Today is National Cookie Day—a day to celebrate all things cookie by eating a few or giving them as gifts. And there’s another reason to celebrate: an unmistakable link between cookies and small business.
Because while cookies may be our all-time favorite guilty pleasure, they’ve also played starring roles in a number of small businesses. Where could we satisfy a sweet tooth without the many independent bakeries, in-store bakeries, moms (and pops) who started cookie businesses? What about those special occasions where just the right gift was a tin of cookies or a cookie bouquet? And then there’s what many consider to be the ultimate cookie business, the Girl Scouts.
Cookies, of course, are the tip of the bakery-and-pastry iceberg, sharing space with cupcakes, pies, cakes and other more exotic sweets on shelves but not necessarily in our minds and hearts. Cookies tend to inhabit their own emotional space, which is why we can take out the fat and gluten, add in healthier ingredients, experiment with new textures and flavors…and cookies prevail. From humble Dutch beginnings as tester-dough ‘little cakes,’ cookies today are consumed by Americans to the tune of more than 2 billion a year—more than 300 cookies for every individual.
Foodprocessing.com reports that, according to the Center for Culinary Development and Packaged Facts in San Francisco, several trends are driving the bakery industry in the U.S., including convenience, premium products, wellness, nostalgia/comfort and global flavors. The demise of Hostess notwithstanding, the site says that the last several years have been good overall for baked goods, as consumers have sought out “affordable indulgences” and comfort foods to help see them through tough times.
This seems to mirror the ‘lipstick effect’ so often referenced in conjunction with the recession. While we may have had to forego bigger, more expensive luxuries, we’ve learned to give ourselves some smaller treats along the way. As with cosmetics, sweets are a way to satisfy this need. And as the site further explains, the industry has found ways to combine ‘healthy’ and ‘indulgence,’ through ingredient and things like ‘bite sizing’ cookies, brownies and cupcakes.
While ‘bakery’ generally implies a variety of offerings, over the years, some have specialized in a single category, offering sub-varieties within that single broad group. There are cookie companies and more recently, businesses that specialize in cupcakes. There are also those that specialize in baked goods from a specific country or culture.
One of the most successful cookie companies was started in 1977 by Debbi Fields in Palo Alto. Her only marketing strategy at the time was handing out warm cookies to passersby. By focusing on quality and customers, “Mrs. Fields” became a veritable cookie empire.
According to the company’s blog, Mrs. Fields Secrets, the company hasn’t forgotten its roots as a (very) small business. With its second annual Small Business Holiday Giveaway, the company will provide gourmet gifts for a deserving small business, based on reader nominations.
But many feel that the ultimate cookie small business-to-empire story belongs to the Girl Scouts, who, over several decades managed to turn a bake sale in Oregon into a $700 million operation that the organization says now sells 200 million boxes a year. A Business Insider piece featured on Small business on MSNBCNews says that the Girl Scouts built the booming business through “decades of smart organizational choices, good products and an unbeatable brand image.” The authors go even further and offer what must be the ultimate compliment: “This incredible growth story is a model for non-profit and for-profit companies.” You only thought you knew Girl Scout cookies! Read about them here: Girl Scout cookie empire.
Finally, a great story (and great ideas) from Ann Arbor bakery Sweet Heather Ann. The bakery’s cookie-focused strategies boost December sales and will inspire you to re-think your ‘slow periods!’
Image courtesy of Jomphong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net