Renewed interest in the center-store snack aisle boosted packaged cookie sales during the pandemic. Indulgence is still a key driver since consumers typically eat cookies to treat themselves. 

“Cookies in the commercial aisle saw significant gains during panic shopping because they embody comfort and indulgence,” said Eric Richard, education coordinator, International Dairy Deli Bakery Association. “Cookies make sense. They are easily packaged, shelf-stable and can be served up in different flavors and concepts.” 

With in-store bakeries and other fresh options closed or limited, consumers reached for cookies that they may never have tried. Brands like Camden, NJ-based Campbell Snacks’ Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies increased dollar sales by 16%, and the Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelez Nabisco Oreos brand grew by a whopping 20.2% for the 52 weeks ending June 14, 2020, according to IRI’s quarterly retail sales report for the US snacking market.

“New flavor profiles will help keep consumers interested in cookies, especially paired with old favorites.”

Tom Vierhile, Innova Market Insights. 

“During COVID-19, we’re seeing an increase in demand for snacks that provide comfort and small indulgences during these times of uncertainty,” said Valerie Oswalt, executive vice president and president, Campbell Snacks. “Whether that’s a Milano cookie or a potato chip, demand is strong in both of these areas.”

In April, Campbell Snacks introduced a new Milano flavor: Caramel Macchiato. It is a balance of crisp cookie and rich, decadent chocolate delivering an indulgent treat. 

“New flavor profiles will help keep consumers interested in cookies, especially paired with old favorites,” said Tom Vierhile, vice president, strategic insights, North America, Innova Market Insights. “For example, the Oreo brand has done a good job introducing new flavors every few months, like Tiramisu and Churro.”

Post-pandemic, cookies with a wellness factor will likely be more appealing. Adding protein, fiber and other health halos may resonate with consumers looking for a more permissible indulgence.

For example, Los Angeles-based Kiss My Keto’s Vanilla Keto Cookies are a new snack that supports the ketogenic lifestyle.

[Related reading: Signs of life in slumbering cookie business]

“Longer term, consumers will likely gravitate to offerings like the thin, crisp-like cookies that are more snack-like and less indulgent, reducing guilt but still offering opportunities to indulge,” Mr. Vierhile said. “Pepperidge Farm’s Farmhouse Thin & Crispy Cookies deliver an indulgent, homemade-like cookie taste in a lighter portion-sized format with a clean label ingredient list.” 

Producers can position cookies with a new look for packaging and an appearance of freshness. Innovation with flavors and textures will keep consumers engaged.

“Rolled, coconut-flavored gluten-free cookies were a crunchy, tasty new offering from Sun Tropics,” said Kara Nielsen, director, Food and Drink, WGSN. “Styled similar to Pepperidge Farms’ Pirouette Cookies, these tap into the global cuisines using Asian flavors.” 

This article originally appeared in SNAC International's 2020 Official State of the Industry