Slam Dunkin’

New varieties, better-for-you offerings and line extensions of old favorites are making a splash in the cookies and crackers aisle.

There is no unemployment level high enough or recession deep enough to make sales of cookies and crackers crumble. In fact, the dire economic news has sparked a desire for comfort foods, leading many shoppers to re-examine the aisle, where they are finding old favorites along with line extensions and other new products.

For the 52 weeks ended Sept. 4, dollar sales of cookies in food, drug and mass, excluding Walmart, membership clubs and convenience stores, were $4.215 billion, a 2.5% increase over the previous year, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. During the same period sales of crackers were $4.207 billion, a 3.0% increase.

“Cookies never really go out of style,” says Steve Dawson, president of Walkers Shortbread, based in Hauppauge, N.Y. “People eat cookies year round.” Walkers markets a line of authentic Scottish shortbread. “The brand is doing really well,” Dawson says. “We are up solid gains all through this year. There’s been a bit of swing back to simplicity and authenticity of product, and we are certainly that. Our ingredients are butter, flour, sugar, salt. One can’t get better than that.”

While not tinkering with its age-old recipe, Walkers does continue to innovate. Its latest incarnation is Walkers Shortbread Scottie Dogs, cookies in the shape of the beloved pets. “Scottie Dogs are going to be great for us,” Dawson says. “We have a big holiday business and are known for our holiday items because we are a big gifting brand. Our Scottie Dogs are very cute. We’ve had tremendous feedback. In fact, they’ve gone viral. We reached out to a number of Scottie dog associations, of which there are many, and these people are passionate about their pets. We’ve had a host of people ordering direct from us. It is quite surprising.”

Kraft’s Nabisco brand is innovating with new twists on old favorites. In mid-August, the East Hanover, N.J.-based division of Kraft rolled out Triple Double Oreo, combining two layers of Oreo cream, one chocolate and one original, with three layers of Oreo cookies. “Our fans’ passion and enthusiasm has challenged us to raise our game,” says Jessica Robinson, associate director of consumer engagement at Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods. “We are looking forward to engaging with Oreo fans as they share their twisting, licking and dunking movements with the new Triple Double Oreo cookie.”

Kraft has also expanded its popular Oreo Fudge Cremes fudge-covered Oreos to include Golden Oreo Fudge Cremes and Peanut Butter Creme Oreo Fudge Cremes. Seasonal limited-edition “Football Oreo” football-shaped Oreos are back for a second year.

Healthy cookies

To appeal to health-conscious consumers, earlier this year Kraft introduced Nabisco Newtons Fruit Thins—thin, crisp cookies made with real fruit and containing eight grams of whole grains per serving. They are available in Cranberry Citrus Oat, Blueberry Brown Sugar, Fig & Honey, and Chocolate Raspberry varieties.

Kellogg Co., based in Battle Creek, Mich., is also targeting health-conscious consumers with its Keebler Fudge Granola Bars. Keebler’s first-ever granola bars are a combination of oats, cereal flakes, rice and honey with Keebler fudge covering the bottom of the bars. Available in chocolate chip or peanut butter flavors, each bar has 10 grams of whole grain and is a good source of fiber, say company officials.

But who knew cookies could be nutritious too? Apparently officials at Denver-based Suncore Products did, as it introduced the WhoNu? line of cookies in May. Available in Soft & Chewy Chocolate Chip, Crispy Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Sandwich Crème and Vanilla Sandwich Crème varieties, WhoNu? cookies contain 20 essential vitamins and minerals. According to the manufacturer, each serving contains as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal, as much calcium and vitamin D as an 8-ounce glass of milk and as much vitamin C as a cup of blueberries.

“Children are snacking more than ever and they’re snacking on nutrient-deficient foods with empty calories,” says Mike Bloom, vice president of marketing for Suncore. “Cookies remain the number one snack item for kids ages 5 through 12, contributing to the more than $5 billion spent on prepackaged cookies each year in the U.S. WhoNu? brand cookies provide an alternative to other indulgent, nutrient-poor treats on the market, offering kids a great-tasting way to fuel development.”

Delta connection

San Francisco-based Lotus Bakeries North America has been using a partnership with Delta Airlines to fuel its expansion across the U.S. It is a division of the family-owned Belgian company that bakes Biscoff, the buttery, brown sugar cookies that Delta has been serving on its flights since 1984. The company also offers Anna’s wafers, which are from Sweden and available in Ginger, Almond, Chocolate Mint and Orange flavors.

When Delta introduced Biscoff, the airline’s Atlanta headquarters was flooded with passenger calls asking where they could buy them. That led to a telephone number on the wrapper, followed by a catalog and direct marketing business, and finally retail. “First we started with Walgreens and other drugstores, then Kroger came on board and now we are in more than 50% of the retail stores in the U.S.,” says Marco de Leeuw, executive president of Lotus Bakeries. “We have lots of fans and are getting more and more, but we are still only in 50% of the stores in the States, so there is still lots of opportunity.”

