Company co-founder Kevin Gass said he worked with the regulators and toy designers to create the line of Choco Treasure products, which are “chocolate wrapped presents” that meet strict safety requirements so that he could bring to Americans of all ages the fun and excitement that he experienced eating and playing with surprise eggs in Europe.
He explained that he was shocked when he moved to America and discovered that FDA prohibited “non-nutritive items” from being “embedded” in confections. Because FDA considers the plastic capsule that holds toys in surprise eggs to be embedded, the products could not be legally sold here regardless of where they were made.
Candy Treasure's solution was a “Saturn ring” or plastic ridge around the capsule that keeps the two halves of the chocolate wrapping from touching so that the plastic is visible and clearly separate from the chocolate, Gass explained.
He added that the chocolate easily falls away from the plastic once the product’s colorful foil is removed, making the candy easy to enjoy.
The search for a solution to FDA's prohibition hit at least one legal bump along the way. In 2013, competitor Yowie North America sued Candy Treasure of infringing on its patent to overcome the ban on toy-filled candies. The litigation was resolved out-of-court in December 2014. Gass said he has patented the design of his product.
Last year, Yowie began distributing in the U.S. its surprise eggs with similar design features to Candy Treasure's products.
Addressing CPSC's concerns
The elaborate capsule cleared only one of the hurdles blocking the sale of surprise eggs in the U.S. The CPSC also requires any toys associated with a candy to be safe for all ages, which the disassembled toys in many surprises eggs sold internationally are not, Gass said. He explained those toys include parts that are choking hazards for small children, which is why Kinder Surprise, Ovetto Sweet and Wonder Ball products are marketed abroad to children three years and older.
Choco Treasure, however, is marketed for all ages because each of the 24 different toys hidden in the chocolates are large enough not to be choked on or are made of paper and therefore not a risk, Gass explained.
“All our toys are heavy duty” so they cannot break, and “many are hand-painted,” he said, noting the toys include spin tops, squirt toys, figurines, puzzles, stickers and even a full deck of mini-playing cards.
Breaking into the U.S. market
Despite the popularity of the chocolate surprise eggs internationally, Gass said Choco Treasure struggled to gain traction when it first launched its chocolate wrapped toys in 2013, in part because many Americans were unfamiliar with the concept.
Choco Treasure first found an audience in specialty stores where the treats were sold as novelty items to people who enjoyed similar products abroad. But as the idea clicked with consumers, demand for the products grew – helping sales climb triple digits year over year. Distribution now includes big box stores, convenience stores, drugstores and most food retail outlets, Gass said.
The firm also helped drive awareness and sales of the eggs through sampling, Gass said, noting: “We sampled about 50,000 eggs last year at Easter egg hunts around the country” at zoos and sports stadiums, Gass said.
More than just eggs
In addition, the company recently licensed marketing rights for Hello Kitty and Penguins of Madagascar to further drive interest and help its products catch consumers attention in crowded candy and holiday aisles, Gass said, adding Easter is the firm’s busiest season.
While the eggs are most popular in the spring, Choco Treasure is not a seasonal company because it also sells sports balls – footballs, baseballs and soccer balls – that vary by the time of year, Gass said.
He also is “extremely excited” to launch this fall Christmas ornaments that will be foil wrapped, chocolate wrapped toys that consumers can enjoy in their stockings or hanging from their trees.
The ornaments will ship in October and be ready to hit store shelves the day after Halloween, he said.
Choco Treasure products are made with premium milk chocolate from Switzerland so that adults will enjoy them just as much as children, Gass said.
“Kids like chocolate, but they are not as particular about the kind. But parents are incredibly finicky about chocolate,” and because Candy Treasure wanted its products to be enjoyed by all ages, it opted for a high quality chocolate that everyone would enjoy, Gass said.
He emphasized there is no high fructose corn syrup of fake chocolate-y compound. Plus, he said, they are sold at a price point of just $1-$1.49, which makes them easy to enjoy.