Cookies are a robust segment within the bakery industry. There are brands that have been around for decades and have become household names, but there are also many up-and-coming brands that offer unique flavors for niche markets and are set to become the next class of pros.

Sophisticated sweets

Gourmet cookies baked with sweet and savory ingredients are an evolving trend. Targeting the women’s tour, Cookies and Corks, Falls Church, Va., creates uniquely blended baked goods that can be paired with wines.

“Our product, Cookies and Corks, is a product marketed to adults…moms are a great group for us,” states Laura Englander, vice president of sales and marketing. “We’re moms, so we know what they’re looking for.

And what they’re looking for is a cookie that incorporates fruits like apricots and lemons, herbs like sage and rosemary and, of course, chocolate.

“Within the product line, we’re seeing a lot of interest in our Sea Salt Chocolate Oatmeal, Parmesan Thyme, Apricot Sage and White Cheddar Rosemary cookies,” states Englander. Other cookies in the line include Ginger Molasses, Zesty Lemon and Espresso Chocolate Peanut Butter.

Discerning dieters interested in an indulgent treat can turn to Cookies and Corks to satisfy their inner foodie, while keeping with their diet plans. The company is expecting a hole-in-one with its new product line, CookieZen Bites, expected to debut at this summer’s Fancy Food Show.

“These will be 2-oz. ‘Grab-and-Go’ packs of our Sea Salt Chocolate Oatmeal and Zesty Lemon, our two most popular flavors,” says Englander. “It’s a great little package of four cookies in a flow-wrapped package. We’re excited to put our cookies in the hands of the consumer looking for a delicious, quick snack.”

Adult version

Cookies for grown-ups is an expanding trend across the segment. In fact, Lark Fine Foods, Essex, Maine, uses exactly that description in its line of adult cookie fare.

“Because our cookies are primarily ‘cookies for grown-ups,’ cookies with pretty sophisticated and complex flavor profiles, our target audience is the consumer with the grown-up palate,” says Mary Ann McCormick, managing partner. “As exotic flavors and ingredients become more familiar to the population, consumers become more comfortable with trying new products that include these ingredients.”

Lark Fine Food’s cookies are packaged in bags with simple graphics and have a window in the front to show consumers exactly what they are getting. The company recently introduced two new shortbread cookies to its line: Burnt Sugar and Fennel and Whole Grain Espresso Chip.

“Burnt Sugar and Fennel Shortbread packs an unusual punch with chewy, rich pieces of burnt sugar and the unexpected fennel,” says McCormick. “The Whole Grain Espresso Chip Shortbread is loaded with energy-revving espresso and rich chocolate. It’s deep, smooth, creamy and 100% whole wheat.”

Also included in the foodie-friendly line are Cha-Chas, a Mexican dark chocolate cookie; Coco Locos, a coconut-and-rum cookie; Whole Grain Lady Birds made with oats, cranberries and bittersweet chocolate; Mighty Gingers gingersnaps; Polenta Pennies lemon-and-raisin cookies; and Russian Tea Cakes.

Because adults tend to be more diet-conscious than children, Lark Fine Foods ensures that its products can be enjoyed in moderation. “Last year, we introduced single-serve packages of two of our cookies–Salted Rosemary Shortbread and Cha-Chas,” says McCormick. “These mini packages are great for grab-and-go sales at the register and have also sold well at sandwich counters.”

Biscottis are another baked good generally enjoyed by sophisticated adults, perhaps with an espresso or latte. Nonni’s Biscotti, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., makes a luxurious, high-quality cookie with gourmet ingredients.

“We produce our biscotti with the same family recipe using real eggs, butter and gourmet bittersweet chocolate to give our biscotti a light, crunchy texture that is delicately sweet,” says Patricia Wong Bridges, brand marketing manager.

Answering consumer demand for affordable luxuries that can be enjoyed anywhere, the company introduced its Biscotti Bites into grocery stores last fall. “Biscotti Bites are an easy solution for consumers who want to snack on gourmet cookies on the go; it communicates a less ‘fancy’ and more ‘everyday’ biscotti,” says Bridges.

