Created by Livio Bisterzo, founder of snacking success story Hippeas and its CPG holding company Green Park Brands, Mavericks Cookies had its work cut out for it when it launched the snacking brand aimed at kids aged 4- 11-years-old in 2020, a time when grocery shopping was a tunnel vision exercise for most consumers looking to pantry load and get in and out stores as quickly as possible.
"Launching during the pandemic was less than ideal, and we did the best that we could with very limited tools to learn about the consumer, learn what we had gotten right out of the gate, and what we needed to refine," Schaefer, who previously started the chilled bar company Bright Foods before joining Green Park Brands, told FoodNavigator-USA.
"Being a small company focus is one of the biggest assets that we have."
The company made a couple of critical decisions starting with putting its cracker products on pause to focus on its higher-turning lightening-bolt-shaped cookies line available in three flavors: birthday cake (it's No. 1 selling flavor), non-stop choc, and double trouble choc.
"What we found was that the cookies had a really high repeat whereas the crackers were getting some love, but people weren’t as fanatical about them. We very well may bring crackers back in the future because we still see a need for them, but we need to establish our foothold with cookies first," said Schaefer.
The other decision the company made was to revamp the packaging on its multi-serve box (available at Whole Foods) and new multi-pack product of 8 single-serve pouches (now sold at Target) by placing an image of the cookie directly on the front of the package to make it abundantly clear to consumers what the brand was selling.
"The impetus for that was that it was unclear what the product was and what the key benefits were, and it was also frankly not showing that we made delicious cookies," noted Schaefer.
Kids snacking, an under-served category?
From a market whitespace opportunity, Schaefer said there is still a clear gap in the better-for-you kids snacking category for products that parents can feel good giving to their kids and that kids love to eat.
"If you look at what’s happening amongst all the big companies, there’s this incredibly strong focus on snacking and an incredible amount of investment behind snacking, but the majority of it is targeting adults," said Schaefer, who as a parent of young kids himself can attest to the lack of options for his household.
"More often than not we’re reaching for something that’s being marketed towards adults, and we’re giving it to our kids because most of the kids products are legacy products and most of them have a lot of sugar or don’t have the cleanest labels. And that’s where we saw the biggest opportunity."
With 5g of sugar (40% less than the leading kids cookie brand, the company claims), 100% plant-based ingredients, zero preservatives, and certified school safe (i.e. peanut and tree nut free), Mavericks Cookies has hit the difficult target of a snack both parents and kids can get behind, according to Schaefer.
"For kids, this is fun and delicious. Having a cookie that’s in the shape of a lightening bolt and that tastes like birthday cake is really exciting. As a parent, that’s where the bonafides really come in: 40% less sugar than the leading kids cookie brand, we use 100% plant-based ingredients, we don’t use preservatives, syrups, or sugar alcohols. They really are junk free," he said.
"Parents want to give their child something they know is going to be eaten and not come home in the container that it was originally sent."
The road ahead
Schaefer added that the focus moving forward is to build the Mavericks Cookies brand and to get the product into the hands of as many people as possible, which is still a significant challenge since in-store sampling is still off the table for many retailers and consumers.
"People are still weary and don’t necessarily want to taste a product in store. As a brand, it presents a pretty meaningful challenge: how do you get someone to try your product?," he said.
However, a clear focus for the brand is to build on its existing retailer relationships where the company can expand its set in both Target and Whole Foods stores, which are currently only carrying 1-2 SKUs from the brand instead of its full line of three flavors in both multi-serve and multi-pack offerings.
"Our first and foremost focus is on our partnerships with retailers. I think we just now crested atop of a a pretty steep mountain, and we now have our supply in a pretty good place," noted Schaefer.
"We very strongly believe and designed this brand to be a mainstream proposition. We know there are millions of millennial moms out there who are looking for snacks that they can give to their kids, and they can feel good about."