NEW YORK — While battling cancer in her early twenties, Loren Brill Castle overhauled her diet, eliminating hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and most dairy ingredients. Still, she craved freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and was unable to find any that met her standards.
“I thought, there has to be a way instead of making it with the classic white flour, butter, tons of sugar, eggs … could I be using healthier oils, whole grain flours, super high-quality chocolate with no weird fillers?” she said. “I started to play with every type of sweetener, every type of oil, every type of flour, and taught myself how they all interact with each other and finally after hundreds of recipes, friends and family were like, ‘This is the best cookie I’ve ever eaten.’”
A decade later, her brand Sweet Loren’s is the top selling natural cookie dough in the United States, according to IRI data. The products, which are refrigerated and safe to eat raw, are sold at thousands of retailers and a growing number of restaurant chains nationwide. Sweet Loren’s is among the fastest growing private companies, recently landing on the Inc. 5000 list for the third consecutive year. (The latest ranking pegged the New York-based company at No. 1,077, with three-year growth of 451%).
“There is no one doing what we’re doing in cookie dough,” Ms. Brill Castle said. “There are other cookie doughs that might be plant-based or might be gluten-free, but no one is free of the top 14 allergens the way we are.”
Earlier iterations of the cookie dough contained allergens such as gluten and peanuts. Five years ago, when the brand became nationally distributed, feedback from consumers prompted Ms. Brill Castle to rethink the recipes.
“I would hear, ‘My son has a nut allergy. Do you have a nut-free version?’ ‘My husband is gluten-free. Do you have a gluten-free version?’ or ‘I’m trying to be plant-based…’” she said. “A lot of people would say it’s super niche … but we would get dozens and dozens of requests.”
She developed a chocolate chunk cookie with no gluten, dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs or soy, and found a dedicated facility to manufacture it. The product was an instant bestseller, she said.
The entire lineup is now vegan and allergen-free. Varieties include sugar, chocolate chunk, fudgy brownie and oatmeal cranberry.
“It’s been the best thing that ever happened to us,” she said. “We really own our own market now.”
She said her brand has attracted new shoppers to the refrigerated cookie dough category, including those who may have avoided purchasing leading brands Pillsbury and Nestle Toll House due to food allergies or dietary preferences. Retail sales of refrigerated cookie and brownie dough in US grocery, drug, mass market, convenience, military and select club and dollar stores reached $669.8 million in the 52 weeks ended Sept. 8, up 4.6% from the prior year, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Sweet Loren’s sales grew 21% during the period, hitting $25.98 million.
“We bring more dollars to the shelf, and we bring a whole new customer here to help grow the category,” Ms. Brill Castle said.
Earlier this year, Sweet Loren’s added a line of cookie dough packaged in portable, portion-controlled cups, based on survey results indicating half of the brand’s consumers eat the dough raw. Varieties include chocolate chunk, birthday cake and double chocolate.
“It’s not bakeable, but it’s super rich, super creamy,” Ms. Brill Castle said. “Edible cookie dough cups are not sold in every supermarket yet, so we’re looking to grow and pioneer that category really based on consumer demand.”
Future product launches will include seasonal and limited-edition cookie dough, Ms. Brill Castle said. Additionally, the brand may expand into other refrigerated dough products or shelf-stable, ready-to-eat products.
“We’re looking across a bunch of different categories in terms of where is the biggest white space and what’s the biggest demand for our product.”
She acknowledged her cookie dough isn’t a health food, but she markets the brand as a better option to enjoy as part of a balanced lifestyle.
“I know how precious life is,” said Ms. Brill Castle, who remains cancer-free. “I never want to live a life where I feel like I’m deprived.”