When it comes to cookies, consumers want it all—great taste, better-for-you ingredients, preservative- and allergen-free formulations, convenient packaging and smaller sizes. A tall order, you say? Well, yes, but to a great degree, cookie producers are answering the call.

Consumers continue to seek out great-tasting cookies, but now, they’re looking for great-tasting cookies that also contain healthy ingredients. Taste remains one of the biggest sales drivers in the cookie category, but consumers are expecting healthier formulations made with natural ingredients. In addition, they’re seeking innovative flavors, convenient packaging and clean labels that provide more information about a cookie’s content. To a great degree, cookie producers are answering the call.

Consumer demand for foods that have a positive impact on health, including functional foods, is greater than ever, says Matt Duffy, director of marketing, Nonni’s Foods LLC, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. “Consumers are seeking cookies with added nutritional value, including fiber and protein,” he explains. “This trend is further reflected in the progression of the ‘simple food’ movement. Consumers’ perceptions remain focused on a ‘less is more’ mentality—[they’re] more inclined to purchase snacks where whole, real ingredients are used and visible on the label.”

And according to IRI, Chicago, cookie sales overall amounted to $7.691 billion, up slightly from over a year ago, at 2.64%.


Thin and crispy

Consumers are buying cookies now more than ever, perhaps because more bakers are introducing new products with the right combination of great taste, healthy ingredients, convenient packaging and clean labels.

For instance, Almondina/YZ Enterprises Inc., Maumee, Ohio, recently introduced a product line called Almondina Toastees, which is more of a low-calorie snack cookie/crisp. “It’s similar to our traditional Almondina cookie line,” explains Jason Markham, vice president of sales and marketing. “However, we’ve made these cookies bite-sized and package them in a resealable pouch. We use no salt or fat in the recipe. We use only a few all-natural ingredients and, as with all of our products, whole-roasted California almonds are one of the main ingredients.”

Nonni’s Foods added two new flavors to its THINaddictives cookie line. Banana Dark Chocolate and Blueberry Oat THINaddictives were recently introduced to the grocery channel, Duffy notes. Both fruity, almond flavors cater to consumers who crave wholesome, natural ingredients. Low in sugar, fat and carbohydrates, THINaddictives come in 100-calorie packs.


Small and scrumptious

Walkers Shortbread, Happauge, N.Y., unveiled an all-natural, bite-sized Mini Scottie Dog Shortbread cookie made with four ingredients: butter; flour; sugar; and salt. The cookies contain no artificial colors or flavors. “They’re a perfect snack for kids and adults who are looking for a fun way to satisfy their cookie cravings,” says Lisa Sherman, brand manager. A resealable, grab-and-go bag features 42 bite-sized shortbread cookies.

Launched in February by Biscomerica Corp., Rialto, Calif., Basil’s Chocolate Chip Mini Bites are aimed at school vending machines, a healthy niche for bakers interested in expanding into vending/foodservice. Available in 1.5-oz. bags, the Mini Bites have zero trans-fat and zero cholesterol, according to Kathy O’Brien, vice president, sales/vending. The company also offers 2-oz. bags of Knott’s Berry Farm Shortbread cookies in apricot, blueberry, boysenberry, raspberry and strawberry. The latter two flavors also come in 20-oz. gable-top cartons for mass market distribution.

In a move that unites two popular brands, Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., and Mars Inc., McLean, Va., recently unveiled three Keebler cookies that feature M&M’s. The additions include Chips Deluxe Rainbow Mini Cookies. The cookies feature M&M’s Minis Chocolate Candies and chocolate chips, and come in various sizes, including 12- and 30-count packs. “The colorful fun and real chocolate of M&M’s add a great-tasting touch to our Chips Deluxe cookies,” says Brad Goist, vice president and general manager of Kellogg’s Snacks.


Twice as nice

The Christie Cookie Co., Nashville, Tenn., recently introduced two cookie products that are kosher-certified dairy, made with real butter, have no added preservatives and are trans-fat-free: Blonde Brownie; and Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookie. Blonde Brownie is filled with toffee and chocolate chips, and laced with an all-natural caramel drizzle. It’s available pre-baked and frozen in 64-oz. trays, four trays per case.

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookie is a sweet-and-salty combination that includes salty pretzels, honey-roasted peanuts, toffee and dark chocolate. It is available in 1.45-oz. and 2.5-oz. size dough rounds.

