Cookies and biscuits - The snack time favorites

Cookies and biscuits - The snack time favorites
Photo - Stefan Tomic via iStock

Wheat flour, sugar, and oil. When these seemingly mundane ingredients join forces, they weave their magic and transform into crunchy, bite-worthy treats that consumers love worldwide - cookies and biscuits. Sometimes used interchangeably, biscuits and cookies are commonly flour-based, baked food products. In some regions of the world, they refer to the same product, while in others, they are different. Cookies are sweet, unleavened baked goods containing flour, sugar, eggs, and oil. On the other hand, biscuits can refer to a small, savory cake (in North America) or a small, unleavened, baked cake that is flat, crisp, and sweet (in British English). While cookies are mostly sweet, biscuits may be sweet (digestive biscuits and hobnobs) or savory (crackers).  

Some of the major biscuit and cookie manufacturers in India are Parle, Patanjali, Britannia Industries, ITC, Surya Food and Agro Limited, Nestlé India, Anmol Industries Limited, ImmaculateBites (Open Secret), Karachi Bakery, Mondelez International and Unibic Foods India among others. Most of these top manufacturers use completely automated or semi-automated production processes to prepare high-quality products. However, in smaller industries, manual labor is sometimes required for processes like mixing and dough making.

The protection and promotion of the interests and development of the biscuit industry in India is done by the FBMI (Federation of Biscuit Manufacturers of India). The IBMA (Indian Biscuits Manufacturer Association) regulates and promotes the biscuit industry in India. It aims to protect the interests of and develop systematic and hygienic biscuit manufacturing in India.

Shifting perceptions – Premiumization in India

In the past, biscuits in India were a mass product and not a luxury item. This perception has changed over time. With increasing disposable income, indulgence, health concerns, and exposure to luxurious tastes, Indians are welcoming experimentative flavors and innovations with open arms. This has led to the growth of premium cookies and biscuits over the low and medium-priced varieties. To make premium products affordable, manufacturers offer these in smaller packs. Higher-value products and low-cost branded products are gaining preference over unbranded items.

A wide range of floury goodies 

The biscuits and cookies industry offers consumers multifarious options to choose from. Depending on the dough's nature, specialty, and ingredients, lovers of the floury goodies can pick from the following types.

Hard biscuits- These are made from thick, and dense dough with more gluten (a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye).

Soft biscuits- These are made from smoother dough and are easier to digest. They are high in sugar and fat.

Confectionery biscuits- These are filled with chocolates, nuts, fruits, honey, jam, and more. They need more time and ingredients and are often specialty snacks.

Rolled biscuits- These are powdery, thicker, and twice the height of the original biscuits. Made from rolled dough, they are cut to give layers to the biscuit.

Scones- They have a cake-like structure and have a heavy taste. Made from wheat or oatmeal, these are baked on sheet pans. They are often sweetened and sometimes glazed with egg wash.

Thumbprint cookies- These are round, shortbread cookies that are made by pressing the thumb on the dough to make a depression that is filled with various jams.

Macarons- These delicate, meringue-based cookies are round and filled with creamy ganache. They enjoy immense popularity in France and are made in various colors.

Macaroons- Not to be confused with macarons, macaroons are coconut-based. They have a lumpy and dense texture. Their preparation time is lower as compared to macarons. These cookies are consumed plain or by dipping in chocolate or sometimes added with flavors.

Icebox cookies- This variant is prepared by shaping the dough into a log and chilling it in the refrigerator. Before baking, the dough is sliced into rounds and placed on baking sheets.

The wave of innovation

The biscuit market is competitive. Consumer tastes and preferences drive innovation in this industry. In the cookies market, major players are now focusing on packaging innovation, flavor, and format to be on the top. Companies are investing in product innovations and brand creation to maintain consumer trust. The following factors drive innovation in this industry-

Novel ingredients-

For consumers who are ready to experiment and try something new, novel ingredients push sales. Unusual flavor combinations are no hindrance as consumers are ready to try sweet and salty biscuits like sea salt and grapefruit-flavored potato biscuits in China or biscuits with coconut, sugar, and oyster in Korea. Spicy and savory flavors are also being explored, like sandwich cookies with butter and black pepper in the cream in Japan. In India, spicy, sweet, crispy, and crumbly Khara biscuits baked with Indian spices and herbs are loved by consumers in Bengaluru and Tamil Nadu. 

Healthy ingredients- 

Health-boosting ingredients are also being explored in biscuits and cookies. For instance, in Indonesia, low-fat and low-sugar cookies rich in protein and minerals are marketed as "more cookies, less guilt." Crackers in Malaysia are full of carrots, yeast, seaweed, and black sesame. In India, consumers are exploring more biscuits and cookies that offer improved immunity, energy, and balanced nutrition since the pandemic. 

Upcycling for a better environment and health

According to the Upcycled Foods Definition Task Force, upcycling is a concept that encourages the use of ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption. Such foods are value-added products meant for human consumption. Upcycling in the biscuits and cookies industry uses powders and flour from fresh produce, nuts, and seed processing byproducts. Some examples are-

  • Okara flour, the dried soybean pulp obtained from soy milk processing, can be used in bakery products, cereal mixes, and more.

  • Almond skins are used in biscuit production when converted to powdered form. 

  • Potatoes, broccoli, blueberries, apples, beet, and kale are used to make flour for bakery products. 

  • Sunflower cake obtained as a residue of sunflower oil production is rich in proteins, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. It is converted to flour used for making healthy muffins and biscuits.

Even though the concept sounds wonderful for health and the environment, there are challenges like consumer perception of consuming "waste." Further, the upcycled ingredient might change the biscuits' organoleptic, textural, and compositional properties. Food scientists, stakeholders, manufacturers, and policymakers need to step up to encourage the use of these upcycled ingredients in the production of cookies and biscuits. Investment and motivation are key to driving change in the industry.

The biscuits and cookies industry faces a substitutional threat from products like chocolates, pushing biscuit and cookie manufacturers to go the extra mile to ensure that they meet consumer demands. Strategic marketing techniques and advanced equipment for optimized production will foster the industry's growth and attract consumers. The industry is poised to grow in the future, because, after all, unwinding with a cup of tea and biscuit in hand after a long day is one of life's simplest joys!

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