The soft-batch cookies stand apart from the competition because they are made with malted milk -- a flavor that for many older Americans will recall an era of soda fountains and malted milkshakes, and which will also appeal to younger consumers as a new flavor with a heritage rooted in Americana, says company co-founder John Leicht, who has a long history launching new products for large companies, including Kraft, Sargento, Hormel, Bird’s Eye and others.
He notes that while the cookies offered by Malt Shop Cookies are not a part of the better-for-you trend, it allows those who want to indulge to do so fully -- tasting with satisfaction the butter, eggs and sugar used to make the cookie, in addition to the malted milk. It also hits other hot market trends that will continue to drive sales well into the future, including all-natural and clean label, which are historically difficult for packaged baked goods to achieve, he told FoodNavigator-USA.
A cookie rooted in the past with a bright future
The inspiration for the cookies is rooted deep in the history of the rise and fall of American’s love affair with malted milk shakes at soda fountain counters in drugstores in the 1960s.
Leicht recalls in 1962 malted milkshakes and the malted milk business were “on top of the world,” with Horilicks Malted Milk, where his father worked, as the number one manufacturer of the ingredient. But over the course of a short seven years, “the great migration from downtown to the suburbs” and the rise of fast-food led by McDonald’s spelled an end for malted milkshakes in the US.
Leicht explains that when the drugstores followed the masses from downtown to the suburbs they didn’t bring their soda fountains, which is where most people would buy malted milkshakes.
Likewise, McDonald’s dropped malt from its milkshake formula in order to speed and simplify production, making regular milkshakes the default and religating malt to memory lane for most Americans.
But not for Leicht. He always remembered the taste of malted milkshakes and whenever he asked other baby boomers about them, they would smile and remember them fondly, he said. With a clear unmet consumer desire for the taste of malt, Leicht said he “had a weird question that hit my mind one day, which was why hasn’t anyone made malted milk cookies?”
He and his wife whipped up a test batched, liked them well enough and then reached out to Leicht’s now partner Edward Schuldt, who perfected the recipes that the two now use for their cookie company.
The cookies are available online in three flavors, including double chocolate with malted milk, mocha chocolate with malted milk and chocolate chip with malted milk, in a bag of 12 or tin of 18 or 36 cookies for $21.99 to $39.99 -- a price point that places them as a premium food gift.
Marketing malt for the future while connecting to the past
As for packaging and marketing the cookies, a “knee jerk” concept would have been to build on memory and nostalgia of the bygone era of malted milkshakes with a 1950s motif and imagery of long-gone soda fountains, Leicht said.
And while the website embraces these themes to an extent, Leicht said while doing consumer research, he found the cookies’ flavors and the mention of malt alone were enough to conjure smiles and memories for baby boomers who used to drink malted milkshakes downtown.
This freed up the entrepreneurs to use the packaging and other marketing to propel malt out of the past and into the future -- predominately by playing up how malt is a natural preservative that absorbs moisture.
This allowed the duo to position the cookies as having a clean label and a longer shelf life than most retail baked cookies.
“Most fresh baked cookies at retail last three to five days or maybe up to 10 days, but we are getting eight weeks with the malted cookie, and even that could possibly be pushed to 12 weeks,” Leicht said.
“So, what we started to think of was that this is not so much about where malted milk has been, but where it can go reflecting the values of the market today, which wants all natural, preservative-free options that also are fresh,” he said.
Personalized packaging for making new memories
But by focusing on the future, the company does not forget the past for malt, or those who love the ingredient. But rather than using generic Americana imagery, the company allows consumers to personalize online orders of the cookies with their own memories by placing photos and messages on each bag or tin of the cookie -- making them an ideal, personal gift, Leicht said.
Once the cookies launch in retail stores next year they likely will be sold in a clear clam shell with a full, premium wrapper in pastel colors that is elegant and pretty -- “the complete opposite of what you would expect,” but at the same time in keeping with the simple, clean designs embraced by trendy cupcake companies and modern bakeries.
While the cookies will mainly be marketed towards the 75 million baby boomers who remember fondly the taste of malted milk, the duo says that younger consumers -- including the much talked-about millennials who may never have had a malted milkshake before -- also enjoy the cookies as the flavor of the malted milk meets their demand for new taste sensations and food with a strong heritage.
The cookies’ broad marketing appeal and unique flavor profile, combined with the company’s dual ecommerce and in-store marketing campaign and the founders’ experience in food development and selling CPGs bodes well for sales of the cookie at the start of this holiday season -- making it a brand to watch going forward.