Darker, double and triple chocolate, stuffed cookies, creamier fillings, and frostings are all part of the current cookie landscape. Rich flavors and premium ingredients create indulgent snacking experiences for cookies.

These key drivers influenced the category resulting in more than $8 billion in sales and steady growth in the U.S. snack market for the 52 weeks ended June 16, according to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm.

“Taste is the biggest driver of choice, and consumers seek out products that offer new exciting tastes and experiences,” said David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts. “Some consumers, especially younger people, want even more indulgent, decadent and unique choices.”

Underscoring the popularity of decadence, Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelez International’s Nabisco brands launched The Most Stuf Oreos, filled with more than triple the vanilla-flavored crème of a regular Oreo. Oreo flavors were a favorite growing 125%, with double chocolate and banana making the top three, according to I.R.I. Snacking Survey data. The brand released three limited-time flavors this summer, including S'mores, Marshmallow Moon, and Baskin-Robbins Mint Chocolate Chip Oreos.

“While categories with claims have done well, good old-fashioned indulgence has influenced consumer cookie purchases,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, vice-president and practice leader, client insights, I.R.I. “Mass marketing of traditional flavors with innovative combinations have been successful.”

The cookie segment is not without its challenges. Lower-priced and private label brands, fresh offerings and competition from other indulgent and/or better-for-you snacks could constrain growth. Producers who ignore the appeal for healthier snacks risk leaving money on the table, according to Packaged Facts’ “U.S. 2019 Food Market Outlook” report.

Cookies with healthy inclusions satisfy hunger between meals or boost energy after a workout. For example, Quest Nutrition, El Segundo, Calif., has experienced success with the launch of Quest Protein Cookies.

“We know that different snack forms serve different occasions, so we are continuously developing new formats that satiate sweet and savory snacking occasions to meet consumer needs and satisfy cravings,” said Suzanne Ginestro, chief marketing officer, Quest Nutrition. “Our ‘Questies’ span all types of health-conscious consumers who are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and fill their need for delicious and convenient nutrition.”

And alternative formats like thin cookies are still in. Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Snacks created the Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Thin & Crispy cookie lineup, which includes thin, crispy cookies baked with simple ingredients.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth in permissible and indulgent categories, and each snacking category may address this differently,” said Hector Briones-Sanchez, vice-president of marketing, innovation for Campbell Snacks. “For example, our cookies can lean into simpler labels that are free of artificial and unnecessary ingredients, thus streamlining its ingredient list.”

The cookie category looks to be strengthening, not just because of protein but also because people will always have a soft spot for the familiar indulgence of a cookie.

This article originally appeared in SNAC International's 2019 Official State of the Industry.