For Duluth, Georgia-based chocolate decorations specialist Dobla North America, finding the right balance between consumers’ love of tradition and their more contemporary needs is always a challenge — and an opportunity, says Monica Kate, the company’s executive pastry chef. “Keeping classic flavors and nostalgic desserts relevant is a thrilling challenge for this industry,” Kate says. “Cookies can’t go extinct, but they need to evolve. Today’s consumer is looking for an experience every time they indulge in a dessert.”
Overly sweet and heavily artificial tastes? The cookie lover of today turns up her nose at them, Kate says. In addition, today’s consumers are willing to take culinary risks. They want their foods to be interesting, and cookies are no exception. “Anything goes these days with cookies, and we are loving it,” she says. “Chocolate is always a perfect ingredient.”
Cookies — the second biggest seller within fresh bakery — continues to be one of the most important categories for Brill, a CSM Bakery Solutions company, says Mike Docherty, Brill’s vice president of marketing for North America.
“We continue to see cookie sales outperform and grow more than last year, which is helping to drive growth across the industry,” Docherty says. “Consumers don’t tend to limit cookie purchases to special occasions like other items in the bakery.” Instead, he says, they purchase them for a variety of reasons: special occasions, holidays, everyday gatherings, a treat for themselves or members of their family.
Chocolate chip, sugar and oatmeal cookies account for more than half of all sales and remain the undisputed category champs for Brill, but Docherty says there’s evolution within those Big Three. “We do see customers offering more premium versions of these top flavors, such as oatmeal with raisins and walnuts and chocolate chunk with pecans.”
Also mixing up the cookie category for Brill, Docherty says, are innovative flavors like coconut pecan and salted caramel, which can be used to spruce up seasonal programs and stir customer interest with limited-time offers.
Whether they’re traditional or innovative, cookies must grab the passing shopper’s attention, Docherty says. “Over half of cookies are purchased spontaneously because they catch the consumer's eye and look too delicious to pass up.”
Among the newest products for Brill is its DecoPro, a decorating bag pre-filled with Brill buttercreme. Perfect for cookies, cakes or cupcakes, it provides quick setup and easy cleanup, improving efficiency for customers and reducing waste, Docherty says.
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Consumers’ desire for novelty, combined with customers’ desire for labor-saving techniques, are among the reasons Kate thinks Dobla’s Cookie Toppers have been such a big hit with instore bakery customers. “Dobla has a lot of amazing chocolate curls and decorations for cookies, but our most exciting product is the Cookie Topper,” she says.
Introduced in 2016, Cookie Toppers are pre-made discs that are placed on top of instore bakeries’ fresh-baked cookies, meaning bakers can skip the frosting process entirely. The discs quickly melt, but the printed design remains intact as it sets, Kate says. Toppers come in up to four different colors in each of a variety of designs. Twenty-five designs are standard, and custom designs are also an option. Dobla research shows that consumers are willing to spend significantly more for a cookie topped with chocolate and a unique image or message.
Toppers are currently Dobla’s main focus when it comes to cookies, Kate says. “It gives a premium look to an everyday product with minimal labor that achieves consistency and enhances the consumer’s overall experience. By pairing a cookie with a Dobla’s Topper, you take an everyday item and give it an unparalleled visual appeal that quite frankly makes a cookie irresistible.”
In their brief time on the market, Toppers have already evolved, through a close collaborative working process between Dobla and its customers, Kate says. “Over time we’ve worked on getting the chocolate compound formula just right in flavor and texture,” she says. “We started with simple designs and have evolved into an incredibly precise printing process where we can recreate, on chocolate, almost any image you send us.”
In addition to Toppers, Dobla’s chocolate barks and other toppings help instore bakeries make a statement, Kate says. In addition, exotic fruits and spices and other less traditional flavors are beginning to assert themselves in the cookie world. “Multiple layers and depths of flavor and unexpected surprises are also finding their way into cookie jars,” she says. “The staple chocolate chip and pink frosted sugar cookie are the constant pillars that shouldn’t be touched. However, we fully support the bold boutique combinations that are popping up everywhere, pushing the conventional ideas of this great pastry.”
Demand for cookies is always high, Kate says, but in general she wouldn’t categorize it as “growing.” Within the category, however, there are certainly pockets Dobla is eyeing for growth. “The demand for something fun and unexpected is definitely growing at a rapid pace in our customer base, and we are happy to meet their creative demands,” she says.
Docherty says consumers are looking for a cookie that’s fresh, looks delicious and tastes great. Brill’s cookies, when baked, provide the authentic, homestyle appearance that shoppers prefer. Brill also separates itself from the pack, he says, through the use of an exclusive chocolate chip formulation that delivers a unique, premium flavor.
As with other food industries, Brill has seen consumers become more concerned about what they eat, Docherty says. Over three?fourths of consumers indicate that a simple ingredient statement is important, and more than half choose products with fewer processed ingredients. To help its customers address this need, Brill has expanded its cookie repertoire to include Simplicious Everyday Cookies, which contain no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors or colors. The line includes Brill’s most popular cookie varieties and also comes in a higher-end version, Simplicious Premium cookies, which are made without bleached flour.
“The Simplicious line allows retailers to clean up their everyday cookie offerings or provide a clean?label option in addition to their current offering,” Docherty says.