It’s all in the presentation. Each year, candy manufacturers release new products into the market, but usually what’s new is their presentation.

Caramel, for instance, is not a confection where you can make too many changes, says Mitchell Goetze, vice president of Goetze’s Candy Co., of Baltimore, Md. “It’s hard to color, flavor,” he notes. “It’s difficult to make exciting. It’s one of those candies that is what it is.”

Yet, caramel is gaining in popularity, he says, mainly due to the perception that it’s a healthier piece of candy compared to more sugary confections. One emerging trend is the establishment of more boutique manufacturers of caramels, which Goetze says the Internet and mail order sales make possible for them to thrive. Although they tend to have richer and more unusual varieties, such as the addition of sea salts, he says these gourmet types are elevating the whole category.

Adding more salt to the diet can be controversial, but Fran Bigelow, of Fran’s Chocolates, says, “The salt stimulates your palate. Then you have the wonderful, buttery caramel.”

The Seattle chocolatier started using two types of sea salts in 2000, a gray salt from France for her dark chocolate-covered caramels and a smoked salt from Wales for the milk chocolate caramels.

Noting the growing popularity of sea salts, she says, “It’s the perfect combination with chocolate. It extends the flavor. It heightens the flavor … (leaving) a lingering taste in your mouth.”

The sea salts outsell the regular caramels 20:1, says Christine Moore, owner of Little Flower Candy Co., of Pasadena, Calif. “It adds a whole other layer of flavor.” Moore points out that she’s been using sea salts for eight years. She tried a sea salt caramel in France 15 years ago and never forgot the “irresistible, salty-sweet combination that’s just delicious.”

“I see caramels making a resurgence,” Moore adds. There used to be just one kind of caramel, the “Kraft” type, she says, and now there are a variety of artisan, more hand-made products.

And, as far as flavor profile goes, Little Flower Candy Co. has been making lemon caramels and is currently working on licorice-flavored and cinnamon-flavored caramels. “The trend in everything is going back to hand-made products,” she says.

The biggest challenge larger candy companies face in 2008 and beyond is the cost of manufacturing food products, says Goetze. As the milk intake increases in Asia and the value of the dollar turns downward, he says, “We’re paying more for our food.” And, he notes, it’s becoming harder for manufacturers to keep their products in the price points established by the conglomerates.

Goetze’s newest product is a 10-oz. lay down bag of Mini Cow Tales, a chewy vanilla or chocolate-flavored caramel with a cream center. The 113-year-old caramel manufacturer has been making Cow Tales since the 1980s, but recently cut the 1-oz. stick into a more bite-size 0.4-ounce stick that is about two inches long.

An interesting spin on a classic is fortifying caramels with caffeine. Classic Caramel Co., out of York, Pa., manufactures Buzz Bites, a chocolate energy caramel chew with caffeine equivalent to one cup of coffee, says owner Robert Lukas.

Vroom Foods, of Costa Mesa, Calif., is distributing the product through turnpike dispensers and vending machines, advertising it as a safer and easier way to staying awake. “You don’t have to worry about burning yourself (with a cup of hot coffee),” he says. Buzz Bites also contains B vitamins, ginseng and taurine to enhance performance and increase endurance, keeping you sharp at the same time.

“There’s a trend toward fortification,” Lukas says. Pointing to the fact that calcium and vitamins A and K have been added to caramels in the past, his company has received requests for more protein and now is currently working on a heart-healthy product.

“Caramel is one of the three top ingredients in a candy bar,” adds the Classic Caramel owner. It’s also being used more in the bakery industry and for dessert toppings at restaurants, Lukas says. His company has created 30 different kinds of caramel.

Classic Caramel does a bit of salt water taffy business as well, and has started a postcard program where consumers can personalize a gift box of taffy with a postcard from their area. The horizontal box is designed with a place to post the card on top.

“The interesting thing about taffy,” adds Sweet Candy Co. President Rick Kay, “Old is new again. There are nostalgic reasons taffy sales are up.”

