Crumbl Cookies is the fastest growing cookie chain in the US thanks to Tiktok

On a sunny afternoon, dozens of cookie lovers descended on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. They crowded into a small Crumbl storefront that looked like an Apple Store but smelled like Funfetti. They placed their orders on white boards and took photos of their millennial pink cookie boxes.

At the end of the street at the original location of Levain Bakery, arguably New York’s most famous cookie supplier, there was surprisingly nothing of the line that normally stretches half a block.

Connor Coleman, an artist who lives in the area, said he’s tried cookies at many bakeries in New York, but Crumbl is his favorite.

“If I’m not making them myself, this is the only place I go,” he said.

He bought four cookies, including a Nutter-Butter-flavored model. Like most of Crumbl’s offerings, it was plump, doughy, intensely sweet, and covered in a thick glaze. Each cookie baked on-site costs between $4 and $5 and can easily serve four people (you can even buy a cookie cutter). And each week brings a new list of flavors, like caramel popcorn, cotton candy, key lime pie, and everything bagel.

Not everyone shares Coleman’s enthusiasm.

“They were so disappointing,” said Kiwanna Norwood, a career coach in Little Rock, Arkansas, who picked up a load at a store there. “I just couldn’t get over the fact that they tasted like cookie dough.”

Are the cookies good or not? When millions of people debate this question, the answer doesn’t matter.

Crumbl is the fastest-growing chain of dessert shops in the United States and the fourth-fastest-growing grocery chain of all types in the country, according to a 2022 report by Datassential, a food and beverage analytics firm. In the past six years, Crumbl has opened more than 750 stores from coast to coast. The company said it sold an average of nearly 1 million cookies a day last year.

(Amy Lombard | The New York Times) An employee decorates a cookie at Crumbl Cookies in New York, April 7, 2023. The cookies are known for their large size, doughy texture and intensely sweet flavor.

It’s the kind of success that’s often attributed to social media, but Crumbl is no ordinary internet sensation.

The company has created and fueled its own hype, announcing weekly cookie flavors on TikTok as if they were limited-edition sneaker drops, with vaguely sensual slow-motion videos reminiscent of Burger King commercials. The company has amassed 6.7 million followers on the platform, more than Taco Bell and Starbucks combined.

“It actually put us on a different track as a company very, very quickly,” said Jason McGowan, 43, who founded the company in 2017 in Logan, Utah, with his cousin Sawyer Hemsley, 30.

Breanna Brooks is one of thousands of people who visit a Crumbl store weekly, and she checks out the changing flavors on her TikTok account.

But when she publishes a Crumbl review, “a lot of people get really angry,” said Brooks, who lives in Sacramento, Calif. and works in marketing. They post complaints about the cookies being awful.

“I just don’t understand,” she said. “It’s just cookies.”

Shentel Meadows, a social worker in Richmond, Virginia, is among those confused by all the praise for the cookies. To them, they seem underbaked.

“If you eat something raw and it makes your stomach hurt, it has this effect.

She was so disappointed that she complained on Twitter in February: “Just a daily reminder that cookie crumbs are no good,” she wrote.

Lauren Gillon, who runs Homegirl Kitchen, a pop-up bakery in Detroit, was tempted by TikTok to try Crumbl. The cookies tasted artificial, she said. “I just don’t feel like they’re homemade.”

Prior to Crumbl’s formation, neither McGowan nor Hemsley had any baking training. But McGowan, who had founded and sold a web company, thought these knowledge gaps could be filled with technology and user research.

“We thought, ‘How hard could that be?'” he said.

Instead of hiring a chef, the pair searched online for cookie recipes, testing their way through dozens of versions and asking people in grocery stores and parking lots for feedback. McGowan said he invested a few hundred thousand dollars to open the first store in Logan and the company still hasn’t sought investors.

The partners were convinced that TikTok – still new in the US in 2017 – is the next big social media platform and worth focusing on.

After seeing some reviews of Crumbl cookies on TikTok, the social media team started reposting them on the company’s TikTok account with the hashtag #TasteWeekly and even broadcasting the videos in stores.

“We have doubled the content already produced,” McGowan said.

When the company introduced the rotating flavor menu in 2018, there suddenly were new cookies for people to check out every week — and a sense of scarcity. Customers piled in under the hashtag #TasteWeekly whether they loved or loathed the cookies. The hashtag has 461.5 million views.

Crumbl has become a desirable tenant for developers, said Payton Kelly, senior advisor at SVN, a commercial real estate agent in Santa Rosa, California.

“Anyone who owns a mall that doesn’t have a Crumbl in a certain area is turning to her right now,” Kelly said.

Many customers said they compare Crumbl to Insomnia Cookies, a dessert chain known for its nightly cookie delivery. But Seth Berkowitz, founder and CEO of Insomnia, doesn’t feel threatened by Crumbl’s success.

“A 1,000-calorie cookie,” he said. (Last week’s menu averaged 766 calories and 62.5 grams of sugar per cookie.)) “Hard to imagine eating that on a daily basis. It is certainly a unique model.”

The founders of Crumbl, who just opened Crumbl’s first international location in Edmonton, Alberta, have heard criticism of their cookies. But the sales numbers don’t lie, McGowan said.

“We have the best cookies in the world.”

Justin Scaccy

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