Finding comfort in cookies

by Allison Sebolt
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If the data and trends are to be believed, the market for cookies in recent years has been flat and the outlook for future prospects anything but rosy. According to data from Mintel International, Chicago, cookie sales were flat between 2003 and 2008, and sales are only expected to grow 2% between 2008 and 2013. When inflation is factored in, the market is actually forecasted to decline 13% between 2008 and 2013.

Despite the data, MJ Sparks, national retail sales manager for Ellison Bakery, Inc., Fort Wayne, Ind., said there is room for optimism as consumers begin looking to cookies as a small indulgence during difficult economic times.

Mr. Sparks said a weak economy typically brings an increase in the category as people eat at home more often, look for more economical ways to "splurge" on a budget and try to find comfort in the foods they eat. He said that while Ellison Bakery hasn’t seen a huge sales increase during the current recession, the company has noticed a slight uptick — a significant milestone considering the market previously had been flat to down in recent years.

The market might not be growing by leaps and bounds, but innovation and growth opportunities are still out there. For its part, Ellison Bakery recently introduced nine varieties of soft premium cookies such as soft apple raisin, soft rocky road, soft raspberry filled, soft chocolate chip, soft oatmeal, soft oatmeal raisin, soft molasses, soft date filled, and classic sugar.

"For years we haven’t seen real innovation in the cookie category as far as flavor profiles go," Mr. Sparks said. "You can change the filling in certain cookies, you can make it a different color, but as far as real innovation, that has not existed."

In addition to the recently introduced varieties, Ellison Bakery has plans for further product expansion and innovation. The company is working on perfecting varieties such as frosted lemon and coconut macaroon as well as expanding the filled cookie line.

Ellison Bakery specifically focuses on soft cookies. Mr. Sparks said in the early days of grocery stores there weren’t the "die-cut" cookies there are today. Back then cookies were baked in small batches at small bakeries, hand-packaged and delivered to stores.

"Soft cookies have been part of the cookie category since the day it was conceived," Mr. Sparks said. "Consumers today are trying to find that cookie that for a number of different reasons hasn’t been in the market for a long time now. We want to satisfy that need."

He said the reasons preventing such a cookie from reaching the market include increased demands for better service and different economic influences preventing that service.

Mr. Sparks said Ellison Bakery’s cookies are soft because of the naturally high moisture content, and the company doesn’t rely on underbaking or the addition of an alginate solution.

Ellison Bakery said its new products are geared toward females over the age of 35. According to the company, this demographic makes the choices in the cookie aisle and is looking out for the whole family. Mr. Sparks said this consumer may buy the more popular brands for children but is looking for a premium cookie for herself.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, other recently introduced cookie products include Raspberry Filled Home Style Cookies from Archway, Nabisco Chips Ahoy! Selects Pecan Chocolate Chunk, and Kellogg’s All-Bran Rolled Fiber Wafers.

In March Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., introduced Nabisco Oreo Fun Stix in both regular and chocolate varieties. These products are wafer rolls that may be used as a straw to drink milk with or they may be eaten directly as a snack or dessert.

Kraft also has Oreo Cakesters, which are cake-like Oreos that come filled with peanut butter, chocolate or regular cream. In addition there are Golden Oreo Cakesters and Nilla Cakesters.

Battle Creek, Mich.-based The Kellogg Co. continues to fight for market share by coupling indulgent product launches with innovative line extensions.

"The desire for everyday indulgence and the need for more balanced snacking are two trends currently driving the cookies category," said Susanne Norwitz, spokesperson for Kellogg Co. "Indulgent cookies such as fudge and chocolate are growing as well as ‘better-for-you’ cookies represented by non-chocolate varieties, such as shortbread and oatmeal."

In February Kellogg launched Keebler Chips Deluxe Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies, and other recent introductions include Keebler Sandies Cashew Shortbread and Keebler Fudge Shoppe Half Dipped Fudge Grahams.

"Convenience and portability also remain key drivers for snack products, including cookies, which make 100-calorie versions of cookies important to the category," Ms. Norwitz said. "However, while consumers have embraced portion-controlled snacks as part of their sensible eating plans, they want snacks that taste like real cookies — not pressed cookie-like chips. Our Right Bites 100 Calorie packs offer consumers a satisfying snack alternative in a 100-calorie single-serving snack."

Kellogg added Keebler Right Bites Chips Deluxe Soft ‘n Chewy cookies to its offerings in June.

Mr. Sparks said the health and wellness trend with cookies has slowed with consumers looking more intently for the quality of ingredients rather than specific health issues being addressed.

Oatmeal and oatmeal raisin are some of the best selling soft cookies, Mr. Sparks said. He said some cookies are regional in popularity. As an example, the molasses cookie does particularly well in northern markets in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

According to Mintel, there were 655 new cookie product introductions in 2008 compared with 906 in 2007. For approximately the first six months of 2009 there were 194 new cookie product introductions. Top flavors for new cookies include chocolate, unflavored or plain, vanilla, cinnamon, peanut butter, dark chocolate and sugar. Top claims include kosher, low/no/reduced trans fat, all-natural and no additives or preservatives.

According to The Nielsen Co., total cookie sales in retail outlets was $5,036,177,976 for the year ended May 16, up 1% from the previous year.

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