One of the fondest memories people have of their childhood is the chance to lick the cookie dough spoon. Often, that was an even sweeter treat than the actual cookies baking in the oven. What is it about raw cookie dough that makes it so desirable? That unique taste? The texture that is somewhere between soft-serve ice cream and perfect mashed potatoes? Perhaps it’s the rush you get knowing you're a hair’s breadth from salmonella?
Or maybe it’s just the scarcity. There’s only really enough dough on the spoon for one child to enjoy. If you were lucky, you got to lick the spoon two or three times a year. The statistics for adults are even more grim. Most Americans get jury duty more often than they get to lick the cookie dough spoon….
But in the last few years, this unfortunate fact of the human condition has undergone a revolution. Much like the printing press and the telegraph revolutionized communication, small businesses selling (safe to eat) cookie dough are taking a rare treat and turning it into something anyone can enjoy on-demand.
The market landscape is currently one of exploration. You have brick-and-mortar strategies like Dō in New York City, or the pop-up shop No Baked Cookie Dough in Nashville and Louisville. You’ve got broader wholesale-to-retail players like The Cookie Dough Cafe, featured on ABC’s Shark Tank. And although these last three businesses have online sales, at least locally, there are some entrepreneurs who have eschewed a physical location and sell solely online. Take, for example, the ex-NFL Network employee who started Unbaked: A Cookie Dough Bar and has nearly thirty seven thousand people who eagerly await every perfectly-orchestrated picture of cookie dough that is posted to her Unbaked Instagram.
Like many small businesses, safe-to-eat cookie dough has its challenges no matter what strategy they employ. The restaurant business is hyper-competitive and unforgiving, and new hot-spots seem to open every day. Will cookie dough shops need to diversify to keep people interested? If they stick to online sales, how can they continue to grow in both new customers and repeat purchasers? What tactics will they use to keep their product from becoming a once-and-done experience?
And what lessons are there to take home from this emerging market?
First: nothing is too silly to be a business (especially if it involves nostalgia and desserts). It’s only too silly so long as you don’t take it seriously. If you commit your time to it, and it starts paying the bills, nothing could be further from silly.
Second: even the new kid on the block can get old. If your product is not inherently something customers will repurchase at regular intervals, you’ve got to figure out how to bring them back in the doors, whether that is in-person or online.
And lastly: you have to be willing to take risks. If you don’t take the leap with that new idea, someone else will. You can choose to believe that your amazing idea is totally original and no one will think of it in a million years, but 99.999% of the time, that is wrong. Someone else has probably had the same idea and may already be working towards building a business around it. If you really want to make it happen, chase it sooner, not later.