Wake up and smell the whole grains

by Lucy Sutton
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Lisa Newmann wants to change the face of the snack industry. Recipient of an Award of Product Excellence from Julia Child and the American Institute of Wine and Food, Ms. Newmann is enjoying a long career in the baking industry with cookie and cake companies. Now she is president and “Head Cookiehead” of Cookiehead Snacks, Housatonic, MA, which specializes in more nutritious versions of conventional sweet snacks including cookies and brownies.

"Snacking is prevalent and, frankly, a good idea as opposed to three large meals a day and uncomfortable hunger in between," Ms. Newmann said. "But the sweet snacks that are ubiquitous in mainstream outlets — supermarkets, convenience stores, etc. — are mostly, and unnecessarily, made with ingredients primarily intended to extend shelf life and fill the belly inexpensively. We should not be eating food that isn’t food or saving money at the expense of nutritional content."

Most recently, the company overhauled an ever-present breakfast food: muffins. Miniaturized versions of muffins made with sprouted spelt flour, Wakey Cakes are now available in Wild Blueberry, Banana Flaxseed and Cranberry Orange flavors.

"In one serving, without additives or powders, they provide a minimum of 12 g of whole grains, good fats from flax and sunflower seeds, and benefits from the fruit — which, by the way, is the first ingredient on the legend," Ms. Newmann said of Wakey Cakes, which have a serving size of two mini muffins. "All this with far less sodium than most mainstream snacks, and they are priced affordably." Twelve 1-oz muffins retail for $5.99.

Targeting "kids of all ages," Cookiehead packages its products with colorful labels drawing attention to the whole grain content. The company offers product demos at grocery stores and promotional events where customers typically buy a package on the spot, according to Ms. Newmann.

"Our package graphics and product flavors are designed to attract consumers who have not been exposed to whole grains, flaxseed, etc., or healthier versions of mainstream snacks," Ms. Newmann said. "So the real targets are skeptics or innocent eaters who may not know that delicious can be associated with nutrition." She added that once consumers start buying Cookiehead products, they tend to stay loyal to the brand.

When choosing the flavors for Wakey Cakes, the company began with the three most popular muffin flavors other than chocolate chunk, which Ms. Newmann said is "rather un-breakfast" and not a good start to the morning. "We’re based in New England, so cranberry and wild blueberry seemed to make sense," she said. "The banana flaxseed, when we developed it, was so delicious and seemed to be everyone’s favorite."

Ms. Newmann also hinted at a future Wakey Cake: Goji Banana. The Tibetan goji berries in the formula bake into a pink-orange hue and offer antioxidant content. "We sort of take a 'Steve Jobs approach,'" she said of product development. "With faith in our own palate and design strategy, we launch new products when we think they are ready."

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Before they were available nationwide, Wakey Cakes received the Grab-and-go Breakfast runner-up award in Health magazine's Best New Eats of 2011.

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