The Auckland, North Island-based social enterprise bakery has aligned itself with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals #8 (create the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs) and #10 (reduce discrimination).
According to Stats NZ, one in four Kiwis have a disability and their employment rate is only 22%, compared to those who are non-disabled at 70%.
Founded by Graeme Haddon and Eric Chuah in June 2018, The Cookie Project employs bakers with disabilities, who are never paid less than the minimum wage to hand bake its range of butter cookies.
The company has now rolled out the first packaging of its kind in the country, which connects consumers with the bakers.
“We're the first in New Zealand to bring real person traceability to life via QR code technology, allowing consumers to meet their bakers,” Chuah told BakeryandSnacks.
“[It’s sustainably made from 100% recycled material [and] designed to give the public the ability to connect with and empower the disabled community.”
Meet the baker
The Cookie Project currently has 23 bakers with disabilities on its roster – with another 40 on the waiting list – all of whom have chosen to participate in the ‘Who’s Your Baker’ program.
Each baker has a personalized QR Code sticker on the back of the product, which consumers can scan via a smartphone to discover who made their cookies, leave a message of encouragement and even request the baker to make their next batch of cookies.
Haddon – whose adopted Maori children were born with various disabilities – and Chuah wanted to help educate the public and grouped the stickers into four disorder types – sensory (e.g. sight, sound), physical (such as cerebral palsy), cognitive (like autism and down syndrome) and mental health (including depression and bipolar).
Each disorder is represented by a different color and the public can learn more when they scan the sticker.
“We believe two key steps in breaking down social stigma for the disabled community is awareness and education.
“By making disability easier to understand, we hope this is the first step towards inclusion.”
Love at first bite
Chuah told us the butter cookies were a meeting of two minds, and after a few trials – and swapping in the ‘best butter,’ locally made by Lewis Road Creamery in New Zealand – it was “instant love at first bite.
“We took about six months to refine it further, and in June 2018, we launched in the market and sold over 5,000 pieces in the first two weeks,” he said.
“We both have an unwavering belief that people with disabilities deserve a chance to contribute. As a result, The Cookie Project became the first company in New Zealand that only employs bakers with disabilities,” added Haddon.
The novel packaging has a dual purpose to further the bakery’s goal of extending employment opportunities for its bakers.
“The packaging furthers our goal of providing employment pathways for our staff, as potential employers can use the linked profile page as a platform to offer opportunities directly to the baker,” Haddon told this site.
The packaging was designed by digital marketing agency Quentosity.
“For us, we want to play our part in helping to tackle discrimination in our society against people with disabilities,” said Quentin van Heerden, MD of Quentosity, adding the key focus was to encourage people to buy the cookies.
“We came up with a clean, attractive design, with emoji icons to embrace youth, whilst encompassing elegant, contemporary design elements.”
According to Chuah and Haddon, everything they do at The Cookie Project is human-centered around its bakers.
“Our cookies are purposeful. All are handmade by a person with a disability, and 45% of what you pay when you buy a bag of cookies, goes directly to wages. One cookie equals one minute of employment, so when you buy a bag of 15 cookies, that bag generates 15 minutes of employment,” said Chuah.
“It’s easy for society to ignore the disability community, but we have learnt so much from our bakers – they taught us about humility, resilience, overcoming challenges, and most importantly, they taught us to be more inclusive and to have an appreciative attitude for all blessings, everyday. It’s a very rewarding journey and we’d be more than happy to share our learning and insights with others,” added Haddon.
The duo plans to scale up the project’s impact nationally within the next two years, with sights on tackling the international market later on.
“We’re also establishing a panel of advisory board members with the highest calibre background to ensure we have covered all the different angles to cement a strong foundation so that our social enterprise will have a sustainable and impactful legacy,” said Chuah.
“We’re proud to help drive this conversation and show New Zealand that people with any type of disability can contribute to society and should be treated equally as such,” added Haddon.
The Cookie Project’s butter cookies are made from ingredients – including Lewis Road Creamery butter, Pic’s Peanut Butter and Trade Aid organic chocolate – and contain no preservatives, colorants or additives.
They are currently available in select Auckland stores and will be rolled out nationwide later this year.