also said some packages have QR codes that link consumers to more information.

"As with all of our promotions, we place great care and diligence to ensure they are compliant with all regulations," Hershey said in a statement.

The company also said in-store displays showed abbreviated rules for the sweepstakes, including how to enter without making a purchase. But Dworsky said a spot check of candy displays in multiple states, including California, Virginia and Washington, found no such signs.

Packages purchased by an Associated Press reporter at a Michigan drugstore didn't contain QR codes, and the store had no signage explaining the promotion.

The FTC said Monday that it can't comment on the practices of particular companies outside of an investigation. It wouldn't confirm or deny an investigation against Hershey.

Dworsky noted that Reese's ran a similar promotion earlier this year that ended in April using the same packaging. Some of those packages are still for sale, even though the sweepstakes code has expired, he said.

Dworsky said he's concerned that the packaging could lure consumers into thinking they need to buy it.

"You never have to pay to play. All these packages should be recalled," he said.

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