If there's one sweet treat people turn to on Valentine's Day, it's chocolate. After all, 4 out of 5 Americans eat the stuff, so the odds are pretty good the gift won't be rejected. Even so, there are those who see chocolate and flowers as "default" or "unimaginative" gifts, too. And if you're trying to come up with something to make yourself or your business seem more forward-thinking, stepping out of the chocolate box and giving a different type of appreciation treat to team members might make a lot of sense.

Enter The Cookie Dough Café.

Spoons up, everybody

The Cookie Dough Café, headquartered in Normal, Illinois, specializes in creating cookie doughs you don't cook. You just scoop the dough out of the container and scarf with a spoon. There are no eggs in any of the products, although the doughs still are perishable and need refrigeration during shipping and storage. You can order online or check to see if there's a café or supermarket supplier near you. The business, founded by sisters Joan Pacetti and Julia Schmid, was featured in Season 5 of Shark Tank. Lori Greiner and Steve Tisch, the Vice President of the New York Ciants who served as a guest Shark on the episode, invested in the company.

It's all about consumer behavior

Part of the reason why The Cookie Dough Café is so spectacular is that, from the business perspective, it makes a guilty pleasure not so guilty. Previously, people bashfully have admitted to eating raw dough, knowing that there are concerns about potential bacteria contamination from eggs and flour. And because it takes time to whip up cookie dough from scratch, some people eat premixed dough from the store out of the package, too. The trouble is, those premade doughs are designed to be baked and thus pose the same concerns. Rather than see the dough eaters as naughty, The Cookie Dough Café found a way to give them a relatively safe alternative--the company website states that the the doughs are egg free and that the flour is safe to eat raw (presumably bacteria treated). The business thus was able to take control of a completely untapped market, understanding that the consumer behavior about eating dough probably wasn't going to change. That emphasis on consumer behavior has let a host of other companies succeed (social media businesses, for example).

But what if cookie dough won't work?

Of course, there's always the chance that cookie dough isn't the right cup of awesome for the person or group you have in mind. If that's the case, consider these other options:

  • Fruit drizzled with honey, nuts and/or coconut
  • High protein, lower calorie ice cream (e.g., Halo Top)
  • Gourmet cheesecake (e.g., peanut butter chocolate, caramel nut, mocha)
  • Gourmet popcorn (jalapeno, dark cherry cordial, s'mores)
  • Mini red velvet lava cakes
  • Macaroons
  • A bottle of sparkling rose liqueur

Regardless of your pick, just remember--giving something on Valentine's Day is about appreciating people. That's always a sweet thing to do.