Often a world of opportunity can be found buried right in one’s backyard. It sometimes comes from adding a newfangled twist to on an old-fashioned holiday cookie recipe inspired by a family member decades ago. Other times, it’s as easy as bringing home a taste of a baker’s travels to provide international flair to the local market.

At the Winter Fancy Food show, held in San Francisco this January, New York-based Unna Bakery rolled out traditional Swedish cookies using family recipes and organic ingredients. The products ranged from cardamom and chocolate caramel flavors to a variety called Farmer’s Cookie, featuring butter and almonds with Swedish golden syrup.

Others sniffed out opportunities right under their noses by adding a touch of savory to a treat that’s traditionally sweet. The Perfect Bite, Glendale, CA, launched a Sophisticated Cookies line, inspired by European flavors featuring salted rosemary butter, Parmesan butter with fennel and sea salt and spiced chai sugar.

Throughout the past two decades, companies such as Ellison Bakery of Fort Wayne, IN, or Richmond Baking of Richmond, IN, have even created a whole market by breaking convention, making the cookie crumble so customers could add those pieces to yogurt or ice cream.

Overall, market statistics suggest the $8.2 billion cookie category is a large but mature market.

However, new products in even the most conventional of categories come not only from all forms of inspiration but also from all types of innovation in process application with new or existing technology.

Rheon, for example, is known for its co-extrusion technology often used in making high-end filled cookies with up to three doughs or fillings. “My favorite is a peanut-butter-and-jelly cookie,” said John Giacoio, national sales director, Rheon USA. “If you were to cut one of these cookies in half, it would look like a perfect bull’s eye with the jelly in the center surrounded by peanut butter with cookie dough on the outside.”

Another popular filled cookie offers a slight variation. “Instead of enclosing the filling, we use a special device to leave the top of the cookie open,” Mr. Giacoio noted. “This allows the customer to be able to see the filling. It’s like a mini tart.”

The proliferation of limited-time offerings and seasonal items requires multifaceted equipment that’s versatile enough to respond to a changing, impulse-driven market. The resulting products may include new shapes or holiday-themed treats that consist of two- or three-color doughs to enhance the final cookie product’s appearance, according to Rick Parrish, director of sales and marketing, Franz Haas Machinery of America.

“Imagine a Valentine’s Day cookie in the shape of a heart using dark dough and an inner heart made with lighter dough, or an animal-shaped face using light-colored dough for the shape and dark dough for the characteristic features,” Mr. Parrish suggested.

In both scenarios, the final dough piece is wire-cut and baked. “The key to achieving these highly detailed shaped products is the precision of the extrusion and flow proportions within the multi-extrusion die design,” he explained. “These depositors are very popular because they are able to make almost any cookie-type product, and because of the high accuracy of deposit, they offer an advantage over traditional wire-cuts and extruders.”

Picture-perfect cookies

Rheon’s co-extrusion systems can turn out anywhere from 60 to 3,000 cookies a minute. “We can also make custom mosaic-like wire-cut cookies using up to four different dough colors to create a beautiful logo or picture,” Mr. Giacoio said. “We can easily make cookies in a bar shape like a fig bar.”

A recent innovation in this technology is to make two filled strands that get twisted, giving a rope-like appearance. “When we do this, the two strands can even have two different fillings,” Mr. Giacoio said. Bakers, for example, can take graham cracker dough and fill one strand with chocolate filling and the other with marshmallow. “This is a new twist on the old favorite, s’mores,” he noted.

Or, Mr. Giacoio added, bakers can employ extrusion to create an encased-cookie version of a popular sandwich cookie.

Diversifying product lines provides bakers with additional opportunities to attract new customers and increase consumption among existing ones. “Health-based cookies are seeing expansion in the market, and caffeinated cookies, which fit in the energy snack category, are growing,” suggested Sam Pallottini, director of cookie, cracker and pet food sales, Reading Bakery Systems. A traditional variety showing the most potential for growth, he added, is the frosted cookie.

Likewise, indulgent cookies remain on-trend. “If consumers want a treat, they want a proper one, so the addition of luxury inclusions such as nuts and chocolate chunks, or fillings, is growing,” noted Keith Graham, marketing manager, Baker Perkins Ltd. “Product diversity is also important. Manufacturers have to be able to produce a wider variety of recipes, putting a premium on changeover times.”

To provide versatility, he said, the Baker Perkins TruClean Servo wire-cutter comes with easy-to-clean, quick-change parts and an automatic recipe-driven set-up coupled to a dual-servo system that provides speed and accuracy.

When it comes to flexibility, cookie manufacturers should consider long-term as well as short-term options. “The latter is all about rapid changeover, whereas the former is concerned with the ability to convert a machine from one type of product to another,” Mr. Graham said, “or more to the point, the willingness of the equipment supplier to be open to the idea of adapting machines rather than replacing them.”

He pointed out the new Baker Perkins encapsulation module for wire-cut machines gives manufacturers the ability to enclose a chocolate, creme or paste filling inside a standard cookie. The module could be retrofitted to most Baker Perkins/APV Baker wire-cut machines. Previously, a separate unit was necessary.