BOSTON — Oscar Kambly says Americans are ready for a real European cookie. So, he's bringing the sophisticated "biscuits" that his family has crafted in Switzerland for the past 79 years to the United States.
But will Americans bypass Mrs. Field, brush aside their Oreos, and turn Girl Scouts away for the sake of gourmet cookies?
In a telephone interview from Trubschachen, Switzerland, Kambly said his company's "works of art" won't compete with fresh cookies, like Mrs. Field's and David's, or the supermarket shelf variety. His will be sold in fine department stores in response to what he hopes is a strong trend: the American demand for high quality, sophistication and good taste.
He sees a move toward cookies that are light and appealing to the eye as well as the palate. His sweets feature such ingredients as almond meringue, hazelnut, Swiss chocolate and praline filling. (This writer attests to the fact that the cookies are delicious, delicate and light, but very rich.)
Indeed, the gourmet attitude is familiar. We've seen it with ice cream and chocolate. And imported foodstuffs still carry clout. But will U.S. cookie eaters turn persnickety and rise to such trumpeted crumpets?
Americans spend some $3 billion annually on store-bought cookies and crackers, says Stuart Greenblat, spokesman for the Keebler Co., one of the leading manufacturers of cookies in the United States. "We haven't noticed a trend away from traditional cookies," he says.
But many say that gourmet cookies target a different market from the only-Oreos crowd--that is, the adults who indulge in what they perceive to be the best.
The premium-cookie category is growing, says Leslie Kelso, marketing manager with Pepperidge Farm. Consumers are eating less-indulgent products, but when they do indulge, they want the best, she says.
Joan Steuer, president of Chocolate Marketing Inc., which forecasts trends in the chocolate, dessert and cookie industry, says she sees a "definite European style" in cookies today. The delicate, light, crisp, thin cookies are coming in, she says, especially when there's an "indulgent touch of chocolate."
Phil Lempert, president of the Lempert Co., which monitors food trends, questions acceptance of specialty cookies in the face of a "saturated" market: "Do we need another cookie?" he asks. "Do we need a European cookie?" He says that Americans look to freshness for quality, and wonders how far-reaching boxed gourmet cookies can be (especially at $5, say, for 3.5 ounces).