By Dan Nielsen The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Women in business with a focus on the food industry have a number of things to consider; from creating a company image to branding to ramping up production and distribution; it can be overwhelming. This is a nice story of how two entrepreneurs started their Michigan cookie dough business which keeps on growing.
A headfirst dive into the snack food business has two young local entrepreneurs working long hours. But they're smiling because the future looks sweet for their Big Dipper Dough Co.
"We're hoping to revolutionize the way people eat cookie dough," said Austin Groesser, co-founder of Big Dipper Dough.
Most cookie dough is sold to be baked. Most cookie dough includes eggs. The USDA recommends that eggs be cooked because, if an egg is contaminated with salmonella, cooking kills the bacteria. Groesser's cookie dough recipe doesn't include eggs -- so it safely can be eaten without cooking.
Groesser and Daniel Fuller met in an English class at Northwestern Michigan College. Groesser mentioned he was thinking about starting a high-end cookie-dough business. He had been collecting entrepreneurial ideas and cookie dough rose to the top of the list.
"Starting up a pharmaceuticals business is a lot harder than starting up a cookie dough business," Groesser said.
Groesser mixed up a batch of the egg-free dough that he envisioned selling as a ready-to-eat treat. Fuller sampled it.
"As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was going to sell," Fuller said.
That was in September. The two moved quickly to create a company image and ramp up production and distribution. Groesser said three things are key to Big Dipper's quick success: branding, flavor and the story of how two entrepreneurs started the business.
They created a whimsical image with sharp graphics that they believe will stand out in store coolers. They bought packaging materials. They scooped out samples at Michigan State University's annual "Making It In Michigan" trade show in Lansing. They credit the flavor of their product with the high traffic they saw at that event.
"We worked for eight hours straight scooping cookie dough," Fuller said.
They followed that experience with a series of whirlwind sample-and-sales trips to convince retailers to devote shelf space to their dough. Their first wholesale order went into Oleson's Traverse West. Big Dipper now distributes in 20 stores including some in the Kalamazoo, Lansing and Grand Rapids areas. Groesser said all their stores have re-ordered to replace sold stock.
Groesser and Fuller purchased a commercial mixer that allowed them to move up from 20-pound batches to 70-pound batches to supply growing demand. They had been applying sticky labels to generic paper cups by hand, but they just ordered 200,000 pre-printed cups. They're talking with a major food distributor that handles more than 800 stores across the Plains states.
"We've got some pretty big distributors on order," Groesser said.
The Big Dipper label tells consumers to keep the product refrigerated, but it survives room temperature better than ice cream.
The dough retails for $8.59 per pint. A single-serving 4-ounce cup is in the planning stages. As best the two entrepreneurs can tell, about 90 percent of the product is consumed straight from the cup with a spoon.
"People bake it only out of curiosity," Fuller said.
Big Dipper's biggest nationally distributed competition is Cookie Dough Cafe, a company that says its dough cannot be baked, only eaten unbaked. A handful of companies scattered across the U.S. sell pre-packaged cookie dough in regional markets.
The two entrepreneurs work long hours in both production and sales for the fledgling Big Dipper company. They also work other jobs.
Groesser works as a firefighter and has other employment. Fuller works for a local building restoration company. He had been operating his own company, but gave it up to devote more time to Big Dipper.
"It was back-breaking work," Fuller said of the tree service business he owned and operated.
Groesser still takes classes at NMC, but Fuller now devotes his full time to work.
More information, including a list of retail outlets that sell Big Dipper cookie dough, is available at bigdipperdough.com.