Written by: Molly Shaw
With factories in Shirley and Islip, New York, Cookies United has more than 200,000 square feet of production and nine complete baking lines, making for fast and efficient production of a range of specialty baked goods. The company’s extensive in-house research and development department has partnered with exclusive suppliers to create exciting new products.
Cookies United is a wholly owned subsidiary of United Baking Co. Inc., which was established in 1994 by Louis Avignone, now CEO of Cookies United, and Wally “Famous” Amos. Since inception, United Baking has been structured as two operating entities: Uncle Wally’s, a high quality muffin company focused on sales and marketing and United Baking, the manufacturing entity and parent corporation.
In 2014, Cookies United acquired the assets of Silver Lake Cookie Co. Inc. This acquisition allowed United Baking to add a factory in Islip, New York, dedicated to cookie production and ultimately expanded the company’s portfolio of product offerings.
As a family-run business, one of Cookies United’s goals is to create lasting customer relationships and business partnerships. “First and foremost, we’re a growing family business and we’re looking to deepen our relationships,” says Michael Petrucelli, chief financial officer of Cookies United. “While our company’s reach is significant, we really strive for close connections. We don’t want 1,000 customers; we want 100 close customers so we can build on longstanding relationships — that’s the goal.”
A total turnaround
Growing out of its original 6,000-square-foot bakery in 2001, United Baking now operates a state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot bakery. Petrucelli describes the transformation, “As the company began to secure business with major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Sam’s Club, we formed many solid relationships with financial partners such as Chase, First National Bank of Long Island, General Electric Co. and the State of New York. As Uncle Wally’s grew, the company also created many good local jobs.”
While the muffin division is a highly successful sector for Uncle Wally’s, Avignone says the company wanted to diversify. “We spread our wings further with Cookies United as we continued to build partnerships with several Fortune 50 companies that we bake for,” he says. “In 2013, we were looking to add a new growth engine. We found Silver Lake in Long Island when it had been hit by hard economic times. When we acquired the brand and the plant, we also managed to save about 125 local jobs. We’ve really made a significant economic impact, so much so that the State of New York has even backed us.”
A growing product portfolio
Today, Cookies United and Uncle Wally’s have approximately 350 employees across two facilities, both of which are Safe Quality Food Institute (SQF) certified. “We’re working on attaining SQF Level Three certification also at Cookies United, an extremely high standard in our industry,” adds Petrucelli. “Even with so many employees, we have very little turnover and our employees are dedicated to upholding high food-safety standards. This is another thing that differentiates us.”
Bringing the Silver Lake line under the Cookies United umbrella has increased the range of items the company is capable of producing. “We have a lot of new products we’re really proud of,” says Petrucelli. “In addition to our classic rainbow cookie, we now offer rainbow bars and our brand new birthday cake rainbow cookies, a twist on a classic cookie now in new colors and flavor profile.”
Cookies United is very active in the licensing category, producing a range of decorated, rotary, wire-cut, spritz and stamped cookies for proprietary, beloved trademarked brands such as Minions, Superman, Batman, My Little Pony, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Frosty the Snowman, Elf on the Shelf, A Christmas Story and more. The company also offers a seasonal product line with cookies geared toward Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving and other recognized holidays.
The business has seen growing popularity with these new product lines, especially with complete gingerbread house decorating kits, which are all proudly baked in the US. Michael Strauss, director of marketing for Cookies United says, “It’s a great, fun family experience and we’ve even posted on our website photos and thank you letters from customers who have really enjoyed putting the kits together. We value our partnerships with key brand makers and studios, such as Universal, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros .and DreamWorks. By producing our delicious, kid- and family -fun inspired gingerbread houses with such licenses, we are able to align ourselves with major retailers in exciting ways.”
While the expansion and adding to its growing portfolio is exciting, business comes down to people, products and processes for United Baking, along with cultivating longstanding partnerships. “Even through acquisition, we’re still a family company that likes to work closely with our customers,” says Petrucelli. “We want to get to know our customers because we’re making quality products for them and really, we’re an extension of their company.”
Petrucelli adds that Cookies United and Uncle Wally’s would not be where they are today without the help of supportive vendor partnerships. “We wanted to thank our loyal partners so we’ve established a partnership award program, including everyone from our ingredient companies all the way to banks and insurance companies we work with,” he says. “Every year, we pick the top partners and we honor them by making donations to charitable foundations of their choice. It just helps to further deepen our relationships with them.”
This business model has helped take Cookies United to the next level. “We’re in the midst of repositioning both Cookies United and Uncle Wally’s to prepare for the next phase of our growth,” says Avignone. “In the next 36 months, we’re looking to double our sales, including another complimentary acquisition. We’ve made considerable investments to make this happen. Seeing where things have come from the near shutdown of Silver Lake to where Cookies United is today is amazing; it’s a total transformation.”
United Baking Co. remains privately held and employee-owned. At the end of the day, Cookies United and its parent company take great pride in running a passionate family business with a core management team that has been with the company since the start.
With significant investments, Cookies United and Uncle Wally’s have substantial capacity and are ready to take on new strategic pieces of business with great confidence. Quality and innovative products, backed by strategic partnerships comprise the recipe for success at Cookies United.