Who here was scolded as a child for licking the bowl after prepping a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough? If you were, then you might remember how revelatory it was to see an entirely new candy, Cookie Dough Bites, spring up at movie theaters starting in 1997. I remember it well—suddenly us kids could get all the flavors of an unbaked cookie, plus a bonus layer of chocolate, with none of the risks/lectures associated with consuming raw cookie dough (E. coli in raw flour, salmonella in raw eggs, etc.). To my young mind, it was thrilling. And 25 years later, it still is.
While the Cookie Dough Bite is a beloved confectionery product with a fervent fan base, it remains the property of an independent company: Taste of Nature, Inc., which began as a bulk food purveyor focusing on “healthy” snacks like yogurt pretzels and trail mix in the early 1990s. The idea was to enter a marketplace where consumers might already be searching for a healthier alternative: movie theaters.
“After going down that path for about five years, our company started taking some twists and turns, looking for opportunities for more growth,” Scott Samet, president and co-founder of Taste of Nature, told The Takeout. “As we pivoted, we started purveying bulk candy, [which] was becoming very popular in theaters.”
Bulk candy, popular in the mid-1990s at concession counters, has mostly died off at movie theaters in the United States in the 21st century, but it was only because of this self-serve, charge-by-the-ounce model that Cookie Dough Bites were born.
“We came across a chocolate-covered cookie dough item in bulk that we really saw the potential with,” Samet said. “We weren’t manufacturing it at the time, we were buying it and putting it into our our displays and our bulk dispensers. You basically have a cookie dough confection, a ball of yummy cookie dough, and then you coat it in delicious, creamy milk chocolate, and then all of a sudden you’ve got a winner on your hands.”
Taste of Nature got to work formulating its own version of the product, changing the specs from those of bulk candy to those sold prepackaged in boxes. Cookie Dough Bites were given their straightforward name and first sold as a standalone product exclusively at movie theaters in 1997.
“It just took off,” said Samet. “It was immediately a sensation.”
During the initial R&D process, Samet explains, there were a few things to consider. While it’s not difficult to mimic the flavor and texture of cookie dough without involving its riskiest ingredients—raw flour and raw egg—the safety of Cookie Dough Bites is something that has always been made abundantly clear on the packaging, just so no one thinks they’re ingesting anything they shouldn’t be. “EGG FREE RECIPE,” notes a starburst on every box.
The proper ratios were also a big part of developing the product, especially the ratio of chocolate coating to cookie dough interior. The first round of development resulted in a ball that was too large, with too much chocolate on the outside and not enough of the good stuff on the inside. (“The chocolate was overwhelming the cookie dough,” said Samet.)
Along with reducing the size and improving the ratio of each piece of candy, some tweaks were made to improve both texture and shelf life before bringing it to market. And once introduced, the candy’s presence was very specifically limited to movie theaters—not supermarkets, candy shops, convenience stores, or any other type of retail outlet. It’s part of what has kept the candy so intriguing over the past two and a half decades.
“They can’t buy it everywhere,” Samet says about consumers’ excitement for the product. “It’s not in every single 7-Eleven and Kroger. It’s just not as readily available as other confections.”
Indeed, Cookie Dough Bites rank among the most popular movie theater candies nationwide, and the product competes with behemoths like M&M’s and Twizzlers—candies not only manufactured by massive global conglomerates, but which are widely available at every corner drugstore.
Eventually, Cookie Dough Bites did extend its sales to some grocery and convenience stores. The product line has also expanded to include eight year-round flavors and a few rotating seasonal specialties: Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Cookies ’n Cream, Fudge Brownie, Cinnamon Bun, Birthday Cake, Red Velvet Cupcake, and S’moresels, plus Strawberry for Valentine’s Day and Gingerbread for the winter holidays. You won’t see most of these in movie theaters, though—they’ll mostly stick to the classic Chocolate Chip.
“Movie theaters are a low SKU count venue,” Samet explains, referencing Stock Keeping Units, or the individual products carried by a particular outlet. Since there’s only so much room behind a concessions counter, theaters tend to stock one variety of each candy, which is why you’ll usually see the same key players represented: Twizzlers, Peanut M&M’s, Sour Patch Kids, Milk Duds. Meanwhile, at grocery stores where shelf space is less precious, a product like Cookie Dough Bites can sprawl outward with more flavors and, by extension, more eye-catching “facings.”
But more flavors don’t just increase the number of facings—they also keep the product top of mind, especially for consumers who aren’t going to the movie theater. And during COVID, that was most of us.
Cookie Dough Bites are now available not just in the classic movie theater cardboard boxes, but also stand-up pouches that are resealable. This adaptation lent itself well to COVID quarantines, when we all sought the comfort of nostalgic flavors and purchased items in greater quantities to limit our trips to the grocery store.
The new home-pantry-friendly packaging also makes it easier to take the serving suggestion on the bag: “Try ’em FROZEN!”
Tasting a frozen Cookie Dough Bite was something of a revelation to me, someone who has only ever really enjoyed them room temp at theaters. It offers a completely new snacking experience, making each bite something to work through, but with the same characteristically yielding center. In fact, if you’re a fan of frozen Cookie Dough Bites, Samet says you might be able to enjoy them that way at the movies, too.
“A lot of the theaters do have some sort of freezer, and they do serve them as a cold treat,” he explained. “If you go up to the concession stand and you say, ‘Hey, do you have these frozen?’ more often than not, they do have some chilling for their customers.”
Whatever temp at which you enjoy them, wherever you buy them, and whenever you crack them open, Cookie Dough Bites are undeniably something unique in the marketplace.