Listen to a radio segment about Heavenly Hunks

–by Dan Lemke

Ella Redmond’s cookies have long been a family favorite. She’s been baking them for more than 30 years, but often in limited supply, so her nephew, Casey Webber admits to hoarding cookies when he was fortunate enough to get some.

Two and a half years aElla_Redmondgo, Webber was finishing up his business degree at Arizona State University. Redmond sent a supply of cookie hunks his way and the light bulb went on for Casey. After taking some time to convince his aunt that her cookies were ready for more than just family, Webber did some research, put together a business plan and decided the time was right to start a cookie company. After he graduated, the duo started a company called E and C Snacks based in Eden Prairie.

Ella and Casey took some time to develop the products and packaging for their Heavenly Hunks before diving into the market. The cookie hunks are akin to a cross between a cookie and a muffin and are made with simple, wholesome ingredients like butter, oats and raisins.

Making the leap from family favorite to retail product brought Webber to AURI where technical staff Donna O’Connor, Carissa Nath and Ranae Jorgenson helped him navigate various aspects of product development. AURI staff provided assistance in formulation, shelf life testing, nutritional analysis and even conducted sensory taste panels to gauge consumer acceptance of their cookies.

“AURI really helped us clarify a lot of things and have been a great resource for us,” Webber says. “Everything that large companies have departments for, they’ve been able to do for us.”

Once formulated and compliant with all the necessary regulations required before they could be sold, the Heavenly Hunks cookie chunks found some market success. But a recent formula change has Webber and Redmond excited for the future.

Going Gluten Free

Webber says toward the end of 2014, they were at a bit of a standstill as they worked on a rebranding effort. At that time, Webber Casey_Webberresearched the potential of adding a gluten-free product line. Gluten-free flours were expensive, so after some research and trial, he developed his own proprietary blend. The only real way to know if going gluten-free was possible was to make some cookies and taste them.

“I made some cookies that were gluten-free and some that weren’t,” Webber recalls. “I had my aunt try them both and she couldn’t tell the difference.”

At the beginning of 2015, they relaunched the Heavenly Hunks line as entirely gluten-free. They come in four different varieties, including Original Oatmeal, Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin. They’re available in 2- and 8-packs.

The change to gluten-free has been a good move for E and C Snacks in part because it capitalizes on a trend toward products with clean labels and simple ingredients.

“Today’s consumers continue to examine the foods they eat and are looking for clean-labeled products. They’re also avoiding artificial ingredients, chemicals and overly-processed foods,” O’Connor says. “They are looking for products that will provide wholesome nutrition, particular health benefits and something that satisfies their tastes.”

The number of “free from” foods continues to rise globally, led by gluten-free products. In a 2014 product launch review by Innova Market Insights, new items that were positioned as gluten-free accounted for 9 percent of total global food and beverage introductions. The U.S. saw a 17 percent increase in gluten-free product introductions. Key product areas include bakery items, cereals and snack foods.

Experiencing Growth

“It’s a little like going downhill without brakes,” Webber quips about the growth that has occurred since relaunching the gluten-free line.

Webber says the company didn’t start out intending to make gluten-free cookies, but he knew it was a rapidly growing market with growth potential. Some of that growth is being realized as the unique cookie chunks are now available in more than 200 Midwestern store outlets including Lunds&Byerlys, Kowalski’s and Coborn’s. In addition to grocery stores, Webber says they’re available at unconventional retailers like coffee shops and even some airport stores.

“The cookies are almost a nostalgic product,” Webber adds. “I like to think of them as a conscious indulgence.”

The transition to making gluten-free products has been fairly simple. Webber says they were fortunate enough to find a manufacturer that has gluten-free capabilities.

“It was a big step letting go of the recipe, but it’s part of what we had to do as a growing business because we knew we couldn’t do it ourselves anymore,” Webber adds.

“Heavenly Hunks cookies fit right into this gluten-free consumer trend and they also deliver on taste and quality, plus they are clean-labeled,” O’Connor adds. “Their special shape and chewy texture along with the right blend of wholesome, homemade flavors are satisfying and delicious. It’s hard to believe they’re gluten free!”

Learn more about Heavenly Hunks at eandcssnacks.com.
AURI and E and C’s Snacks Heavenly_Hunks

Idea to reality:

Casey Webber and Ella Redmond took her cookie recipe and brought gluten-free cookie hunks to the market.

AURI’s role:

Scientific staff Donna O’Connor, Ranae Jorgenson and Carissa Nath helped with product formulation, shelf-life testing, nutrition facts labeling, analytical testing and conducted sensory panels.

Outcomes:

E&C Snacks Heavenly Hunks cookies are now available in more than 200 retail outlets, primarily in the Midwest.