Albert L. (Bud) Cason
Albert L. (Bud) Cason knew his life’s calling at age 12 while spending time in a bakery owned by his aunt.
“Some children grow up in ballparks, but my father grew up in a bakery,” said Albert L. Cason Jr., his son.
Decades of success followed, including the pioneering of the bite-size cookie category through the Bud’s Best Cookie Co. Another highlight came this year as the American Society of Baking inducted Bud Cason into its Baking Hall of Fame.
Mr. Cason, now 80, remains chief executive officer and sole owner of Bud’s Best Cookies in Birmingham, Ala. His son is president and chief operating officer.
Margaret and Grady Sharp, Mr. Cason’s aunt and uncle, were two of the original owners of Greg’s Cookie Co., which opened in Birmingham in 1937. His aunt was running the business when Mr. Cason became fascinated with cookie production.
Mr. Cason said he saw bags of flour and sugar coming into the bakery and then the dough being dropped onto the pans. Cookies were created. At the grocery store he saw children pay pennies to get their hands on the cookies.
“So when I was 12, I knew exactly what I was going to do,” Mr. Cason said in his Feb. 27 acceptance speech during the Hall of Fame ceremony at the A.S.B.’s BakingTech 2017 in Chicago.
Mr. Cason swept floors, loaded trucks and helped in the mixing room of his aunt’s bakery. He spent two and a half years running route trucks, starting at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and going until 6 p.m. He worked in purchasing and costs payable and sales.
Eventually Mr. Cason worked his way up to president at the bakery. He saw opportunities for growth, such as expanding from selling cookies solely in the south to northern destinations like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington. His aunt was not as enthused about the idea.
“I was still her little nephew,” he said. “In her eyes, I was just dreaming things that couldn’t happen.”
Mr. Cason mortgaged his house to buy his aunt’s bakery in 1970 when sales were about $1 million per year. The bakery had a significant amount of debt. Mr. Cason said it would have been easier just to start another company.
“But I’ve learned in life that it’s never wrong to do the right thing,” he said.
The business soon began to flourish. Mr. Cason worked with local banks to buy Bishop Baking Co., a snack cake company in Cleveland, Tenn., in 1983.
Revenues of both companies combined were $23 million when Mr. Cason received an offer that a certified public accountant, a banker and an attorney all told him not to refuse. In 1986 they urged him to sell Greg’s Cookie Co. and Bishop Baking Co. The price might have been right, but a five-year non-compete clause led to some tough years.
“That was the worst five years of my life,” Mr. Cason said. “You know, they say when you sell something that you really love, it’s like losing a child. With me, it was like losing an entire family.”
Mr. Cason, 49 at the time of the sale, became active in investing. He took a nutrition class at the University of Alabama. The dietitian teaching the class talked about how people wanting something sweet will meet their desire in the first two bites of the sweet item.
Sensing a market opportunity, Mr. Cason began planning his bite-size cookie venture. During class, he made designs for equipment that would make bite-size cookies.
Mr. Cason founded Bud’s Best Cookies in 1991 as construction of an 89,000-square-foot building began. The first year sales were $1.5 million, but they rose, reaching $18 million by 1993.
The company began contract manufacturing for a national baking company in 1995, winning a “Co-packer of the Year Award” in 1998 for manufacturing excellence.
A third addition to the facility was finished in 2002, adding 47,000 square feet of warehouse space. One of the 80-foot ovens was extended to 160 feet, doubling the sandwich cookie production capability to 8,000 sandwich cookies per minute from 4,000.
Today, the facility and its 175 employees turn out more than 1 million cookies an hour, including conventional-sized ones under the Uncle Al’s brand. Annual sales have surpassed $33 million.
While the cookies mostly are sold in the south, Bud’s Best Cookies reach other markets farther north such as Milwaukee, New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
In addition to his business, Mr. Cason has been involved with the baking industry and in his community. The Leadership Alumni Association of Shelby County in Alabama named Bud’s Best Cookies as its “Business of the Year” in 2002. Positive Maturity, Inc., Birmingham, named Mr. Cason one of its “Top 50 Over 50” in 2014.
Mr. Cason was a founding member of the Cookie and Snack Bakers Association, which was established in 1970 to provide association members with a forum and atmosphere conducive to building relationships, sharing experiences, and exchanging information necessary to prosper individual business and industry. The association once named him “Man of the Year” and also gave him a lifetime achievement award along with his friends Arthur Veazey, past president of Bishop Baking, and Craig Parrish, executive director of the CASBA.
Mr. Cason is a board member of the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers’ Association and chairman of the board at his church. He served on the boards of a local bank and the Southern Adventist University. He and his wife, Gail, have been married for 54 years. Their children are Al, Jr., Jill and Jan.