The creators of Estonia’s best confectionery product are setting trends

This year’s best confectionery product was the Van Kook cookie dough. Owned by Kulinaaria OÜ, the brand is relatively new on the market. The company’s Sales and Marketing Manager Renita Suigusaar discusses the background to creating the brand, its launch success and why they have decided to break into such an intensely competitive area.

Let’s talk about the creation of the brand. What void is Van Kook trying to fill on the market, i.e., how does it differ from other cake producers – isn’t the cake business a highly competitive one?

Most of Kulinaaria’s production is under the label of Selveri Köök. Nonetheless, as the company is independent of Selver, we wanted to introduce our own brand – do something different.

As competition on the cake market is, indeed, intense, we wanted to stand out instantly – in terms of packaging, brand name and the product itself. Our cookie dough is natural and made with the minimum number of ingredients to keep it pure, so to speak. The packaging is cardboard and its lining is not laminated but waxed, which is both environmentally-friendly and innovative.

We had an internal competition to find the brand name but the final version – Van Kook – came from an agency. As Van Gogh was an artist and baking is also a form of art, we put together a fantastic name that brings together the two elements – a nod both to the essence of the product and to art.

How did the launch go? Did customers accept the brand easily?

Initially, we launched cookies from high-quality ingredients and packaged them in beautiful cardboard boxes with segments of a painting on them. By putting the four different boxes next to one another, the painting became whole. It was created especially for our products. The four options included oatmeal cookies with cranberries, Valeri cookies, poppyseed cookies and baked salt sticks.

We launched them without considerable marketing support but soon discovered that you can’t sell anything with just a pretty package. Our research has shown that people thought they were foreign products. And as they couldn’t see inside the package, they didn’t trust them enough to buy them.

Ultimately, we changed the design – we took a piece of the painting out and made a window to show the product. We added the “Made in Estonia” label to the price tag to gain trust. Sales improved immediately.

Your product portfolio has grown – how did you decide what to sell under the Van Kook brand?

As Kulinaaria’s production facility underwent a thorough renovation and we acquired modern equipment, it presented us with the opportunity to create completely new products – products that didn’t even exist in our market. One such product is roll-packaged cookie dough. It’s an innovative and user-friendly way of packaging, as it is very easy to cut slices and put them into the oven. We introduced the same solution for gingerbread dough – again, a very convenient approach for people who don’t want to roll and cut shapes themselves.

There are three cookie dough options: chocolate chip, toffee chip and caramel, and a salty option with three cheeses. The toffee chip and caramel cookies received the “Best Estonian Confectionery Product 2021” award. However, these three doughs were not easy to develop: we tried 52 recipes and many ingredients to find just the “right tastes”.

Besides cookies and cookie doughs, our portfolio also includes cakes. Originally, Kulinaaria OÜ didn’t have mass-produced cakes – we have made many cakes for Selveri Köök and we’ve also made large pre-ordered marzipan cakes, but not like this. We decided to introduce a premium cake range, because this field is also very competitive and you have to be extremely innovative to stand out.

So, our cake recipes include a mango cake with chia seeds and a chocolate brownie cake. They have thin sponge layers, and taste pure and natural. We also made an effort to provide beautiful packages so that they could be used as gifts. Actually, these cakes are meant for special festive occasions when people are willing to pay a little more in exchange for a truly exquisite, tasty experience.

What do your marketing operations include now?

When we launched our cookie doughs and cakes, we put a lot of effort into marketing: outdoor posters, advertisements in stores, magazines and digital media. Right now, we are building our social media channels. Last September, Omniva, the Estonian postal service, chose our cookie dough flyer as the best direct e-mail of the month.

On the other hand, other food chains are not eager to add our products into their range – the purchasing managers are well aware of the fact that we are linked to Selver, making us their competitors. However, we have managed to sell our products in cafés and other smaller venues. Currently, our products are available in Selver, Kaubamaja and Selver ABC stores.

Are you planning to expand your product portfolio or do you consider it fixed and final?

We are expanding our cookie dough range and also plan to develop new cakes. On the whole, we will stick to our specialties. We don’t want to make products that are sold by every other competitor. Our goal is to stand out. We were the first to introduce cardboard packages and we can already see that our competitors are following our lead. It seems to me that in some ways we have become trend setters in terms of packaging.

What is the most popular product of the Van Kook brand?

Our cookie doughs sell equally well. The most popular cookies are Valeri cookies, and the chocolate brownie cake is also a best-seller.