Biscoff has proven so popular that Lotus has expanded it to include a Biscoff spread, a peanut butter-type spread with the taste of Biscoff cookies that is merchandised in the peanut butter set. “People love our cookies, but the feedback we get on the spread is just amazing,” de Leeuw says. “In eight months we are already at 26% ACV, which for a pretty small European product is pretty amazing. Retailers see us as the new Nutella, which is a nice compliment.”

Lotus is in the middle of a packaging relaunch for its Anna’s line. “We have a nice consumer promotion where people can get a free Anna’s tin to keep their cookies fresh,” de Leeuw says. To build sales, Lotus has teamed with food broker Advantage Sales & Marketing. “We do a lot of things that we call in-store brand activation,” he says. “We do a lot of sampling in the stores and try to build secondary placements. Our products are very good and perceived as high quality. We are getting more and more fans. If your products have the right rotation then sooner or later you will get expansion of shelf space.”

While best known for its confections, York, Pa.-based Wolfgang Candy Co. is also a player in the high-quality cookie sector with Eve’s Butter Cookie, a milk chocolate topped butter cookie. “We also have the Eve’s Milk Chocolate Topped Caramel Truffle cookie and a Dark Chocolate Topped Raspberry Truffle cookie,” says Steve Schmid, managing partner, national sales. Wolfgang also makes a similar private label version for two leading drug chains.

In the pipeline is Eve’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle cookie. “That happens to be one of the best-sellers every year for Girl Scout cookies, so we figured let’s make an upscale truffle cookie with peanut butter flavor,” Schmid says. “We think it is going to do well. It’s done real well in tests.”

Line extensions are also being undertaken by Nonni’s Food Co., the Tulsa, Okla.-based manufacturer of Nonni’s Biscotti, which has introduced Nonni’s Biscotti Bites, bite-size versions of its famous biscotti available in Classic Almond, Almond Dark Chocolate and Caramel Milk Chocolate varieties. Biscotti Bites are packaged in a handy resealable bag.

“In order for us to better service our customers, we wanted to find out what we could do better to enhance their experience with our product,” says Matt Duffy, marketing director for Nonni’s. “Biscotti Bites are an easy solution for consumers who want to snack on gourmet cookies on-the-go; it communicates a less ‘fancy’ and more ‘everyday’ biscotti.”

Thinner Triscuits

New packaging is also being seen on Kraft’s Nabisco Triscuit line. “Our Triscuits Thin Crisps box was redesigned to feature a wide mouth for easy sharing,” says Whitney Vogler, senior associate brand manager. “We know people love to snack and share their Triscuit Thin Crisps and we wanted to make the experience even easier. The new snack-friendly container expands with a simple squeeze to allow snackers easier access to their favorite cracker.”

The brand continues to grow with its Thin Crisps Chile Pepper flavor. “New Triscuit Thin Crisps Chile Pepper is bold and spicy, perfect for snacking. Triscuit Thin Crisps are less dense and crispier than regular Triscuit crackers,” Vogler says.

Consumers perceive crackers as a healthier snack option, says Chris Gunsch, director of marketing at Westchester, Ill.-based Chipita America, manufacturer of the Old London line of Melba Toast and Melba Snacks. “Our research shows people want to eat healthy, but they don’t want to give up the taste,” he says. “So we’ve enhanced our flavors and came out with some new ones. We enhanced the Sesame flavor and Garlic flavor and we changed the Plain White to a Sea Salt so it has more flavor to it. We added a White Cheddar and a Spicy 3 Pepper and those have been going very well where we have gotten distribution.”

Sourdough and Rosemary & Olive Oil flavors have been added to Melba Toast. “With Melba Toast we went with the whole grains and brought down the flavor a little bit as the toast is more of a bread replacement,” Gunsch says. “We don’t want it to overwhelm the taste of the meat or what is on top of it.”

Also new to the aisle are Old London Bagel Chips. “We made these over-the-top flavorful,” Gunsch says. Flavors include French Onion, Spicy Cheddar, Garlic and Sea Salt.

Chipita also manufactures JJ Flats, a flatbread that is co-branded with Old London. “Most of our competitors have flatbreads that are more crackers with seeds on top, but ours is more of a true flatbread,” Gunsch says. “It is more ethnic and more Mediterranean style.” Some retailers, like Stop & Shop, merchandise it in the deli, while others put it in the bread aisle or the cracker aisle. “It works best in the cracker aisle,” Gunsch says.  “As people are looking for a healthier snack they are going down that row and that has really helped us a lot. That is where Walmart has it and where we get a lot of movement.”

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