KANSAS CITY, MO. - For most of the world, cookies in one form or another are a staple. Perfect day and night, the cookie is always a welcome presence as an accompaniment, snack, meal replacement or meal completer. Because of cookies’ universal appeal, it matters little if the treat comes from a package, fresh from the oven or is enjoyed unbaked as edible dough. 

While sales of packaged cookies since March have far outweighed instore purchases of by-weight cookies from the instore bakery, there are signs consumers are beginning to migrate back to the perimeter in search of freshness and innovation. This offers those in the instore bakery an opportunity to explore new ways to use cookies and other sweet goods to meet the trends currently shaping consumer wants and needs. 

Health and wellness value-added 

Even in the cookie aisle, health and wellness have some level of consideration. This includes how people look at sugar and choose whether an allowance for sugar is permissible or not. As a result, changes to the nutrition facts panel profiling added sugars could become more or less important depending on the individual consumer and the eating occasion.  

Growing awareness and continuing interest in keto and low-carb diets is also fueling interest for reduced-sugar formulations in cookies and other baked goods.

Wayzata, Minn.-based Cargill has taken up the charge to deliver indulgent experiences with reduced sugar through its ViaTech® stevia sweetener, Zerose® erythritol and Oliggo-Fiber® chicory root fiber solutions that deliver up to 50% sugar reduction in cookies without impact to taste, texture and appearance. 

In addition to sugar reduction, the company is one of many seeing growing interest in the use of alternative flours, particularly among younger consumers, according to Mintel’s In-Store Bakeries U.S. Feb. 2020 report. Flours with higher protein and/or gluten-free attributes offer consumers a dose of functional health with an indulgent factor. It’s a pairing that makes the childhood wish of eating cookies for breakfast something that’s now acceptable and good for you. 

Erin Baker’s is the manufacturer of the Original Breakfast Cookie. Available in the bakery and natural food sections, the non-GMO, no preservatives, no artificial ingredients breakfast cookies contain whole grains and fruit. The product offers healthy cookie indulgence in Double Chocolate, Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Butter, Caramel Apple, Peanut Butter Chocolate and Banana Walnut flavors.

The Bellingham, Wash.-based company also offers a mini version of its breakfast cookie and a grain- and gluten-free cookie that’s paleo and vegan. 

Food with a story 

Consumers increasingly want to know more about what they are eating, making trust an important factor. Market research firms Innova and Gfk share that consumers are in search of ingredients and foods that offer authentic, interesting stories.

Fifty-six percent of global consumers cited a brand’s story as influencing a purchase decision. 70% of global consumers prefer to buy food or beverages when they know where it was grown or produced, according to 2020 data from HealthFocus International. 

Growing personalization 

Manufacturers who look to delineate audiences and further refine offerings have their work cut out for them as personalization becomes increasingly defined. These days, what’s considered healthy or worthy of an indulgent splurge is in the eyes of the individual beholder.  

Chicago-based Glanbia Nutritionals is breaking down traditional demographics into micro-generations of Leading and Neo Boomers, Gen Xs and Gen Xenos, Pro, Mid and Nouveau Millennials, Z Tribe and Z Alpha. Its research details how micro-generations possess distinct differences regarding how they look at lifestyle choices, sustainability and the use of the senses when it comes to experiences, social media, evoking emotion, textures and flavors.  

Telling and creating Stories 

Appealing to the senses while using real, premium ingredients should also include highlighting the partnerships among the bakery and local artisans, suppliers and growers, according to Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator, IDDBA, Madison, Wis.  

“Storytelling is especially important when it comes to food. Cookies are no different than bread or cheese,” Richard said. “People want to know how it was made. Whether that includes working with a local or regional producer or using local ingredients, localism and transparency can help a cookie manufacturer or ISB tell this story.” 

A May blog about Laura’s Cookies published on the Dorothy Lane Market (DLM) website demonstrates the power of a local product to deliver smiles and positive word of mouth. Over the last twenty years, the Dayton, Ohio-based grocery chain has been the sole distributor of Laura’s Cookies. Deemed the “ultimate comfort cookie,” the decorated cut-out cookie with almond-flavored frosting has become a destination product for DLM, a chain well-known for its promotion of local products. 

