Ho ho ho! It’s time to set out a plate of cookies and milk for Santa because cookie manufacturers have been busy little elves, creating new and exciting items for everyone on Santa Claus’ list.

Jen Roth, Contributing Writer

Unlike previous years where children left out the same old plate of chocolate chip cookies for Santa, today, they’ll have plenty to set out,  as manufacturers are churning up a whole list of items that all consumers-yes, even the naughty ones-can enjoy.

For example, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Gridley, Calif., created a line of gluten-free cookies called love.

“Consumers want to know that they are eating healthful ingredients more and more. There is also a desire to eat real food and not “nutraceuticals.” And of course, the markets for gluten-free and organic are still growing steadily,” states Mary Waldner, chairman and co-founder. “Mary’s Gone Crackers’ love cookies fill all of those needs, and the most important need-great taste.”

Launched in February 2010, the love cookies come in Chocolate Chip, Ginger Snaps and N’Oatmeal Raisin, the latter bringing the familiar taste and texture of grandma’s soft oatmeal raisin cookies, but without the oats  and a substitute organic currants for raisins. A Double Chocolate option made its debut in March.

“All of our cookies are gluten-free, organic and vegan, sweetened with coconut palm sugar and contain chia seeds, which are high in Omega 3s and other healthful ingredients,” Waldner says.

The cartons and corrugated shipping cases for these cookies are also made of 100%-recycled fiberboard and incorporate soy-based inks, Waldner adds.

Mary’s Gone Crackers’ love line is not only a great option for those who are gluten-intolerant, but it’s also a better-for-you alternative that moms can feel good about giving to their kids.

“Once we decided not to use eggs or dairy products in our cookies (in addition to being gluten-free and organic), my challenge was to find ingredients that worked to create delicious, familiar-tasting cookies,” states Waldner. “Sneaking whole grains and other nutritious ingredients into tasty, organic cookies with less sugar is going to be well received.”

Meanwhile, Fabe’s All Natural Bakery, San Fernando, Calif., introduced gluten-free, vegan, 1-in.-diameter round mini cookies. Made with all-natural ingredients and sweetened with palm fruit oil and natural syrups, the Organic Macaroon, Dark Chocolate, Cranberry Orange and Ginger Snap options are said to be a great addition to any lunchbox or snacking occasion.

Fabe’s also launched whole grain mini cookies that are Sweetened By Nature, which means they’re packed with fruits, vegetables and grains. They come in Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Butter, Coconut Chip and Double Chocolate Chip varieties.

For consumers looking to pump some iron during the holidays, Lenny & Larry’s offers the “complete cookie package,” with Muscle Cookies, a power-packed cookie that offers 20 g. of whey protein and 5 g. of fiber.

“We aren’t coming ‘late to the party,’ trying to capitalize on a trend. We arrived very early,” states Barry Turner, CEO and founder of the Northridge, Calif., company. There are a lot of all-natural cookies in the market-some vegan cookies and some cookies with high fiber-but we have been able to hit the mark on these entire trends, plus with added protein. The ‘complete cookie’ is the trend.”

Set to hit store shelves in the first quarter of 2012, Muscle Cookies will be available in Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin and Double Chocolate Chip varieties, all of which contain no sugar alcohols and no high-fructose corn syrup, the company says.

Lenny & Larry’s is also working on a mini version of The Complete Cookie along with a lower sugar variety.

If Santa is in a hurry, running from one house to the other and doesn’t have time to grab a cookie on his way up the chimney, he’s in luck. That’s because Old Colony Baking Co., Spring Valley, Ill., has created a 5-oz. package of its co-branded bag cookie line, which contains the company’s Diamond Walnut Shortbread, Musselman’s Apple Sauce/Oatmeal and ReaLemon Lemon cookies.

“As single-serve items, our cookies are perfect for the on-the-go consumer,” states Jeffrey Kaufman, president.“We are seeing more and more micro markets popping up, which gives the normal vend consumer a considerably large selection of products resulting in healthier choices.”

Cookies and wine?

In some households, the holidays bring on traditional gatherings, parties and even cookie and wine pairings. To spruce up the holiday spirit, Cookies & Corks, Falls Church, Va., created a line of sweet and savory cookies that are meant to be paired with the perfect pinot.

“Consumers are really enjoying savory or salty flavors mixed with sweet flavors,” says Laura Englander, vice president of sales and marketing. “We have a Sea Salt Chocolate Oatmeal cookie that always evokes a head nod followed by something like, ‘oh, I love salt and chocolate together.’ We’ve got a sweet and savory Apricot Sage cookie that pleases both palates,”

In May, Cookies & Corks launched single packs of Apricot Sage, Ginger Molasses, Zesty Lemon, Sea Salt Chocolate Oatmeal, Espresso Chocolate Peanut Butter and White Cheddar Rosemary options to be included in a Red Wine Pairing box, complete with red, white and sparkling wine.

“Each of the boxes has a cookie and wine pairing guide (on the side of the box) so that consumers will have an easy time making a selection of wine to pair. We did this because we know how intimidating wine pairing can be,” Englander says. “We crafted our cookies for enhanced wine pairing by lowering the sugar level in some of the cookies, adding a little more vanilla in others and we use kosher salt. The result is a cookie that does not taste like a packaged cookie.”

In July, Cookies & Corks revealed single flavor boxes of cookies, along with a wine pairing guide that offers up recommendations such as Zesty Lemon with Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Brut sparkling wine, Prosecco or Demi-Sec sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Merlot, she adds.

“Our packaging is intended to attract customers by the bright colorful design, ease decision-making fatigue by telling them which wines will be good pairings and inform them that they are making a healthy decision buying these cookies without artificial preservatives, flavors, partially hydrogenated oils or trans-fats,” Englander adds.

Salem Baking Co. also is chucking the crackers-with-wine forté in favor of cookies. In fact, the Winston-Salem, N.C., company offered a variety of suggestions in using its thin Morovian cookies for sweet and savory appetizers. Both the Spicy Ginger and Artisan Blend Chocolate kinds can be topped with a soft goat cheese and either a spicy jelly or a sweet orange honey. The lineup also includes Brown Sugar and Cinnamon, Sugar with Vanilla Bean, Meyer Lemon with Lemon Zest, Pomegranate Lime with a Hint of Sea Salt, Cinnamon with Brown Sugar and Toasted Coconut.

Making the list

As long as companies are creating lower-calorie, non-fat, gluten-free and organic versions of their favorite cookie, there will always be another item on the shelf that goes above and beyond consumers’ wildest dreams. Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods’ fulfilled this dream by reimagining America’s favorite sandwich cookie, the Oreo.

Introduced this summer, the Triple Double Oreo boasts not two, but three chocolate wafers surrounding a dollop of the famed vanilla cream filling and a bonus helping of chocolate cream filling. At 4.5 g. of fat per cookie, one single-serving of this 100-calorie sinful sweet is bound to give anyone a super-charged sugar rush.

When filling the platter for Santa’s visit, one should not neglect the holiday favorites. Fortunately, Ashland, Ohio-based Archway Bakeries, Co., a division of Snyder’s-Lance of Charlotte, N.C., is bringing back its traditional Archway holiday cookie line beginning Nov. 1. The line offers consumer favorites such as Bells and Stars, Gingerbread Man and Iced Gingerbread Man. Also included are Wedding Cake, Cashew Nougat and Pfeffernusse, a German-inspired cookie made with holiday spices and molasses and topped with powdered sugar.

Regardless of whether you’re naughty or nice, today’s cookie manufacturers are creating new and innovative varieties of the indulgent baked goods that can satiate any kind of sweet, savory or guilt-free craving.