In response to ever changing trends in the chocolate assortments category, companies are creating new products and packaging designs every chance they get.

“Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get”...but chances are it will be premium. Even Forrest Gump needs updating, at least when it comes to boxed assortments. Variety, of course, remains the driving force in assorted chocolate boxes. And with a 3.1% rise in sales from 2002 to 2007, sales are solid and are expected to stay stable through 2012, according to research database company Euromonitor International.

But in order to keep up with evolving consumer trends, chocolate companies are constantly upgrading their assortments and creating new chocolates and combinations to please consumers. For example, organic and single-origin chocolates are now the rage. 

Vermont-based Lake Champlain Chocolates offers an array of handcrafted chocolate assortments; the newest items including organic chocolate truffles and Select Origin chocolates.

Lake Champlain’s organic truffle collection features eight delectable flavors in a 15-piece box. The assortment includes the following truffle flavors: 70% dark chocolate; Aztec, a cayenne-cinnamon mix with a lime finish; Ethiopian Coffee in dark chocolate; Ginger Lemon in dark chocolate; Honey Fig in milk chocolate; Mango in dark chocolate; traditional all-milk chocolate; and Vanilla in 70% dark chocolate.  The organic collection is set to debut in its finalized packaging by the end of the summer.

“Organics are a movement,” says Leann VanDerHeyden, marketing specialist. “It’s not just a trend; it’s a way of life.”

Another new movement that’s having an impact on the category is single-origin chocolate. As part of the company’s Select Origin line, chocolate squares come together in a 24-piece assortment in varying degrees of dark chocolate content: 54%, 60%, 70% and 75%.

Exotic as these may sound, there’s still a tremendous appreciation by consumers for local and regional flavors. Lake Champlain’s signature and most varied assortment box is the Chocolates of Vermont variety, which reminds consumers of the state’s moods and seasons. This four-piece assortment includes Evergreen Mint, Honey Caramel, Green Mountain and Maple Crunch flavors with nature scenes depicted on each chocolate.

“Our Chocolates of Vermont are a nice piece to sort of sell a little bit of Vermont real estate with our chocolates,” VanDerHeyden says.

And besides keeping up with the trends, Lake Champlain is also issuing some new packaging for the end of the summer. The new design features colors that “stand the longer test of time…without deviating from the feel of our brand,” says VanDerHeyden. In addition to adding some flair to the boxes; the packaging also cuts back on damage to the environment.

“We try to reduce some of the packaging that’s involved and be a little more responsible about what we’re actually packaging [products] in,” VanDerHeyden says.

To ensure fresh ingredients, Lake Champlain opts for local suppliers.

“If we can’t get Vermont [ingredients], then we’ll buy New England [ingredients]. Granted we can’t get macadamia nuts from Vermont, but we do try to get them from the best vendors we can,” VanDerHeyden says. “We don’t want to cut corners.”

In business since 1921, Wolfgang Candy has also recognized the growing interest and demand in fresh and natural ingredients. Recently, Wolfgang came out with an all natural line of chocolates, which includes blueberries, raspberries and cranberries dipped in dark chocolate. These items are unlike any other in that they have a shelf life up to a year without using any preservatives, additives, artificial colors or artificial flavors and do not require refrigeration.

Wolfgang’s assortments also offer a great deal of flexibility because they focus on numerous products.

“You’ll see a myriad of different types of chocolates in our assortments,” says Mike Schmid, managing partner, marketing. These assortments, among others, include the Family Favorite, Milk and Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate Nut and Peanut Butter Bears.

The Family Favorite collection is unique to Wolfgang Candy because it focuses specifically on the Wolfgang family members.

“After all, Wolfgang Candy is a family business,” Schmid says. “What we’ve done is we’ve taken this assortment and gone around to the various family members and asked, ‘What’s your favorite piece that we make?’ So each family member has their own specific piece that they like the best within this assortment.”

In addition, the Family Favorite assortment features a map inside the box explaining what each chocolate is and whose favorite it is. This personalized collection should help consumers to better connect with the company and realize its history in the confectionery business.

