Ghirardelli's branded premium sauces were inspired by its operation of ice cream and chocolate shops.

CHICAGO — The Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. may be America’s oldest continuously operating chocolate maker, but the company’s chief executive officer sees plenty of untapped opportunity in the confectionery category and beyond.

An example is premium sauces, which San Leandro, Calif.-based Ghirardelli introduced at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 19-21 in Chicago. Available in chocolate and caramel varieties, the sauces may be used as sundae toppers or syrups for mochas, milkshakes, martinis and more.

“We’re really focused on maximizing our ability to reach people who are looking for chocolate solutions to different things,” Marty Thompson, c.e.o. of Ghirardelli, told Food Business News during an interview at the expo. “We believe there is a business not only for sauces as a milk modifier but also as a topping.”

The idea for branded sauces came from Ghirardelli’s restaurant and retail business. The company operates more than 20 ice cream and chocolate shops across the country.

Marty Thompson, c.e.o. of Ghirardelli.

“We have a very popular sauce line in our professional products division that customers really enjoy,” Mr. Thompson said. “So, in developing this, we knew that we were tapping into something that had already been well received and would now allow fans to enjoy in the comfort of their own homes.”

A manufacturer and marketer of premium chocolate products since 1852, the company has a portfolio that includes chocolate squares and bars, chocolate-coated fruit and nuts, baking chips, bars and cocoa, and brownie mixes.

“If you just look at confection, there’s about a third to 40% of the category we don’t currently compete in,” Mr. Thompson said. “We’re currently not really a big player in Easter, so this year’s show is really focused around Ghirardelli’s Easter innovation. We’re launching for the first time at Easter a hollow-figure bunny and some related novelties that will really help us make a splash at Easter 2016.

“Boxed chocolate assortments and checkout are other categories in which we would like to expand.

“So there are lots of opportunities for us ultimately to play in just the confection category alone. And we call these white space categories within confection.”

Like other companies in the category, Ghirardelli also seeks opportunities in snacking.

“We know that people are snacking more, so we’re working very hard to meet the demand,” Mr. Thompson said. “Our squares are a good individual snack. Our minis (miniature chocolate squares) are a more shareable snack. And we’re working on other things as well.”

Using a proprietary bean blend and unique methods of roasting and processing, the company controls its entire manufacturing process from cocoa bean to finished product.

“People want to snack, but they don’t want to feel guilty about it,” Mr. Thompson said. “Our quality and our individually wrapped chocolates enable consumers to do just that.”

Also launched at the expo was a collection of brownie-inspired chocolate products, including milk and sea salt brownie squares, milk chocolate caramel brownie bar, dark chocolate sea salt brownie bar and milk chocolate brownie bar.

Ghirardelli launched a collection of brownie-inspired chocolate products, including milk chocolate brownie bars, dark chocolate sea salt brownie bars and milk chocolate caramel brownie bars.

“We are America’s No. 1 premium brownie; in blind testing, consumers always choose us,” Mr. Thompson said. “So, we thought we’d take this concept and put it in the confection aisle. A little cross-merchandising.”

Product development at Ghirardelli involves regular meetings encompassing all parts of the company’s business.

“We have a multifunctional team of people that run each of our businesses within the company,” Mr. Thompson said. “Twice a month, we get together at a high level, and we review new items, and the status of various projects. So we start with a broad funnel, and then we work through each project to evaluate its potential. How big is it? How profitable could it be? What’s our capability along these lines?”

Forthcoming introductions will include branded cookie mixes and water-based hot chocolate mixes.

“We have very strong plans and innovations planned for the future,” Mr. Thompson said. “We’re always trying to better understand our consumers and what they’re looking for so we can work towards fulfilling those needs.”