Good and gluten-free

Pamela’s Products, Ukiah, Calif., launched a gluten-free Figgies & Jammies fig bar line that features a fruit filling and a cake-like crust. The filling is made without artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, combining sweet figs with tart berries. The cookies are egg-free, low in fat, sodium and cholesterol and made without corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or trans-fat. Four flavors are available: Mission Fig; Blueberry & Fig; Raspberry & Fig; and Strawberry & Fig.

“Many people with gluten sensitivities have had to give up on iconic fig bars unless they have the time and specialty ingredients to bake their own,” says CEO Pamela Giusto-Sorrells. “A taste of our Figgies & Jammies will make them feel right at home.”

Enjoy Life Foods, a gluten-free/allergen-free cookie baker in Schiller Park, Ill., recently enhanced the recipe in its Soft Cookie line, moving from sorghum flour to a more nutritional flour blend, developed internally. “This will allow us to introduce people to more nutritional flours such as buckwheat and millet,” says Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer. “The change has made the cookies softer and better tasting. Our sales numbers indicate that consumers view this as a positive change.” (Read more about Enjoy Life Foods in the May 2014 issue of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery or at www.snackandbakery.com.)


Quick and convenient

Many cookie producers are positioning their products to compete in the snack bar category. Christie Cookie, for instance, offers an individually wrapped cookie for consumers looking for a quick, convenient treat on-the-go. “It’s just as easy to grab a cookie and go as it is to grab a snack bar and go,” says Tony Schmidt, corporate chef. “Our new cookie, the Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookie, has a similar flavor of sweet plus salty that snack bars often have.

“Many of our customers bake off our cookies daily and offer them in a self-serve display, making Christie Cookie a fresh-baked, convenient treat. That’s where our freshness delivers above and beyond a prepackaged snack bar.”

New cookie packaging innovations offer greater shopper convenience through resealability and more descriptive labeling. “We’ve packaged our new Almondina Toastees in a resealable pouch,” Markham notes. “It’s perfect for on-the-go consumers who want a healthy snack or meal replacement.”

Biscomerica Corp. has added nutritional selling points to the front of packages; this information includes calorie count, fiber content and that the product contains no trans-fats. “To service the rebagging trade, we offer custom bag weights from 1 oz. to meet their individual client requirements,” says O’Brien.

Enjoy Life also recently updated its Crunchy Cookie packaging to be more in-line with its Soft Baked Cookie packaging. It features bright, eye-catching graphics with front-of-the-carton allergen labeling to make shopping easier for health-conscious consumers. “We are careful when it comes to over-cluttering the front of the package,” Warady says. “The GFCO (Gluten-Free Certification Organization) and the kosher symbol has always been on the front of the package. As more consumers look for verified nonGMO (genetically modified organisms) product, we are moving the nonGMO label to the front of package as well.”


Room for growth

Great opportunities for growth exist in the cookie product category, experts agree. “The healthy snacking category is really big and expanding,” says Markham. “People are trying to eat healthier. I think you will see more and more cookies coming out with nutritional benefits.” Of course, fighting for space in a relatively mature category dominated by large companies is a challenge.”

Warady says, “We believe that there is a huge opportunity in both foodservice and convenience stores. As more schools and universities require products that are safe for people with food allergies and intolerance, Enjoy Life plans to offer Grab ‘N Go-packed cookies that meet these needs. We see the same being true for the c-store channel.”

In a move to expand their reach, Mrs. Fields, Broomfield, Colo., and Interbake Foods, Richmond, Va., are offering Nibblers miniature cookies in grocery stores. Soft-baked and snack size, Nibblers Cookies made their debut in the early 1980s, but until now have been available only through catalogs, online and at Mrs. Fields kiosks. The cookies come in Milk Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and Double Chocolate Fudge flavors, all fudge-dipped. They are packaged 15 to a carton in foil-wrapped trays for freshness.

“By putting Nibblers Cookies right where customers do the rest of their grocery shopping, we’re introducing this popular product to a whole new audience and making it easier to grab a carton and start sharing,” says Kevin McDonough, president of Interbake Foods.

Of course, developing new cookie products that taste great and have nutritional benefits isn’t easy. Catering to consumer trends also presents a challenge to the cookie segment and the snack food industry as a whole, according to Duffy. “Maintaining shopper interest in snack products is more difficult, as specialized diets and the desire for real, simple ingredients become increasingly popular,” he says. “Demand for gluten-free and whole-grain products exploded in 2013. Some brands responded by changing product recipes entirely. It’s challenging to not lose sight of the original product’s foundation when ‘innovating’ a product to be ‘functional.’”