The three varieties offered include Caramel Milk Chocolate, Classic Almond and Almond Dark Chocolate. The latter, Bridges says, is a classic almond biscotti dipped in gourmet dark chocolate, a modern tradition combining the delicate flavors of biscotti with the rich taste of the finest chocolate.

Complex flavor profiles in a simple cookie bite is a trend within the industry with which Sara Snacker of Rye, N.Y., is very familiar. Known predominantly for its Chipn’etzel cookie, a shortbread cookie baked with pretzel bits, potato chips and a light sugar dusting, the company plans to add a new S’mores cookie to its line. Made with marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate chips, the cookie joins Dark Chocolate Chipn’etzel, Vanilla Milkshake and Lemonade Cookie to bring familiar, childhood flavor combinations to the simple bite of a cookie.

Other gourmet flavors that consumers are searching for include regional ingredients and local fare. Edibelles LLC is a Savannah, Ga.-based bakery that brings Southern sweets to a national audience. After consumers get a taste of these cookies, the Augusta National will be the second-best known product in Georgia.

“We started Edibelles in July 2011 as an answer to increased interest and the need for more choices of local and regional Southern-inspired cookies and snacks,” says Madeleine Warren, managing partner.

Edibelles has hit an ace with its Sophisticated Shortbread Cookies, Beloved Butter Pecan Cookies, Choice Chocolate Cookies and, since the company is based in Georgia after all, Perfectly Peach Cookies. “We anticipate not only expanding our cookie assortment–a chocolate-covered line and a citrus line–but also developing more snack-type items, as well as gift packs,” says Warren.

Edibelles won’t be a rookie for long, if it keeps driving down the green with the momentum it has already built.

New links to try

Even bakeries that have been around for years, such as Archway and Stella D’Oro, owned by Snyder’s-Lance Inc., Charlotte, N.C., are experimenting with new ingredient combinations.

“Archway cookies introduced two new varieties in March 2012,” says Julie Carr, brand manager. Pecan Turtle was inspired by the classic candy that is its namesake.

“Pecan Turtle is a new soft-baked cookie with milk chocolate chunks, caramel pieces and pecans, all baked into a delicious soft cookie,” says Carr.

The company also has reintroduced Rocky Road to its line, thanks to a vote by Facebook fans. “This classic recipe is a soft chocolate cookie bursting with semisweet chocolate pieces, crunchy walnuts and marshmallow bits,” says Carr. “Fans have told us this cookie is delicious when served warm with a side scoop of ice cream, and we couldn’t agree more.”

The new cookies join established varieties such as Triple Chocolate, Shortbread, Peanut Butter, Iced Lemonade, Ginger Snaps, Reduced Fat Ginger Snaps, Iced Oatmeal, Iced Molasses, Sugar Free Oatmeal, Raspberry Fruit Filled, Dutch Cocoa, Frosty Lemon, Coconut Macaroon, Oatmeal Raisin, Oatmeal, Molasses and Windmill, a windmill-shaped, spiced cookie with molasses and almonds.

“Stella D’Oro recently launched a new version of its popular Swiss Fudge: Chocolate Swiss Fudge,” says Carr. “This star-shaped chocolate cookie has a center filled with pure, delicious fudge.”

The Chocolate Swiss Fudge cookie is a part of the manufacturer’s line that includes Almond Delight, Angelica Goodies, Egg Jumbo, Chocolate Margherite, Margherite Vanilla, Roman Egg Biscuit and Swiss Fudge.

Stella D’Oro and Archway are the pros on the sophisticated sweets tour, but the rookie brands aren’t far behind.

Classic creations revisited

Sometimes, consumers can’t help but crave classic ingredients when searching for a sweet indulgence. Because more consumers are becoming calorie counters, many cookie manufacturers are creating perfectly portioned packages of their products.

