Meet the Producer: Benny Curl, Byrd Cookie Company
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Benny Curl of Byrd Cookie Company talks about custom flavors, maintaining quality and how they develop new products.
What is your approach to product introductions?
We believe that specialty food is almost like the fashion industry and you need something new to keep peoples’ interest—especially in the gift business. We try to introduce at least one new flavor every year and we have our own in-house graphics department create new packaging almost every year. To balance new product introductions, we will drop our slowest moving items. One new line we launched at the Winter Fancy Food Show is our Coffee Cookies that come in five flavors—such as Pralines and Cream—and are sold in travel coffee mugs.
What is most distinctive about your company?
We are recognized as an industry leader in innovative packaging and flavor. We’ve introduced a lot of new concepts that other companies have copied. Looking back to 1989, for example, we were the first company to put Key lime into a cookie. We are also known for our quality as we spend a lot of money on ingredients. Our flour is custom-milled for us here in the Southeast and our flavors are custom made.
How do you develop new cookies and new lines?
It can take several years. The in-house development team will come up with a flavor profile, our production manager will take the idea to our flavor companies, then we begin testing. We go back and forth tweaking the flavor. Sometimes it takes five tries or more to get it to where we want.
But that’s just the first part. In order to make sure the flavor profile will still be there in 12 months, we bake and package batches and then test them periodically. Once we get them to our satisfaction we sample them with our customers. If we get an 85 percent approval rating, we know we are in good shape.
How did you first get into the food business?
My wife’s grandfather started Byrd Cookie Company in 1924. When my father-in-law got ready to retire in 1988, he called me up and told me that if I would beat what he was being offered for his company, he would keep it in the family. I didn’t want it for myself. I was working as a CPA in Atlanta, but I thought it might be an opportunity for my kids one day. Initially we hired someone to run the business with our help. Over three years it grew to the point that it required a lot of my time, so I sold my accounting practice and moved back to Savannah to be full time in the cookie business.
I know you love all kinds of food. If you knew it was going to be your last meal, what would you eat?
I would start with a crisp mixed green salad that included black olives, green olives, cucumbers and tomatoes with Vidalia Onion Peppercorn dressing. The main course would be great homemade lasagna made with whole-wheat pasta. Dessert would be a variety of Byrd cookies: two Key Lime Cooler cookies, two Chocolate Mint cookies, two Georgia Peach cookies and two Oatmeal cookies and a scoop of mango ice cream. That meal would hit the spot for me.—Susan Segrest
Susan Segrest is a contributing editor to foodspring.com and has also written for Marie Claire, the New York Daily News and Prevention.