One challenge facing the cookie category is growing consumer adoption of diets that are less than friendly toward traditional cookies, including the keto diet and others that have shoppers avoiding sugar.

To stay relevant with these consumers, brands are introducing cookies packed with a variety of health benefits — to great success. 

Reduced-sugar, low-calorie, low-cholesterol and high-protein claims are all increasing in unit and dollar sales, said Ms. Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader, IRI. Emerging claims include sodium-free, heart healthy, potassium and made with prebiotics and antioxidants. 

“Cookie manufacturers are getting really smart around ‘What are the needs of consumers today?’ ” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.  “ ‘What are those needs, and what can we do with our portfolios that are going to align with that?’ ”

Catalina Crunch, Wilmington, Del., offers 100% plant-based sandwich cookies made with pea protein and prebiotic fiber, providing 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of net carbs and just 1 gram of sugar per cookie. 

“Our cookies are perfect for folks who love sandwich cookies but don’t want all the sugar loaded in a typical sandwich cookie,” said Krishna Kaliannan, founder and CEO of Catalina Crunch. “Better-for-you (BFY) options are lining shelves, whether they are low or no sugar or cater to a different interest. Consumers are demanding it.” 

To meet this demand, Park City, Utah-based Kodiak Cakes entered the category earlier this year with its Thin and Crispy cookies. Available in Chocolate Chip Walnut and Oatmeal Raisin, the cookies are made with 100% whole grains and contain 5 grams of protein per serving. 

“We really tried to add just the right level of nutrients to feel a little bit better about that cookie while not sacrificing taste at all,” explained Brandon Porras, vice president of marketing for the company.  

Adding these nutrients is critical to creating a quality BFY cookie, noted Caroline Ponsi, sales director for Mmmly, New York. 

“In our category, you’ll find a lot of ‘free from’ brands: products that are taking out all the bad ingredients,” she said. “But where we create a difference is putting great ingredients that actually have wellness and health benefits back into the product.”

Mmmly’s cookies are vegan, gluten-free, and high in protein and healthy fats that come from its proprietary mix of almond flour, hazelnut meal and tigernut flour, a root vegetable that’s high in prebiotics and good for gut health. 

Vegan and gluten-free cookies are especially popular, growing 65% and 68%, respectively, over the past four years, according to Datassential’s 2022 Cookie Inspiration report. 

San Francisco-based Renewal Mill’s cookie mixes and ready-to-eat cookies hit both of these marks and are made with upcycled flour, created from the leftover pulp of oat and soy milk production that would otherwise be thrown away.  

“We’re trying to unseat those cookies that are full of preservatives and a ton of bad ingredients, but are an indulgent treat,” said Caroline Cotto, co-founder and chief operating officer of Renewal Mill. “If you’re going to reach for a soft-baked packaged cookie, this is something you can feel good about doing.”

Renewal Mill is one of a growing number of environmentally conscious, upcycled cookies. From Q1 2021 to Q1 2022, sales of Upcycled Certified products grew 1,046% in the natural channel, according to the Upcycled Food Association. 

Love + Chew, San Francisco, recently launched its Peanut Butter Chip cookie, made with upcycled oat flour, in partnership with Renewal Mill. The cookie is also low in sugar and offers 10 grams of protein from chickpea protein powder. 

“I’m very passionate about the environment; that’s the main reason why I’m vegan, so I wanted to incorporate upcycled ingredients,” said founder Lauren Chew. 

Simple Mill’s new Sweet Thins cookies are the first in the category made with watermelon seed flour, which helps prevent soil erosion by providing ground cover and allowing growers to diversify their crop rotations, said Katlin Smith, founder and CEO of the Chicago-based company. 

“We have always placed an importance on personal health, but last year, we evolved our mission to include planetary health as an equally critical commitment,” Ms. Smith said. “We use coconut sugar to smartly sweeten our Nut Butter Stuffed Sandwich Cookies and Sweet Thins. It’s unrefined, so better for our bodies, and coconut sugar comes from perennial trees, which can help build healthy soil by keeping living roots in the ground year-round.”

This article is an excerpt from the October 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Cookies, click here.