With ongoing competition for the consumer grocery dollar, instore bakeries increasingly look to their ingredient suppliers to keep them current with valuable insights on the latest consumer trends. The Global Trends Report from Dawn Foods, Jackson, Mich., is one example. The Global Trends Report analyzes shifts in the bakery landscape and turns that information into recommendations and solutions for its customers, according to Cathy Wisloski, manager of insights and customer experience.

In the cookie category, Dawn sees traditional favorites chocolate chip and chocolate chunk trending along with some exciting culinary flavors. These trending flavors tend to take the already familiar and comforting indulgence of cookies to the next level. Popular flavors include vanilla bean, brown butter and sea salt/salted caramel. Cookie dough as a cookie flavor is also trending with chilled cookie dough pieces emulating the slightly forbidden texture and taste of raw cookie dough, according to Wisloski.

“Premium ingredients like vanilla bean can elevate a sugar cookie, while a touch of salt makes caramel flavors sing and adds texture,” she said. “Further elevation can come from cookies being sandwiched with buttercream or ice cream, satisfying the desire for decadence and reward.”

These trends show up both in the center aisle and in the perimeter in one form or another, but familiar favorites still reign strong. Technomic’s Ignite database found chocolate chip was the fastest-growing cookie category in 2023. Circana cites traditional flavors (chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, sugar, chocolate, butter and candy cookies, regular and mini/petite) to be strong sellers, up 9%. Iced/frosted cookies, the next largest segment, are up 6%. Forty percent of consumers enjoy cookies that remind them of their childhood with a link to products that produce an emotional experience, according to the Mintel U.S. Cookies Market Report 2023 (Chicago).

Store brands lead in the perimeter followed by the Alyssa’s and Lofthouse brands, according to Circana. Alyssa’s, Jupiter, Fla., tweaked an old family recipe to create a delicious, healthy cookie made with unrefined whole grains and naturally dried fruits. The ConAgra brand, Lofthouse, is recognizable in the perimeter bakery for its frosted sugar cookies iced in seasonal colors.

Exploring texture

Dawn’s Wisloski cited texture as another strong cookie trend. This can consist of a texture feature created using inclusions, toppings or the overall format. Interestingly, changing the texture of a cookie can make it feel like more snack than a dessert with a lighter, crispy texture lending itself to a snacking occasion because of its crunch, she shared.

“In cookies, texture is equally important as flavor,” said Jennifer Olmstead, senior director of U.S. marketing and communications for the California Walnut Commission. “Walnuts can add the perfect texture that is soft, but crunchy. Walnuts also connote premium to many consumers, thus elevating a cookie’s status to the premium category without significantly impacting the ingredient costs of the cookie.”

Technomic’s Ignite database found chocolate chip and walnut cookies increased nearly 8%, with flavor combinations like chocolate, walnut, and cranberry also driving sales. Nuts also continue to be a go-to solution for adding plant-based protein, providing a delightful crunch and nuttiness to complement the sweetness and overall flavor. Mintel recommends bakers look at continued innovation around flavor, format and texture to lead to expanded eating occasions.

The Greater Goods, Ann Arbor, Mich., uses organic almond flour to create its small batch chai spice cookies. The socially conscious cookie baker encourages consumers to snack on something better with its line of cookies, biscotti and crackers. The nutrient-dense snacks are gluten-free, organic, vegan and paleo friendly.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Cookies feature and more in the digital edition here.