By evoking the nostalgia of Laura’s own holiday tradition of cookie baking in its ISBs, DLM customers now have a delicious and reliable way to celebrate their own major life events like baby showers, weddings and graduations with a cookie that creates “a happy memory in every bite.” 

Sustainability and traceability 

The related story of authenticity, such as knowing there is a Laura behind Laura’s Cookies, includes knowing who is growing, supplying and selling the ingredients. Through social media, television and movies, these newsworthy stories are becoming top of mind as they remind consumers of the far-reaching impacts of the growing and cultivation of food. 

As a result, more companies are working with their suppliers to create responsibly sourced products including cocoa, palm oil, bananas and sugar.

Companies such as Barry Callebaut, whose US headquarters are in Chicago, have created ethical sourcing standards and sustainability reporting around their chocolate products. Following the guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative GRI G3, the company is looking to create sustainability by helping cocoa farmers prosper, eradicating child labor, becoming carbon and forest positive and offering 100% sustainable ingredients in its products by 2025. 

Cargill is also looking for new ways to enable its brands to tell compelling stories through sustainable, traceable and transparent supply chains. This includes the creation of the company’s Sustainable Cookie Concept. The product is made with responsibly sourced cocoa, pea protein, palm oil, stevia and spring wheat. Other better-for-you ingredients in high rotation are value-added nuts, fruit, seeds, spices and chocolate.  

“Manufacturers who can appeal to the senses while offering attributes that grant permission to indulge will win and cookies are a prime application for this approach,” said Gretchen Hadden, marketing communications manager, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate North America. 

Creative self-expression 

Cookies, particularly sugar and shortbread versions, lend themselves as the perfect medium for self-expression. While the tried-and-true frosted version remains a crowd pleaser, the neutral base is also the perfect starting point for innovation. This might include new flavor pairings such matcha, caramel, espresso or spices.  

“Growing consumer awareness of ingredients such turmeric, cinnamon and ginger provide more exotic and nuanced flavor profiles that make the extra calories worth it for a special occasion,” said Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill. 

Or consider cookies as a blank canvas. Consumers are finding new DIY aspects where toppings such as frosting, chocolate chips, sprinkles and candy pieces accompany already-baked products, maximizing the fun of cookie decorating minus the need for preparation and baking.  

One recent example of baking self-expression came courtesy of BakeMark. Looking for a way to support its customers, local communities and healthcare workers during the pandemic, the Pico Rivera, Calif.- based manufacturer sponsored a Home BakeMark Challenge to encourage families to visit a local bakery or donut shop and creatively decorate the purchased sweet treats in a fun, at-home activity. In June, the manufacturer of cookie mixes and other sweet goods presented the winning family with a $500 prize and the opportunity to a donate $500 to a local hospital or clinic of their choice. 

Pure indulgence 

Bringing people together and creating good memories was a catalyst for the creation of The Cookie Dough Café’s edible gourmet cookie dough. The cookie doughs from the Normal, Ill.-based company are an homage to the memories sisters Joan Pacetti and Julia Clark  have of baking homemade chocolate chip cookies alongside their mom at home.  

Preferring to eat the dough over the baked cookies, the sisters sought out a way to make an egg-free product that’s safe for raw consumption in flavors such as best-selling Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Mint Brownie Batter, Oreo, Monster, Confetti Cake and gluten-free Oatmeal Chocolate Chip.  

“Since our products are considered an indulgent dessert, we do not offer low-cal or low-fat versions,” said Pacetti. “We try to focus on wholesome ingredients that you can feel good about consuming when you want a sweet treat.”  

The Cookie Dough Café encourages further cookie customization with a Naked Dough version that allows people to get creative with unique flavors at home. With an aim to promote fun through the indulgent comfort snack food, the company offers recipes and inspiration on its blog and social media sites. This is just one more example of how through the process of baking, sharing and consuming cookies, consumers can have a delicious touchpoint of connection and comfort whenever it’s needed.

This story is from the July 2020 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. To view the full magazine, click here