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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Annie B's handmade caramels

I'm not a chocolate-lover by nature, so Valentine's Day is always kinda tough for me (in relative terms). I don't have much of a sweet tooth, and every year, before the big day of red, I practice my "surprise face" in anticipation of receiving that ubiquitous heart-shaped box of chocolates and flowers. 
While the flowers are not so bad (hint, hint to my husband), when you're not a sugar-lover, even the finest box of chocolates can make you roll your eyes at the thought of downing the required handful of morsels that signal the non-verbal, "Thank you for thinking of me!" to your sweetie. He did, after all, try. 
This year, the lovely wife-husband team at Annie B's sent me a sample of their Handmade Caramels with a classy yet simple "happy Valentine's Day" phrase in white cursive font that is written above a modest white heart on a red label. What, no white-lace borders? No frills? No garish designs that shout out, "Eat this candy now!"? No, none of that. But I assure you, the lack of gimmicks really make it pop. Put it next to any cash register for that impulse buy, and it will catch the eye of the guys (and girls!) looking for an upscale add-on for his flowers or Teddy bear. 
The Annie B's 8-ounce clear-plastic box of caramels modestly reminds the buyer with more small-print that the caramels are made in small batches and cooked in copper pots for the best and purest taste possible. 
Again, not a sugar-lover, so I was hesitant to delve into the sweetness of a caramel. I can down a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips all by myself but sweets are just not my thing--until now. Not even realizing that I had the choice of three different flavors in one box--seat salt, chocolate sea salt and raspberry chocolate--I pulled out the first two-inch stick of caramel I could grasp. With preconceived notions of what a super-sweet caramel usually tastes like, I bit in. 
Result: unexpected bliss (which is the best kind of bliss!). As it turns out, the chocolate sea salt caramel is not too sweet at all! In fact, it's actually salty! (Go figure.) "Wow," I thought, "a sea-salted caramel in which you can actually taste the salt!" As I chewed into the stiff caramel to break it down into soft goey-ness, I began biting down on precious chunks--not flakes-of actual sea salt. It was glorious. 
While other candies may boast the "sea salt" label, few actually follow through with the more-salty-than-sweet combination. But this fine morsel--which won a nod from "Oprah's Favorite Things in 2014--passes the test with flying colors. So much so that I was compelled to take a look at
Turns out, Justin and Amanda Henke bought the Annie B's company, which has been around since 1978, from its founders--another husband-and-wife duo--Tom and Carol Bouquet. In fact, the Henkes bought the candy company on the same day Amanda gave birth to her first child, August. (How's that for a sappy Valentine's Day story?!) 
It also turns out that Annie B's is known for much more than just their caramels (although that's what I'll be hitting them up for because I'm officially hooked). The company also offers small-batch popcorn in flavors like sharp cheddar, jalapeno cheddar and, of course, original caramel. 
I checked out the reviews left on their website and, sure enough, people are raving about my new-found love: chocolate sea salt Annie B's caramels. It seems, like me, once they tasted it, they had to have more. 
Also interesting are the notes about the company's (or couple's) Facebook page. Of course, I took a visit and, sure enough, it's active (unlike so many mom-and-pop companies that tout their social media pages but don't actually post anything). Not only is it active, but it's fun! There are quizzes, pictures and--surprise!--you can actually talk and chat with the people behind the candy. 
Yes, the wholesalers have amazing candy gifts to offer your customers for Valentine's Day. But if you're looking for that impulse-purchase all year-round, then set some samples up near your cash register and watch the Annie B's fly off the shelf.