Convenient, fun, pleasing to the eye as well as the palate — what’s not to love about decorated cookies? Category upgrades in recent years — longer shelf life, cleaner ingredients, new technologies, to name a few — have made them even more of a no-brainer for instore bakeries that are looking to separate themselves from the pack.

When it comes to trends in decorated cookies, licensed designs rank near the top, says William Dekker, R&D manager and pastry chef for Duluth, Georgia-based chocolate decorations specialist Dobla North America. Licensing, Dekker says, provides a way for producers to cut  through the noise bombarding today’s shoppers. “With consumers being overwhelmed with an overload of ads and information, recognizable icons from the past and present are a way to make your products stand out.”

Islip, New York-based Cookies United also prides itself on its licensed decorated cookies, says Michael Strauss, the company’s marketing director. Anyone can make a decorated Christmas tree cookie, he says. Only Cookies United can top one with a Minions character wearing a Santa hat.

“Major licensed properties spend a lot of marketing dollars to make sure their symbols and characters are always recognized by consumers, and our decorated cookies are the perfect combination for a child — a popular character and a tasty treat,” Strauss says. In addition to the Minions, Cookies United’s other decorated cookie stars include Batman, Superman and Disney’s Trolls.  “Kids and even parents connect with these characters on an emotional level, making the intent to purchase very high,” Strauss says. “A licensed product will outsell a generic product side by side every time.”

Anoka, Minnesota-based DecoPac Inc. is another company capitalizing on the licensing trend. With its PhotoCake edible image technology, DecoPac can draw on its extensive licensing agreements to help make consumers’ favorite characters come to life on the surface of a cookie, says Tina Steichen, the company’s DecoDesign manager.

“Consumers have strong brand loyalty to licensed products,” she says. “Seeing them brings excitement to younger children, and adults enjoy it because it brings them back to a particular time and place. PhotoCake allows them to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to their decorations.”

In 2018, DecoPac will encourage customers to turn to PhotoCake more for corporate events, marriage proposals, proms and other outside-the-box applications, Steichen says.


Seasonality, clean label, other trends

Royal icing, buttercream and “touches of fondant” are among the icing trends in decorated cookies, says Steichen. Cookies United has experimented with many different icings and flavors over the years, Strauss says, but the company has always come back to its classic shortbread sugar cookie base and royal icing. “It makes for the best-quality cookie in appearance and taste,” he says.  Cookies United also has rejected other trends, including edible images. “They got very poor reviews,” Strauss says.

Other trends DecoPac is tracking include cookies topped with rings and edible decorations other than PhotoCake. New at DecoPac is a set of metallic shimmer decorations, part of its DecoShapes fondant line. The company also is seeing strong demand for its SugarSoft line of premium edible sugar decorations, which combine soft texture with innovative printing technology, Steichen says.

Seasonality also can play a big role in decorated cookie programs. New for DecoPac in time for Easter 2018 is a line of brightly painted egg rings; a jewel-toned “Easter Love” ring collection, perfect as a cookie topper; and a round “Easter Blessing” image in PhotoCake. Eggs and bunnies also can be found in the SugarSoft line, Steichen says.

Increasingly, Steichen says, decorated cookies are beginning to resemble another bakery star. “It started with the cupcake,” she says. “Now people are loving cookies. It’s convenient and you have options of a single packaged cookies for one, or a variety for the whole group. Bakeries are finding that there are endless ways to decorate, and consumers love the look and taste.”

Of course, no one says you have to choose between cupcakes and decorated cookies, Steichen says. “A fun trend we’re seeing in stores is combining cookies and mini-cupcakes to create eye-catching designs.” The best part for retailers? Such combos, she says, can be sold for a premium price.  

Also on trend in decorated cookies, Dekker says, are better-tasting flavors, better color schemes, easier-to-handle fondants and fewer additives (the result not only of new regulations, he says, but also the development of better ingredients). As with so many other products, “clean” is in when it comes to cookies. “We see an increasing demand for natural colors as well as clean products,” he says. “Our Cookie Toppers can be made in natural colors and the chocolate is without any PHO’s or GMO’s.”

Cookie Toppers, introduced by Dobla in 2016, feature up to four different colors in each design, which gives the company the ability to personalize cookies for any occasion. Twenty-five designs come standard, and custom designs can also be created, he says. Pretty much anything the customer can dream up, Dobla can make.

“All that’s needed is to place the disc on your fresh-baked cookie,” Dekker says. “It’s a high-quality, clean product that has perfect accuracy for iconic designs or brands, and the designs can be so much fun.”

Perhaps most important for retailers, Cookie Toppers back a value-added wallop, Dekker says. “By adding a small chocolate disc with an intercut design, our research shows that consumers are willing to spend 73 percent more on a cookie topped with chocolate and a great image or message.”

Dobla expects strong growth for Cookie Toppers going forward, Dekker says. “It’s been a great success, but we’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg. We have many variations ready for the future.” Keep the words “flavored” and “textured” in mind if you want a hint of what innovations Dobla has in store.


Instore demand surging

Instore bakery demand for decorated cookies is on an upward swing, Dekker says, thanks to several evolutions in the category in recent years: the rise of licensing, longer shelf life, affordability and cleaner ingredients. And when it comes to giving your bakery department a boost, decorated cookies have advantages over other products.

“Cookies have much lower cost than a full cake, cupcake and donuts,” Dekker says. Another advantage: cookies have a much longer average shelf life than other baked goods, Dekker says. Portability is another plus. “Cookies can be consumed at any time and anywhere.”

Strauss also sees robust category growth for decorated cookies in instore bakeries. “There are two reasons,” he says. “First, bakeries still want to keep up with the popular trends and bringing in licensed decorated cookies is a perfect way to stay relevant and connect to consumers. Second, labor costs are going up and up, and bakeries are looking for pre-made items.”

A decorated cookie program offers instore bakeries something new they know people will like, as well as a personal touch, Strauss says. “Decorated cookies are the perfect novelty treat that kids and even adults have become accustomed to enjoying when going to the bakery,” he says. “They also bring that homemade feel to the instore bakery, more so than  a clamshell of cookies would do. Our cookies are shrink-wrapped with clear plastic and have a real homemade look and feel.”

The convenience and “user-friendliness” of decorated cookies are other feathers in the category’s cap, Strauss says. “Consumers enjoy the fact that they can purchase just one at a time and give one to each kid in the family. I know my kids’ bakery trip is not complete until they each get to pick out their favorite decorated cookie.”

A strong instore decorated cookie program, Steichen says, stimulates impulse buys and turns an everyday treat into something special. “Stores that decorate cookies or have cookie bars differentiate themselves against their competition by adding more variety to their bakery. Consumers like the fact that decorated cookies are not only visually appealing, but an easy single-serve treat, with no utensils required.”

Trends come and go, Strauss says. What lasts is the driving force behind all those trends. “The trend will be and always has been to connect to the target audience, which is more or less children,” he says. “If you can design something attractive for them, the cookie aspect will do the rest.”