Personalization, or “telling a story,” has long been a Hawaiian Host trademark, the company having originated chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in 1960. Each of Hawaiian Host’s boxed chocolates includes the story of founder Mamoru Takitani and his creation of chocolate-covered macadamias.

The company’s chocolate assortments include its Classic, Macadamia Medley (which also comes themed for Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter) and Jewel Collection. The Classic assortment features the company’s original whole and half chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. The Macadamia Medley offers newer chocolates such as MacNut Crunch, Dark Chocolate Macadamia and Maui Caramacs, along with its signature Chocolate Macadamia double nut format. The Jewel Collection is considered part of Hawaiian Host’s premium category and contains the Chocolate Macadamia, Chocolate Almond, MacNut Crunch, Dark Chocolate Macadamia and Maui Caramacs.

“There are different sized macadamia nuts,” explains Jay Terauchi, assistant marketing manager. “Some of the premium pieces will have a larger nut versus a whole piece and a half piece. So it’s not necessarily just the chocolate, but it’s also the quality of the nut and the size of the nut.”  And Hawaiian Host has more macadamia plans for the future.

“We’re redesigning our standup box and it’s more or less for an everyday indulgence,” Terauchi says. “That will be coming out this summer.” The chocolates will come in dark and milk chocolate. The company also offers organic chocolates that are currently not in a boxed assortment.

Staying current, be it in varieties or packaging, is important for boxed chocolate manufacturers. Asher’s Chocolates works hard to keep its assortments contemporary by upgrading boxes and reacting to trends.

“We try to stay current without replacing traditional favorites,” says Jeff Asher, v.p. sales and marketing. “We’ve seen a growth in demand for dark chocolate and reacted to that as well and also some of the higher cocoa content.”

Sticking with the trends, Asher’s offers an organic assortment in dark chocolate including raspberry puree, mango, black cherry and a walnut caramel patty. A few sugar-free assortments are also available along with nut, pretzel and other assortments. The company also recently came out with a premium collection called the Majestic line. The assortment includes the “best” of Asher’s chocolates in premium packaging.

Originally, Asher’s gift boxes showed pictures of the candy on the front. Customer feedback indicated that pictures made the boxes look less “gifty,” so Asher’s created boxes without pictures. Again people were upset, this time because they couldn’t tell what was inside the box. In the end, Asher’s kept both styles of boxes and added hangtags with pictures of the chocolates on the more “gifty” boxes. The Majestic box features the elegant solid colored packaging with a hangtag. Asher’s plans to keep experimenting with different shapes and sizes of boxes for its assortments and has a few ideas in the works.

Besides following trends, Asher’s lets consumers decide what goes into boxed assortments.

“For me, it’s always a great experiment to take one of our assortments to a gathering or party and observe what gets eaten first and what gets saved for last,” Asher says. This simple process tells the company which products are the most and least enjoyed. From there, Asher’s can switch out pieces in assortments to better accommodate consumer tastes.

Canadian company Ganong Chocolates also bases its assortments on trends and popularity with the understanding that assortments are ever-changing.

“It’s all based on popularity but it has to be tempered with the product cost so that we remain competitive,” says Steven Smith, marketing manager.

“We’re always updating the assortments and, of course, we’re always trying to keep the designs current as well,” Smith adds. “Very rarely would a box not go through an update every couple years at the most.”

Into the family’s fourth generation, Ganong makes multiple boxed assortments designed to be “multiseasonal” instead of holiday specific, excluding Valentine’s Day.

“We’re introducing a new collection this Christmas using Belgian-style chocolate,” Smith says. The new assortment is meant to be an upscale version of Ganong chocolates. “It’s the same process to make the chocolate, but it’s not purchased in Europe. I would say it is equal in terms of its quality to something you would buy in Belgium or Switzerland.”

Many of Ganong’s boxed chocolates have an affiliation with a cause, such as the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The logo can be found on most packaging along with events and marketing for the company related to the cause. Ganong is also trying to bring Canada more into its packaging. In order to do so, the company has added a Canadian maple leaf symbol to its boxes that says “since 1873.”

Like Forrest Gump, telling a story can take you places.