Creating unique packaging fit for unicorns

7 July 2022

On this day, a few hundred years ago in 1550, it’s said that chocolate was first introduced to Europe. On that anniversary, dating back to 2009, is World Chocolate Day! Approximately 2 generations ago, Greg Neil’s family grew akin to making chocolates. Grandma, mom, sisters, brother—all of them, except Greg. That is, until his mom bought him a tempering machine…

The beginnings of a chocolate business

Greg started making chocolates for family, friends, and as gifts. A couple of years later, he decided to take things to the next level and completed a chocolate-making course from Ecole Chocolate. It gave him the knowledge to make molded bonbons, and he received a better understanding of the science behind tempering and how chocolate works.

Greg used a family recipe that had been passed down from generation to generation. However, when it came time to take a chance and open a business, Greg decided to make it vegan. The idea came as he and his family committed to being fully plant-based. It couldn’t be just any vegan food business, though. These chocolates had to be “just as good or better than regular chocolates.” He modified that heirloom recipe and started his journey as a craft chocolatier.

There aren’t very many vegan chocolatiers. So, when Greg’s 7-year-old daughter, Torah, shouted from the back seat of a drive home, “you should call it Unicorn Chocolates,” it felt perfect. Torah even drew the logo.

Unicorn Chocolates was on its way. Greg and his wife, Judy, concoct unique flavor combinations such as his favorites: Passion Fruit Coconut, Spumoni, Blueberry Cheesecake. As Greg learned more about chocolates and chocolate-making during his coursework, he saw how the variation in flavors came “from the bean and the way [chocolate is] produced.” He noted, “fine chocolate is really a culture.”

Building something special through customization

After receiving so much positive feedback from friends and family, Greg thought Unicorn Chocolates would be a great way to supplement the family’s cashflow. It was also just something fun to do. However, Greg was missing a crucial element—packaging! For his small operation, Greg found it hard to justify the expense that came from custom boxes. These chocolates were special, so the packaging needed to match.

For the very first (test) collection of chocolates, Greg packaged the chocolates in a plain kraft box, separated by paper baking cups. He added Torah’s unicorn as a branded sticker. They worked well, but he wanted to step it up.

For his second collection of chocolates, Greg used his Cricut Maker to create custom kraft boxes with gold foil. He learned about cutting machines through a neighbor. They had used one to cut numerous butterflies for Torah’s birthday one year. Recalling that ease of creating cut images, Greg researched all the cutting machines he could find on the market before settling on buying a Cricut Maker.

Each of these boxes required a pass-through with a pen to draw text, then the foil tool to add gold embellishments. Additionally, there were custom inserts that Greg had designed to highlight the chocolates better. They brought height and kept the chocolates from moving too much. The inserts were simply designed and uploaded to Cricut Design Space. Soon enough, Greg became a pro at processing them through using multiple machine mats.

It’s great because [the Cricut is] super reliable… I’ve never had problems… it just pumps them out. [I] don’t have to do much troubleshooting or have it stop cutting.

Refining the customization process for simplicity and expansion

Over the past year, Greg has increased production and began making plans to push his business into the next stage. He increased the number of collections for sale—adding a Valentine’s Day and Spring collection. However, when it came to the packaging, he decided against the foil boxes again. It needed to be simplified if he was going to do this more often. So, he gave in and ordered a small quantity of standard boxes in custom print.

Although Greg sourced his packaging elsewhere, he continued to use his Cricut to make the custom inserts to display the bonbons properly. It’ll also step in for any special, limited collections.

Greg’s small kitchen operation looks to expand into a commercial kitchen. Every production run causes Greg to take over the family kitchen for several weeks. It gets too hot in the summer, so he shuts down for the season until the weather cools. The plans are being finalized, and shortly thereafter, there are hopes of getting it under construction.

Greg and Judy are constantly ideating on new flavors that could make it into a collection or limited run set. In the short time that Unicorn Chocolates has been running, Greg found that people had very diverse palates. “Every flavor I’ve ever done has ended up being someone’s favorite,” he mentioned. Customer favorites include Buttermint (also Torah’s favorite) and Spumoni.

Find Unicorn Chocolates online or connect with Greg through Instagram.

Happy World Chocolate Day!