The Salt Lake City manufacturer says many adults are looking for candy they had as a child. In the last two years, it designed a new 8-oz. twist box, which has helped visibility. Ten different concepts are in the line, the newest being the Fruit Stand Twist Box, which includes flavors banana, cherry, watermelon and tangerine, and the Yuletide Twist Box, which includes caramel, butter rum, eggnog and gingerbread.

The salt water taffy company has made other packaging changes including a new red, white and blue, stars and stripes one-pound lay down bag, called All-American Taffy. The 72-piece peppermint-flavored taffy is tying onto the “Made-in-America” bandwagon.

“That’s important to a lot of people,” he says, noting the company has been around for 116 years and is committed to maintaining its U.S. origins during a time when many manufacturers are moving across the border.

Sweet Candy also has reformulated its sugar-free line to contain a high fiber source to mitigate the laxative effects of sugar substitutes. Kay also sees a trend toward enhancing flavors so that strawberry tastes more like strawberries and gingerbread takes more like gingerbread. “Candy is such an indulgence and treat, that you want to get the most of it.”

The company is re-launching its tropical taffy this summer, which includes guava, coconut, pineapple, mango and macadamia nut.

Taffy Town, formerly known as Glade Candy Co., continually evaluates its 70 different salt water taffy flavors and designs, adding new flavors and eliminating those that aren’t so popular. Most recently the Salt Lake City manufacturer added gingerbread, hot chocolate, pina colada, citrus spice, pomegranate and strawberry cheesecake.

“We keep track of the trends in the industry, what flavors are popular, and work that into our product line,” says company President David Glade.

Buying from 12 different flavor houses, he looks for “the best” flavor, the best strawberry, the best pomegranate, etc. “Texture is also important to us,” he adds, noting the importance of a good mouthfeel.

Taffy used to be a touristy, summer item, but Glade says now it has more year-round appeal, pointing to the 15% growth in sales each year. It’s also a candy that’s low in fat, he points out. Taffy Town uses egg whites and evaporated milk, making it a little more nutritional. “It’s a nice light candy that doesn’t weigh you down.”

The company also has increased its design capabilities, designing letters and logos right into the taffy. In the next few months, Taffy Town hopes to have new 8-oz. stand-up boxes for the various seasons and holidays throughout the year. Christmas, for instance, would include such flavors as hot spice, peppermint, hot chocolate, and maybe caramel cheesecake.

It’s also working on a stand-up bag with design taffies such as a chocolate rum wreath, with a wreath design in the center. “We want to give (our packaging) a fresh look,” adds Glade.

John Melin, chief operating officer of Brown & Haley, sees two trends in toffee, one being a desire for premium quality, the other an interest in flavors. The Tacoma, Wash., manufacturer has several new items including a 3.7-oz. Milk Chocolate Roca Crunch tray set, with Belgian-style milk chocolate and crushed Almond Roca buttercrunch toffee. Other new products include a 3.7-oz. Double Dark Roca Truffle tray set of 60% cacao West African dark chocolate covering a dark truffle filling made with bits of Almond Roca buttercrunch toffee.

For the holidays, the company is introducing a 15.6-oz. Roca Holiday Assortment, which includes one box each of Milk Chocolate Roca Crunch, Double Dark Roca Truffle, Almond Roca, and Candy Cane Roca.

The company also will offer a 9-oz. Dark Chocolate Roca Truffle Assortment, with 12 pieces each of Double Dark Roca Truffles and Dark Chocolate Roca Crunch. Finally, Brown & Haley will offer an assorted Roca buttercrunch toffee tote, with one 13.3-oz. canister each of Cashew Roca and Mocha Roca and two 13.3-oz. canisters of Almond Roca.

“People just love toffee,” Melin says. “We’re just meeting the demand on it.”

Doug Simons, president of Enstrom Candies, of Grand Junction, Colo., says he is seeing more of a demand for toffee as well. As a leading manufacturer of English toffee, business was up 3 to 4 percent last year, Simons says.