One of the many things consumers are missing these days is the joy of ending a restaurant meal with a chef-made dessert, be it a slice of fresh strawberry cheesecake, a luscious chocolate layer cake or a warm skillet chocolate chip cookie.
According to a recent DoorDash survey, 23% of respondents cited “desserts” as the food they missed most due to restaurants being closed and being difficult to prepare at home.
But how can consumers get their restaurant-quality dessert fix when the pandemic continues to keep on-premise dining closed and delivery and takeout are new the norm? One way pandemic-weary consumers are getting the goodies is from independent operators who are packing up and delivering creative treats that travel well.
Two years ago, Shiana White opened A Haute Cookie, a bakery café in Atlanta that specializes in everything cookie — cookies in creative flavor combinations, such as white chocolate Oreo, strawberry shortcake, and a seasonal white sweet potato walnut; edible cookie dough; brownie cookie dough bars and more.
But when the pandemic hit, closing down the shop’s in-store seating, White pivoted to take out, local delivery and national shippping.
“[I said] let’s figure it out, because I don’t want to close,” White recalled. “It took a bit, then I rocked it out.”
Now, White remains open several days a week for takeout, but closes her shop two days a week just to fulfil shipping orders. Since she started shipping, her sales have increased 40%.
A Haute Cookie’s growth is part of larger trend toward cookies and brownies, which have grown by double digits on independent and chain restaurant menus over the past decade, according to Datassential.
Similarly, Breadblok in Santa Monica, Calif, a gluten-free bakery cafe, started offering national delivery shortly after its first brick-and-mortar location opened February 2020.
“We knew we wanted to offer nationwide shipping, but the pandemic forced us to look into it much sooner than we expected,” said Celine Charlier, co-owner of Breadblok. “Which is actually a good thing.”
Indeed, Charlier said that online orders now account for about 10% of sales and are growing exponentially month by month. Among Breadblok’s bestsellers is a vegan shortbread cookie (made with coconut oil instead of butter), and almond butter thin cookies.
Part of the appeal of Breadblok’s cookies can certainly be attributed to meeting consumers dietary needs. According to Datassential, vegan desserts appear on 114% more menus than they did just four years ago, and dairy-free and gluten free options appear on 64% and 43% more menus, respectively.
In addition to prepared treats, some operators are delivering parbaked versions of their in-store offerings or bake-it-yourself kits (with necessary ingredients and baking instructions) that sheltering-in-place consumers can finish off at home.
Sticky Fingers Sweets and Eats in Washington, D.C., Doron Petersan's long-standing vegan eatery, is delivering locally and nationwide its cookies, cupcakes, cakes, and bake-it-yourself cookie and brownie kits (all made without dairy, eggs, or other animal products).
“Sending gifts and direct-to-consumer items was always part of our concept since day one as we wanted to make some of our products accessible to everyone,” said Petersan.
However, since the pandemic began Petersan has seen a large uptick in delivery orders, which typically account for about 30% of sales during the peak holiday season. She attributes the increase to offering all items for direct delivery and on third-party delivery apps.
In late August, New Yok City-based Chip City, best known for its oversized and gooey-on-the-inside cookies in nostalgic and unconventional flavors (many of which have a filled center) launched frozen cookie dough for shipping across the Northeast.
“Given the pandemic and people from across the country are not able to visit NYC as easily, the team wanted to be able to spread their cookies to a larger audience during a time when people really could use the comfort of a freshly baked Chip City cookie,” said Mindi Sachs, Chip City public relations director.
Chip City currently offers for delivery six packs of chocolate chip and Funfetti cookies, as well as a chocolate lover's bundle (chocolate chip, triple chocolate, peanut butter chocolate, Nutella sea salt, s'mores, and white chocolate macadamia) and a variety bundle (chocolate chip, Funfetti, triple chocolate, cookies n' cream, blueberry cheesecake and oatmeal apple pie). Locals can still purchase fresh cookies, frozen dough, catering platters and gift packs at Chip City’s five brick-and-mortar locations.
Packed for the trip
Desserts can be especially delicate and so indie operators have come up with a variety of packaging solutions for maintaining product integrity and ensuring intact arrival.
For example, Chip City keeps each cookie dough ball formed separately in a specially designed package of six, making it easy for consumers to bake only a few cookies at a time while keeping the others safely intact and frozen in the package.
At A Haute Cookie, White individually wraps her treats in plastic, heat-seals them for safety, and then puts them inside metallic mailers, adding ice packs when needed to keep cold items cold.
While some chefs have to alter recipes to make them more fit for the journey, neither Sticky Fingers nor Breadblok have made such changes.
“The shortbread cookies travel extremely well due to their ingredients and the final texture,” said Breadblok’s Charlier. “The cookies are vegan so the lack of diary allows the cookies to hold up a lot longer.”
To ensure they don’t break in transit, cookies and other baked goods are put in Breadblok’s traditional sustainable packaging: unbleached paper sheets, cellophane bags and recyclable labels.
Rather than changing recipes or creating new ones for shipping, Sticky Fingers’ Petersan only sends existing treats that hold up well. During the holidays, she puts products in reusable metal tins to keep them safe and airtight during shipping.
“We love metal containers for those reasons, but they can be costly and take up a lot of room,” said Petersan. “We believe it is worth it.”