Marin County cookie chef moves from local to national distribution
By Vic Dolcourt
“You’ve called at a good time! I expect my first cookies to be on shelves this week in Whole Foods Rocky Mountain Region,” said Bobbi Cohen, owner of bobbilicious baking company, in May. “But unfortunately, they are not in Northern California yet. I hope that doesn’t tease the readers too much.”
Bobbi has achieved a business arrangement that is destined for success. She has partnered with Whole Foods, who will both bake and distribute six cookie flavors branded “bobbilicious for Whole Foods.” Whole Foods will initially begin distribution in their Rocky Mountain region, followed by the Southern Region, Southwest Region, Southern Pacific Region, and Northeast Region. But that is getting a bit ahead.
Bobbi has been baking cookies for a long time. She is a passionate cook who loves the natural taste of quality ingredients. “Simple, pure and high quality are the best,” she says. When asked which of the six cookie sensations sells the best, she answered: “Everyone likes chocolate chip. I can’t resist them either.” She has two types of chocolate chip – chocolate chip walnut and chocolate chip cranberry. But the others sound really good, too: oatmeal raisin, fruity nut bar and chocolate chip brownie. Bobbi developed her recipes based on what she liked to bake and what her friends wanted to eat. “It all started in my kitchen in San Rafael. Then my friends here in Marin started buying my stuff. Then a local bagel shop in San Anselmo was my first account and soon after I did my first demo at Comforts Cafe in San Anselmo. Then accounts grew from there all over Marin and across the Bay to San Francisco. At that time I was in lots of stores in Northern California, and I did two to three demos per week all over.”
During the demos Bobbi found that a number of people were reluctant to try her cookies when she positioned them as being gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. Particularly, older people felt that they probably wouldn’t taste good and told her so. So, Bobbi began to offer her cookies as just plain cookies, and when people reached for another, she said, “By the way, these cookies are gluten-free and dairy-free.” More often than not, cookie samplers would pick up a package simply because the cookies tasted so good.
Bobbi’s cookies became a local success. They were sold at San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma County Whole Foods Markets, Mollie Stone’s in San Francisco and Marin, and at a number of independent markets. In the midst of this success, Bobbi took a break and stopped baking cookies in mid-2011. That was perhaps a blessing in disguise. Her strong connection to Whole Foods Market led her to Whole Foods’ Gluten-Free Bakehouse in Raleigh, NC.
Whole Foods’ Raleigh facility sourced Bobbi’s ingredients, and during a four-day period in August 2012, Bobbi and the Whole Foods Bakehouse Facilty Team were able to faithfully recreate her six cookie favorites in what Bobbi describes as a “gluten-free baker’s nirvana.” Bobbi is extremely sensitive to gluten and said that Whole Foods’ Bakehouse is pristine, with an emphasis on the purity of ingredients; every ingredient is tested for gluten content when it comes into receiving, and if it doesn’t pass the test, it is rejected and goes back to the manufacturer. Whole Foods has an exclusive license to bake Bobbi’s six cookie creations.
Bobbi started out in Northern California Whole Foods, but so far the cookies aren’t on Northern California distribution plans yet. Bobbi tells her former (and hopefully future) cookie lovers to ask their local Whole Food Markets for Bobbilicious cookies if they would like to see them sold here. Meanwhile, Bobbi shops regularly at Whole Foods for fresh produce and meats. “My dream is to have my goodies across the country and most especially right here in the stores that I shop in. I would love to be demoing right here in the Bay Area.”
So what is next for Bobbi? While on break from commercial cookie baking she has been test-baking and creating new recipes. She’s working on the launch of “Bobbilicious for Whole Foods” in the four Whole Foods Markets regions that have started to carry the brand. And she’s backing that up with social media. Meanwhile, she has written a guide for going gluten-free titled “bobbi’s 3-Day Gluten-Free Challenge: Lose the Wheat and the Weight, Plus Feel Great!” It is on sale at Amazon.com. It is targeted to the gluten-free newbie and intended to inspire people to go gluten-free if they need to. It also highlights experts in the field and explains why it is important to seek professional medical advice.