Colorful shortbread cookies from Mary's Cakes and Pastries in Northport, Alabama.

Eye catching products at a fair price work wonders to get a customers’ attention and nudge them in the direction of impulse purchases. Decorated cookies provide a good platform for creating these eye catching items.

Everyone loves a decorated cookie. They are a universal treat that appeals to every shopper regardless of age, income, etc. They represent a classic staple of the American retail bakery and every bakery needs to put forth the effort to up production and turn this category into the money maker it has the potential to be.

When planning a decorated cookie program, shortbread cookies give the bakery a good quality product with the best potential for increasing revenue and profit margin.

1. Eye Candy

Decorated cookies with bold colors and designs improve the overall look of a bakery case. As customers scan products, decorated cookies draw attention and give the products around them support in terms of visual appeal. “There’s nothing like a mouth-watering pop of color to brighten things up and make everything in the case look even better,” says Mary Cesar, owner of Mary’s Cakes and Pastries in Northport, Alabama.

Decorated cookies are a nice alternative to cakes and cupcakes.

Decorated cookies also provide an easy, go-to item for many occasions. Having them on hand provides customers with something that works when they’re in a hurry or just looking for something universal to work for a specific need. “Sales reps buy them for customers. They are perfect for weddings, birthdays and showers. Plus, we’re a college town. Fall Saturdays mean football, and we sell thousands of decorated cookies for home games,” Cesar says.

2. Cost Effective

Keeping cost low allows a bakery to produce quality products with the highest available profit margin. Having a good decorated cookie program represents a simple way to create high profit items. “Our ingredient cost is less than ten cents per cookie,” Cesar says. That includes the packaging and the losses from breakage and giving free cookies to children.

The ingredients Cesar uses for Mary’s Cakes and Pastries’ shortbread cookies are very simple; flour, butter or margarine, and sugar. “The majority of the cost of a decorated cookie is in the labor. If you’re able to control the labor costs, decorated shortbread cookies can be a high profit item,” Cesar says. “Controlling labor costs is one reason we use the glaze-and-decorate method, instead of the flood-with-royal-icing method of decorating. We emphasize cute but simple designs, and charge extra for elaborate custom cookies.”

3. Less Waste

Shortbread cookies have a longer shelf life than most bakery products.

Dense shortbread cookies last longer than sugar cookies, short paste cookies, chocolate chip cookies, lemon bars, cupcakes and most of the drop and bar cookies or pastries that Mary’s sells. Mary’s bakes and cuts most of the shortbread cookies at night. If they don’t get decorated immediately, they are frozen for decorating at a later time. “This allows us to stock up for major holidays and optimizes our baking schedule,” Cesar says. Without freezing, they typically last five to seven days.

4. Special Order

Bakeries can decorate shortbread cookies in an infinite number of ways to fulfill custom requests from many different types of customers, including large corporate customers that need something special for an event. “They also make great favors for birthdays, showers and weddings. Or, to say ‘thank you’ to a special teacher, neighbor, or health care provider,” Cesar says.

While Mary’s does have permission to use the indicia from the University of Alabama, it’s still very careful not to infringe on any licensed, trademarked or copyrighted content without direct written permission from the owners of the content. They often get permission from local companies to reproduce the logos of local companies and make gifts for their clients.

Shortbread Cookie Formula

Mary’s Cakes and Pastries recommend other bakeries to use decorated shortbread cookies as a revenue generator. The following formula is what Mary’s uses for a 60 quart mixer:

  • 15 lbs. cold margarine
  • 7 lbs. 8 oz. granulated sugar
  • 45 lbs. all-purpose flour

Using paddle attachment, cream margarine and sugar together. Add flour all at once and mix at lowest speed until flour is incorporated. Raise speed to medium (2 on a 4-speed mixer) and continue mixing until dough comes together and forms a ball. Do NOT over-mix or dough will become too soft to hold its shape as you roll and cut cookies.

Roll out on dough sheeter to 6 cm, covering top of dough with plastic film to prevent dough from sticking to rollers. Cut shapes and bake at 325°F about 20 minutes or until edges are slightly browned and dough is cooked. Cool, ice, dry, and decorate.

We paint the cookies with a glaze using confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup and water, but Brill’s White & Glossy also works. Decorate with royal icing. Makes about 50 dozen 3x4 in cookies.