Summer Fancy Food Show

Sheila G’s overcomes challenges to launch organic Brownie Brittle

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: E. Crawford
Source: E. Crawford

Related tags Organic certification Organic food

Sheila G’s retains its “edge on brownies” and its competition with the launch of an organic Brownie Brittle line that launched this year despite initial formulation challenges and tighter product margins, according to the company’s founder and CEO Sheila Mains. 

“We had requests at both the consumer level and from our customers, the retailers, that are very aware that their audience, the consumers who walk into their stores every day, were looking for organic products … and of course we want to make them happy … so we started working on the organic Brownie Brittle almost a year-and-a-half ago,​” Mains told FoodNavigator-USA at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.

She explained that creating an organic version of its much-loved Brownie Brittle, which taste like the crispy edges of traditional brownies, took “quite a long time”​ in part because some of the ingredients used in the conventional baked good are not allowed under the USDA Organic Certification program.

For example, the organic line of Brownie Brittle is made with unbleached flour rather than bleached flour, which is used in the conventional line and has a slightly different taste profile that helps smooth out the bitter bite of cocoa, Mains said.

“Our biggest challenge was that we didn’t want the bitter aftertaste of the cocoa. We wanted a smooth tasting chocolate, so our project was creating a formula that balanced the cocoa and the unbleached flour,”​ Mains explained.

“We had to keep coming up with different variations. The goal was to get it to taste as much like our original Brownie Brittle line as possible. We didn’t want to disappoint anyone,” ​she added. “But we finally got it! We nailed it.”

After that was the fun part – coming up with the different flavors, she said.

“The first one is chocolate-chip, because everyone knows our chocolate chip brownie brittle. And then we have a chocolate and toasted coconut, because coconut is so hot this year,”​ and finally, a pretzel and dark chocolate combination that will satisfy “that sweet and salty combination everyone loves”​ and provide consumers access to the health benefits of dark chocolate, Mains said.

Coconut continues to convert consumers

Mains said the most surprising of the trio is the chocolate and toasted coconut because even people who don’t like coconut like the combination.

“I’m not a big coconut eater,”​ and generally think it is a polarizing flavor that people either love or hate, but “I was reaching my hand into the bowl for more, so I gave up and decided this was really good,”​ she explained.

She added that other people who claim not to be fans of coconut try it “and they reach back for a second piece, too.”

While coconut has been big for several years now, Mains thinks it will stick around for a while longer in part because as people become more and more surrounded by it even those who “in the past might have stuck their nose up and passed it by, are starting to try it”​ – creating a fresh batch of potential coconut consumers.

Overcoming organic pricing pressures

The other major challenge Sheila G’s addressed in creating an organic line of Brownie Brittle was the premium price of organic ingredients, Mains said.

She explained that companies can’t pass to consumers the full price difference between organic and conventional ingredients because the retailers want packaged goods to “hit that perfect ring at the grocery level.”

Sheila G’s managed the approximate 50% price difference by passing about 30% on the consumer and absorbing the other 20% -- making the margins on the organic line thinner.

“We are taking a little bit of a head on it, but we are keeping our customers happy and that is what we are in the business to do,”​ she said.

The company also toyed with different package sizes and buying larger bulk orders of ingredients to lower the cost, Mains said.

She added that facing these challenges were worth it because the organic line has opened the door for the company to reach a new subset of consumers who would not have purchased the conventional stock keeping units.

“We are drawing in people who are coming to the booth who might otherwise walk by if it is not organic, and they are stopping here because they heard that we have organic now,”​ she said, adding, “You know the saying you can’t make everyone one happy? Well, we are going to try.”

Beyond organic

Looking forward, Mains said Sheila G’s has several other new products in the pipeline, including Blondie Brittle, which like the organic line, Mains says she won’t release until it is perfect.

“The Blondie Brittle has been a challenge, but I think we are very, very, very close,”​ Mains said, adding that the company expects samples to be ready in the next six months.

The main challenge in creating Blondie Brittle is that the batter is thicker than that of Brownie Brittle, and when it is thinned to make crispy cookies, it comes out more like a fortune cookie.

“That is not what we want. I grew up on blondies, so I know what it is supposed to taste like and what the Brownie Brittle should taste like, so we need to make that batter again so that it produces the same thickness all the way across,”​ she explained.

Despite the challenges, Mains says she excited about the potential of Blondie Brittle and the flavor variations that will be possible that are not with Brownie Brittle – such as pumpkin spice.

“Pumpkin spice and chocolate, not so much. But pumpkin spice and a blondie is excellent, amazing,”​ she said. Other ideas she is considering include Key Lime and white chocolate.

“So, we have all these ideas going on in my head, it is just a matter of nailing the batter and process,”​ she concluded.


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