Patty Johnson
Patty Johnson, is the Associate Director, Purchase Intelligence at Mintel. Patty brings insightful and forward-thinking strategies and tactics to Mintel’s Food and Drink client base.

Flexible and balanced diets are gaining traction among US consumers who are striving to combine healthy eating regimens with occasional treats. Occasional indulgence has become a regular part of everyday lifestyles, creating new ways for brands to engage with consumers. Permissible indulgence is the concept of indulging on unhealthy products with less guilt by having smaller amounts or portions or combining indulgent ingredients with healthier ones.

Mintel’s 2018 Global Food and Drink Trend ‘Self-Fulfilling Practices’ states that consumers are leaning towards habitual better-for-you and flavorful treats that are indispensable elements of physically and emotionally balanced lifestyles. According to Mintel Purchase Intelligence, taste remains the top purchase attribute for treats.

The demand for cookies is nearly universal in the US, but less than a third of cookie consumers eat them at least once a week. However, three in four turn to the snack as a treat and also to satisfy cravings. Given this, and the fact that cookies have strong taste credentials, brands in this space have the opportunity to capitalize on permissible indulgence through new flavors and formulations, portion sizing and marketing communications that validate consumers’ decision to indulge.

New flavors

According to Mintel Purchase Intelligence, good value and exciting are two top reasons why Americans say they would purchase cookies. Looking at the thin cookie category – a popular permissible indulgence in the US – varieties with dark chocolate are a favorite; they are perceived as being indulgent, tasty, good quality and premium, underscoring how upgraded chocolate ingredients resonate with consumers.

New formulations

Fresh, low-sugar and all-natural are top attributes sought in better-for-you snacks. The opportunity for low-sugar cookie options is apparent, with a third of cookie eaters expressing interest in low-sugar options. But there is white space to combine low-sugar with other appealing attributes on pack on order to target consumers outside of the dieting population.

For example, more than a quarter of cookie eaters show interest in cookies with short ingredients lists. Cookie brands and manufacturers should offer varieties that are not only low in sugar, but also have a short ingredient list, are low in calories, come in small pack sizes, and/or are high in protein.

Validating the decision to indulge

Flavor will never lose its importance in the category, but when it comes to attracting consumers, eye-catching colors, textures and claims are drawing attention.

Claims that brands can make to show that their product is a permissible indulgence include:

  • Less ‘bad’ with a similar eating experience: ‘thin’ and ‘bite’ formats, portion control
  • Upgraded experience: ‘clean label’, all-natural/organic, ‘craft’
  • Added nutrient density: high protein, ‘good’ fats, antioxidants, fiber
  • Mood elevation: Joy, comfort, stress relief, nostalgia
  • Human connection: Share-ability
  • Validation: You’ve earned it!

What we think

Cookie brands can take indulgence to the next level by encouraging consumers to give themselves permission to indulge through the exploration of upgraded ingredients, dessert, alcohol flavors and textural enhancements. Brands can also increase communication around mood elevation and affirmation of choice. Utilizing pack sizes to capture eating occasions – solo and shareable – will also attract consumers.