SHOP TALK : A Few Assorted Looks at Chocolate Gift Boxes : As the holidays approach, it's time for a short but sweet sampler of the varieties available in general convenience stores.


It's once again that time of year to give the universal gift of appreciation, love, friendship. We're talking the gift of chocolate. It's a staple of the holidays, perfect for that special someone with a sweet tooth, or for when you don't want to come to the party empty-handed.

Of course, with stricter government regulations concerning nutritional labeling on the packaging of food items, this gift of love can also be construed as the gift of fat and calories.

It came as bit of a shock to us when we flipped over a box of the ever-popular Whitman's Samplers and saw that three pieces of chocolate were 200 calories and 11 grams of fat. Kind of takes the joy out of the whole giving/receiving thing.

But chocolate is here to stay, so let's take a look at what's out there in the way of chocolate gift boxes sold at general convenience stores.

There are boxes of caramels, boxes of nuts and chews, boxes of creme-filled candies. But for the most part, we stuck with the general "assorted chocolates." What we found was that two companies--Whitman's and Russell Stover--dominate the chocolate gift box world. We also looked into some chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, but we'll get into those later.

Let's start with Whitman's Samplers. They've been around since 1842, and one of those easily identifiable yellow boxes shows a heartfelt intent.

The 1 3/4-ounce, four-piece box was 79 cents at Thrifty (a store, by the way, that has quite a chocolate aisle--very impressive; we and our sweet tooth visit every chance we get). That same-size box was 75 cents at Longs. At Thrifty and at Longs, the one-pound box of Whitman's was $6.95. Thrifty also had a 3.6-ounce box ($1.55) and a two-pound box ($13.50). Note: If we happen to be on your gift list, you might consider the two-pounder.

As for Russell Stover, the most commonly found sizes were eight ounces and one pound. The eight-ounce box was priced at $2.95 at Rexall and Kmart, and $2.85 at Longs. The one-pounder was going for $5.75 at Thrifty and Kmart and $7.50 (in special autumn color wrapping) at Rexall.

Russell Stover has a series of specialty-wrapped packages. There's the "The Gift Box" (shimmering white with raised lettering and a stem rose) going for $8.09 for 1 1/2 pounds at Longs. The same item was marked down from $8.50 to $7.67 at Kmart. There's also the eight-ounce Little Ambassadors Miniature Chocolates in an attractive gold box for $4.45 at Longs and $3.97 (marked down from $4.55) at Kmart.

Enough chocolate, yet? No way.

At the Hallmark they were selling various assortments of Hallmark Crown Chocolatier boxes. The general assorted chocolates was selling for $1.19 (1 1/2 ounces, or three pieces), $1.89 (2 1/2 ounces, or five pieces), $6.25 (11 ounces) and $6.75 (13 ounces). A special six-ounce "Autumn Selection" in a cute maple leaf box was going for $5.99.

OK, that's it for straight chocolate. Now we'd just like to say a word or two about chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, a special treat for the holidays.

Thrifty had the Mauna Loa brand of chocolate-covered halves and wholes at $3.99 for six ounces. The store also had a MacFarms of Hawaii brand of macadamias covered in caramel and chocolate for the same price. Both boxes proclaimed they consisted of "100%" Hawaiian nuts. And at Longs, the Brown & Haley folks of Almond Roca fame (another nice holiday item, by the way) were getting into the macadamia act with a 7.05-ounce box of chocolate-covered nuts for $5.29.

Now, just remember, the best thing about buying chocolates as holiday gifts is that if you forget to give them to the intended recipient (or if you get into a fight with the intended recipient and don't want to give the gift anymore), you can always eat the candy yourself.

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