Rising to the Gift Occasion
By Renee M. Covino
As premium trends abound, gift chocolates now have even more creative license.
It’s a good time to be a gift chocolate. You can be a small bite, a big box, for a holiday or everyday, the token of a grateful guest, or the object of one’s self-indulgence. The great gift of chocolate is everywhere and anywhere. It comes in a myriad of different package types — tins, tower boxes, beautiful bags and much, much more.
“Gift chocolates are synonymous with our brands,” begins Mark Sesler, vice president of product development for Russell Stover Candies. “We sell more gift chocolate than anyone else in the United States — and we now sell it in boxes of all sizes, bags, towers and tins. We sell it everyday and seasonally. We sell it in-line, on endcaps, on stand-alone fixtures and floorstands.”
And this fall, the company will be launching its Russell Stover Private Reserve boxed chocolates, a five-SKU premium line that differs from the company’s traditional boxed chocolates in that the chocolates are molded, European-style pieces with decadent candy centers, according to Sesler. Price points will range from 99 cents to $9.99.
The time is also right for the traditional Russell Stover Bowline boxed chocolate line to add on a new twist; a 16-ounce white chocolate assortment will be launched and line-priced at $7.99.
At Thompson Brands, four larger-sized organic chocolate bars were recently introduced “with gift-giving in mind,” according to Ed Main, marketing manager. “Creating products or packaging that makes gift giving easier for consumers falls in line with the continuing trends of convenience that the American consumer is purchasing,” he says.
On the high end, Godiva Chocolatier is extending seasonal sales of its limited “couture style” G Collection gift chocolates to now include Mother’s Day (in addition to Christmas and Valentine’s Day). The G Collection, which launched two years ago, features 48-piece boxes for $125. 
Buttons and bows
So while the industry expands its gift chocolates line- and season-wise, it’s only natural that packaging should follow. After all, what’s a gift chocolate without its wrappings?
“People are looking for the packaging to be as important as the chocolate inside,” maintains Lynn Findlay, president/owner of Crayon, Inc., a seven-year-old import business specializing in unique and attractive gift packaging for the candy and specialty food industry, based in Watertown, Mass. She says that manufacturers are keeping gift chocolate wrappings “fashion forward, very unique, and sometimes whimsical,” of late. “They’re really thinking outside of the standard velvet heart box,” she adds.
That means that beads, ribbons, buttons, “puffs”, and other such embellishments are becoming “standard fare in the market,” Findlay says. Her company imports a diverse array of containers including tin, paper, ceramics, stoneware, plush, plastics, polyresin and wood, some of which have been utilized by big-name chocolate manufacturers.
Some of the latest hues in chocolate packaging — “dramatic golds and greens and burgundies — are especially appealing to the higher-end chocolate consumer right now,” states Findlay.
Madelaine Chocolate Novelties is certainly no stranger to chocolate packaging appeal. Even back in 1949, when the company was founded, “we produced exquisitely foiled chocolate novelties for every day and every season,” maintains Barbara Berg, spokesperson. Now Madelaine packages some of its popular classics, panned products and new flavor treats in stackable boxes, clear acetate containers trimmed in gold, and color-coordinated boxes and bags for every holiday, according to Berg.
Ghirardelli upholds that “gifts have always been a key part” of its chocolate portfolio, according to Mona Maher, director of marketing-confections. The company continues to update its gift packaging with embossing, foil, ribbons and vibrant jewel-tone colors.
Guylian USA, which has its roots in gift chocolates, has updated its gift package graphics in the past year “to make it more modern,” according to Brad Maslan, vice president of sales and marketing for the Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based company. Guylian is also more clearly communicating “gift” to its customers — gold Christmas tree sleeves are provided for fourth-quarter gift boxes and brown ribbons are now included with everyday gift boxes.
Similarly, Lindt has “expanded our range of Boxed Chocolate options, making them ‘ready to give’ with an everyday bow and gift hangtag,” according to Thomas Linemayr, CEO of Lindt & Sprungli, USA. “We are also coming out with great gift options for our Lindor brand, which will be available at retail this fall. Retailers are starting to highlight our Boxed Chocolates, with our Petits Desserts being available in more and more locations. We are also working with retailers to set ‘Lindt Shop in Shop’ in their stores — those ‘Shop in Shops’ offer our entire range of products, including bars, bags, and a strong emphasis on gifts.”
Perfect pairings
Lindt and its ‘Shop in Shop’ retailers have the right idea. With all the recent effort in gift chocolate lines and packaging, the trade has more than enough reason to play up new merchandising/gift angles.
“We see retailers really looking at and expanding their gift chocolate sections with more brands and higher price points,” agrees Maslan.
All classes of trade are involved; even mass retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target are carving out confectionery gift sections. “Some are calling them premium chocolates, others are labeling them ‘gifts,’ but this is all extra confectionery space where there once was nothing,” Maslan adds.
Even more creativity abounds with some grocers that are pairing gift chocolates with wine — encouraging customers to buy the two together. “It makes a lot of sense,” says Joan Steuer, president of Los Angeles-based Chocolate Marketing. “Retailers can be really savvy about how they execute it, consistently making an extra sale. It’s a great opportunity for them to educate consumers on chocolate and cocoa, much like many already do with wine and grapes.” She suggests positioning creative and hand-written note cards throughout the department and among the pairings, explaining in detail why a certain chocolate truffle, for example, goes with a certain wine or champagne. Also, what time of day, certain chocolates should preferably be enjoyed, perhaps recommending one that’s not too sweet for mid-morning or one that “quenches the fire” after a particularly spicy dinner.
“Retailers would be wise to take on the responsibility of telling us the perfect occasion for a certain gift chocolate,” Steuer says.
Other retailers are calling attention to the category in unique ways: Whole Foods has positioned a chocolate fountain in its newest prototype stores. Costco is expanding its gift baskets to include not only more unique gift chocolate assortments, but also offering gift certificates for chocolate companies such as See’s “done up” in clam shells at holiday time and sold at less than face value.