“These trends have given a boost to our individually-wrapped and easy on-the-go baked goods,” states Nikkie McBrayer, category marketing manager for Otis Spunkmeyer, San Leandro, Calif. “It seems consumers have less and less time these days to sit and eat in a foodservice establishment. Combine that with consumers having pulled back their away-from-home dollars over the years, and it becomes really important for an operator to get that on-the-go/impulse purchase.”

Bite-sized products are just one way manufacturers are creating portion-controlled lines of classic cookies.

“Our bite-sized cookies are being positioned as a way to control calories and provide a better quality cookie for consumers looking for a ‘small’ cookie to replace the larger alternative,” says MJ Sparks, director of sales and marketing for Ellison Bakery Inc. “As a relatively new brand, we continue to focus on developing our core product lines, as well as some line extensions.”

The Fort Wayne, Ind.-based company introduced Frosty Lemon and Chocolate Mint Chunk cookies to its soft cookie line and Oatmeal Raisin, Gingersnap and Chocolate Chip to its bite-size, on-the-go bag line.

“The bags are our first move from larger, soft cookies into a small ‘snap’ type cookie,” says Sparks.

The market is also leaning toward healthier ingredients and gluten- and nut-free products that still have the familiar cookie flavors with which consumers are familiar. HomeFree LLC, Windham, N.H., specializes in allergen-free cookies.

“HomeFree has always been about providing healthy snack options, especially for kids,” says Jill Robbins, president.

The company’s Mini Cookies are a favorite among busy consumers looking for a healthy, allergen-free treat.

“Home Free’s single-serve cookie pack is perfect for on-the-go,” says Robbins. “About 130 calories, no trans fat or cholesterol, 100 percent whole grain and delicious.”

So delicious that it’s Gluten Free Vanilla Mini Cookies won a Best Snack award from Shape, a consumer magazine devoted to fitness and healthy eating. Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chocolate Chip are also available in the Gluten Free Mini Cookies line.

Another company creating classic cookies for the allergen-free market is Fancypants Baking Co., East Walpole, Massachusetts. “We operate in a dedicated peanut- and tree-nut-free facility, and are rigorous about ingredient sourcing to ensure that we can guarantee customers with nut allergies that our products are safe,” says Justin Housman, founding partner.

The company recently introduced a new line of Crunch! Cookies that includes classic varieties such as Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate, Brown Sugar Oatmeal and Gingersnap.

“We are focused on providing consumers with the option for a small, affordable indulgence,” says Housman. “At only 50 calories per cookie, we have created a product that is not a diet food, not a ‘reduced- calorie’ item, but rather a delicious ‘real’ cookie that fits into a healthy diet.”

Organic is another big trend in traditional cookies. Wholly Wholesome, Chester, N.J., makes all-natural, 70% organic cookies in Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chunk Pecan, Oatmeal Raisin, Oatmeal Cranberry Orange and Peanut Butter.

Fitting cookies into a healthy diet may seem like a challenge, but Lenny and Larry’s is consistently landing on the green with its cookie line. Whether consumers are searching for a high-protein or all-natural product, the Northridge, Calif.-based company has it all covered.

“The Complete Cookie is the trend!” says Barry Turner, chief executive officer and founder. “Being all-natural and high-protein has always been the driving force in our sales and people love the single-serve cookie option.”

Offered in six varieties–Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip, Pumpkin, Oatmeal Raisin, Lemon Poppy and Double Chocolate–the Complete Cookie contains 15 g. of protein, 5 g. of fiber and 0 g. of trans-fat.

“We are wrapping up development on Muscle Cookies currently, and will launch this summer,” says Turner. “Muscle Cookies will have 20 g. of whey protein and 4 g. to 5 g. of fiber; be all-natural; and have no sugar alcohols, no high-fructose corn syrup and nothing artificial, plus the packaging will be fun and memorable!”

Lenny and Larry’s is also working on a gluten-free cookie as market demand for gluten-free products continues to increase. 

Whether they include unique ingredients or sophisticated flavors, or are created as gluten-free or healthier versions of a standard classic, the rookie brands on the cookie tour are giving the old pros a run for their money.