Today’s cookie definitely isn’t your grandfather’s.
It wasn’t so long ago that the cookie was a straightforward product. Flavors and inclusions were familiar, ingredients were traditional, and nutritional content was more or less ignored.
The cookie landscape is a little different today. Now, no ingredient or label claim goes unscrutinized, and no dietary concern can be left unaddressed. Consumers want health benefits from every product in their shopping cart, including those traditionally thought of as indulgences.
“People are more conscientious about their health these days, so ingredient quality is more of a driving trend,” explains Stephanie Robbins, director of marketing for Pamela’s Products in Ukiah, Calif. “Consumers are now looking more at all-natural and organic cookies, and we’re seeing big spikes in those sales.”
Even old favorites like ginger snaps are being revamped. The Ginger People, a Marina, Calif.-based company that specializes in premium ginger products, this year introduced an ampedup ginger snap that combines ground ginger, crystallized ginger and ginger juice. The introduction is right in line with the trend of bolder, spicier flavors being used throughout the general food arena.
Even the basic makeup of the cookie hasn’t gone untouched, as manufacturers rush to cater to those with dietary restrictions.
"I’d say the biggest trend in cookies is really the allergen issue,” notes Bryan Geschwill, C.E.O. of Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods, Bellingham, Wash., which produces a popular breakfast cookie line. “It seems to be at the top of everyone’s list, and it was in SPINS’ data that gluten-free is the fastest-growing cookie category.”
Robbins says the growth of categories like gluten-free is a mixed bag for everyone involved.
“On the one hand, it’s very exciting– the more companies are producing gluten-free foods, the more the retailer realizes the need,” she explains. “On the other hand, many of these manufacturers don’t understand the lengths they need to go to ensure their products are safe for those with gluten intolerance. It’s not just about creating a cookie without gluten ingredients.”
Geschwill says his company spent more than a year testing gluten-free products before deciding to add gluten- free options to the company’s cereal line rather than to its cookies, due to formulation difficulties.
As the cookie breaks out from traditional flavors and formulations, it’s also breaking with its traditional status as a treat. The cookie is being increasingly touted as a nutritious allin- one meal option, as evidenced by the growth of cookie diets and breakfast cookies.
Robbins sees cookies going in an additional direction.
“I really think that savory cookies are the next big trend, but these are most likely going to be a niche and not really hit the mainstream, at least not for a while,” she notes. “They’re intriguing, though, and great with a good glass of wine or tea.”
But with the cookie departing from the familiar, will it lose what makes it special? Geschwill doesn’t think so.
“The cookie is such a part of our country,” he explains, “it’s just in our genetic makeup, in our blood. We love cookies.”