One couldn’t ask a grander day for a grand opening. With temps hovering in the mid-70s, a brilliant blue sky and a temperate sun, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. had ideal weather to officially debut its second Chicago Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop on July 22.

Nor could you ask for a better location. The two-story, 7,300-sq.-ft. retail shop in the recently renovated Wrigley Building overlooking the river and famed Michigan Ave. featured seating for 95 inside and 25 outside.

In addition to offering a broad range of Ghirardelli products, visitors to the shop could indulge in an expansive selection of ice cream treats, including the Earthquake — a family favorite that serves four and include eights scoops of ice cream and eight different toppings.  

As a small group of guests, media persons and interested customers gathered in front of the entrance lined with blue and yellow balloons, Marty Thompson, president and ceo of the company, cut the proverbial ribbon and invited those in attendance for a free sundae and a subsequent glass of champagne.

Later, after the ceremonies concluded, Thompson sat down with Candy Industry Magazine to chat about the new retail store, premium chocolate and Ghirardelli.

“After just two weeks [the store had its ‘soft’ opening on June 26, 2015], we’re really pleased,” he says. "Traffic is building and our customer count is bigger than we thought it would be, so is our transaction size.”

The new Wrigley store complements Ghirardelli’s first Chicago Ice Cream and Chocolate shop, which opened 15 years ago and is located further north on Michigan Ave. near the Water Tower Shopping Mall.

“That store ranks in our Top 5,” Thompson says. Clearly, the company has high hopes that the new Wrigley Building venue will also post such success. Moreover, it’s a strategy the company believes strongly in as it plans to add two additional stores in 2016.  

“Our shops serve two key purposes for Ghirardelli,” he explains. “First, they build our business. The Wrigley Building store is our company’s 25th shop. Our Retail Division is growing strongly and is a key contributor to our company’s overall success. 

“Second, our shops build our brand and our brand awareness,” Thompson points out.  “They provide us the opportunity to engage with consumers directly, to give our guests a great Ghirardelli chocolate experience, including a sense of the company’s ‘chocolate competency.’

“It’s also about giving consumers a great experience,” he adds. “A visit to a Ghirardelli store is generally a moment with your friends and family and these are special times. We believe they strongly connect the guests to our brand.”

And that’s also why this shop will feature an in-house chocolatier, Thompson says. Customers will have an opportunity to see the chocolatier dip strawberries, mould bar products, even hollow figures, as well as answer questions about chocolate.

“At our San Francisco location in Ghirardelli Square, we have customers asking the chocolatier all kinds of questions like:  where we buy our beans, how we make our chocolate, about our company and company history and more,” he says. “So, our retail chocolatiers not only have to be knowledgeable about our company and product, but they also have to be able to convey our company values of quality and passion.”

Lately, consumers have been conveying their approval not only of Ghirardelli’s values, but of its products. According to Nielsen, for the last 52 weeks, Ghirardelli has been the fastest growing company in the Top 15. It also had the second fastest growing brand in that same period.

“Market share matters to us,” asserts Thompson. “One of the reasons Ghirardelli is performing well — as is Lindt USA and Russell Stover — is that consumers are choosing premium chocolate more often.”

“They’re consuming less, but better. They’re opting for smaller portions but better quality. They’re also moving to dark chocolate,” he says

“Dark chocolate is growing much faster than the category,” Thompson continues. “Consumers are beginning to appreciate the flavor and richness of dark chocolate.”

No surprise then that Ghirardelli is working on introducing several dark chocolate recipes for the company’s Intense Dark line as well as new filled items in its Squares line.

He’s also looking to tap into opportunities within the ever growing seasonal segment.

“We’re the sixth largest chocolate confectionery company according to Nielsen data,” Thompson points out. “And we’re No. 4 in Christmas sales and No. 5 in St. Valentine’s Day. But we’re nowhere on the map for Easter.”

Hence, next Easter, consumers can look forward to two-dimensional solid milk and milk with caramel-filled Easter Bunny novelties and the launch of a hollow bunny.

“We’re going to be a major player at Easter and are looking to build our Easter sales for the long term,” he adds.

Ghirardelli’s also looking to take advantage of production capabilities and capacities among its sister companies, Lindt USA and Russell Stover Candies. As a result, a sizeable investment for a new line is going into Stratham, N.H., Lindt USA’s headquarters and manufacturing complex, in the second quarter of 2016.

The company is also taking advantage of a renewed interest in home baking. It’s the second leading manufacturer, behind Nestle, in the baking chocolate category, offering baking chips, bars, candy making and dipping productsand cocoa.

The company has four product divisions:  confection, baking, retail and also professional products, which are designed for restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries.

The goal, Thompson says, is to deliver a consistently great chocolate experience across all formats in all locations.

“We want to make consumers more aware of how broad the brand is, be it retail shop, baking ingredients or chocolate products on store shelves,” he says.

“There are so many different ways to enjoy Ghirardelli Chocolate,” Thompson emphasizes. “We need to continue to communicate and build visibility to the breadth of our entire Ghirardelli portfolio.  The more consumers know our products, the more Ghirardelli can be the chocolate solution for all occasions, be it a family or friends moment on a vacation visit to one of our retail shops, baking for the family with our ingredients, sharing Minis with friends or having a ‘me moment’ with our Squares or one of our Intense Dark bars.”

In the end, it means associating Ghirardelli with a premium chocolate experience, wherever, whenever and however.