While overall new cookie product launches were down year-over-year, unit sales from many of the leading cookie brands were up, no doubt benefiting from consumers’ pandemic-fueled home-snacking binge, says Allison Leibovich, senior technical service specialist, bakery, Cargill, Minneapolis. “Nostalgia was on full display, as unit sales for vanilla wafers, sugar cookies and snickerdoodle cookies all posted double-digit sales increases.”
With the onset of COVID-19, many consumers have sought whatever can bring comfort or incite a sense of joy or relief, says Margalit Gould, brand manager, Simple Mills, Chicago. “Within packaged foods, the cookie category has been well-positioned to capitalize on this trend.” She particularly emphasizes the importance of brands and formats that signal comfort or nostalgia, noting recent strong performances of classic sandwich cookies, as well as those with craft-baked or homemade positioning, including in natural-leaning brands.
“That being said, given the continued uncertainty in this climate and its prolonging tenure, consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious—choosing more better-for-you brands across categories, including cookies, for themselves and their families, with particular consideration for brands that can deliver on both taste and purposeful ingredients,” says Gould.
“No one could have anticipated the challenges of 2020, but the initial response to the stress of these unprecedented times was classic, literally and figuratively,” says Julia Decruz, R&D director and innovation team member, PROVA, Inc., Danvers, MA. The response? Seek comfort in familiar baked favorites. “Cookies are comforting and strike a strong positive emotional memory chord.”
Earlier this year, PROVA noticed an increase in requests for its vanilla extracts and flavors, as well as its natural vanillin replacer, Natural Provanil US7, a cost-effective, clean-label alternative to vanillin, notes Decruz. The vanilla oleoresin that coats the natural vanillin, she says, offers heat stability while still delivering the sweet vanilla top-note characteristic of vanillin. Other top flavor requests included salted caramel and allergen-free nut flavors, including maple-nut and hazelnut praline, as well as alcohol-inspired flavors that blend with other classic flavors, evoking a warming effect, she says.
Premiumization and indulgence are two big trends in the cookie space, as brands add decadent inclusions and highlight premium ingredients like dark chocolate with high cacao content, says Leibovich. “Creamier and more-abundant fillings, tantalizing frostings, and rich flavor cues like ‘triple chocolate’ are all part of today’s cookie landscape.”
Chocolate chip cookies remain the standard-bearer for the category, Leibovich notes. “However, even these time-tested classics can go upscale, with artisan-cut chunks of indulgent, high-cacao chocolate,” she recommends.