We know you love those luscious pastries, in fact, they are some of the best performing images on Instagram. But have you ever wondered how baked goods actually fit into a local food system?
The truth is, flour production is largely controlled by just a few corporations, so there’s not much in baked goods -- at least by volume -- that can be sourced locally. Many times small mills can’t keep up with the demands of a manufacturing plant.
But, baking with local products can be done, and that’s why I’m excited to share Noshy’s story with you. In this week’s episode, I’m speaking with Noshy Cookie Company who specializes in memorably scrumptious cookies made with mindfully chosen ingredients. Owner Julie Strange shares with us some of the inside stories about her brand, her farm-to-market experience, growing alternate channels, and keeping local sourcing and sustainability at the center of her business.
She’ll be bringing us along her journey on how they handled the company during the pandemic, how they were able to choose alternatives for their ingredients, and the importance of sustainable packaging to their brand.
Learn awesome takeaways about hard work, sustainability, and authenticity from Julie’s story on Episode 38!
Virginia Foodie Essentials:
It's not enough for us to make amazingly delicious cookies. We care about the earth and the people who live here, and our company reflects that. - Noshy Cookie Company
This is how we live our life at home. We try to buy things that aren't in plastic and try to find things locally instead of shipping. - Julie Strange
Our packaging has always been either recycled, compostable, biodegradable, or reusable. - Julie Strange
Business needs balance. - Georgiana Dearing
Key Points From This Episode:
How they handled the business amidst COVID-19
Their online cookie sales
Her pregnancy journey during the pandemic
Their diverse set of sales channels
Sourcing from local products or creating one from scratch
Alternative ingredients used in their product
Partnering with catering for events
Coming up with new ideas for the business’ growth
Other Resources Mentioned:
More about the Guest:
Julie Strange is the founder of Noshy Cookie Company.
Connect with Julie:
Follow The Virginia Foodie here:
Click Here for Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Julie Strange: We're always looking to make sure that all of the bits and pieces that we do and where they come from are aligned with our values which, again, is something we do at home. It takes a lot of work sometimes, but I think it's worth it.
[00:00:13] Intro: Welcome to The Virginia Foodie Podcast, where we lift the lid on the craft food industry and tell the stories behind the good food, good people, and good brands that you know and love. If you've ever come across a yummy food brand and wondered, “How did they do that? How do they turn that recipe into a successful business?” Then we've got some stories for you.
[00:00:42] Georgiana Dearing: Are you hungry, Foodies? If you aren't now, you will be around the end of this episode. Because today, I'm speaking with Julie Strange, the Founder of Noshy Cookie Company. We know for a fact that some of the best-performing images on Instagram are luscious baked goods. We get so much attention from them on VA Foodie that sometimes the algorithm thinks our local food community is actually a bakery.
But on VA Foodie, we're all about sharing and supporting food brands that source locally. And in Virginia, the truth is there's not much in baked goods, at least by volume, that can easily be sourced locally. We do have some flour mills and winter wheat is in the top 20 ag crops for the state. But flour isn't really an agricultural product that the state is known for producing. And many times, small mills can't keep up with the demands of a manufacturing plant. But baking with local products can be done, and that's why I'm excited to share Noshy story with you. They specialize in memorably scrumptious cookies made with mindfully chosen ingredients.
In our discussion, Julie is very clear that her personal convictions drive the company. I love to see a small business leaning hard into its mission and being successful at it too. Her e-commerce platform is a big revenue stream, and Julie shares some of the inside stories about her brand, her farmer get to experience, growing alternate channels, and being consistently persistent with her distributors to understand just where all her ingredients are coming from.
If you're a mission-driven food brand, there are a lot of great takeaways from the Noshy story.
[00:02:30] Georgiana Dearing: Hi, Julie. Thanks for joining me today. And I'm going to ask you, as I do to all my guests, to do your own introduction. Could you tell us who you are and what you're up to?
[00:02:40] Julie Strange: Absolutely. So my name is Julie, and I own Noshy. And we make cookies.
[00:02:45] Georgiana Dearing: That is straight to the point, and I love it. Well, I had you on today because you've been a friend of VA Foodie for a while, and we love your brand, and we like your positioning. But this is airing in the fall and that we're heading into the holiday season, I know that you do online cookie sales. So that's part of the topics that we're going to talk about today. But I've been starting with everyone and just doing a little check-in with how things are going. We're in our second year of a global pandemic and the food industry has taken a lot of hits, and I really want to know how was it for you and how are you managing it now?
[00:03:26] Julie Strange: So it's my favorite question to answer. Our running a business in a pandemic story is slightly different than most people's because the week after the stay-at-home orders came out in the latter part of March of 2020. I found out that we were pregnant with our first child. So running a business in a pandemic and being pregnant in the pandemic when no one knew what this was and how it affected pregnant women and babies in utero and all of this stuff. So decisions were probably made differently with me, being pregnant, then maybe I would have otherwise. We were very lucky that we already had a solid shipping model. So what we did is, when we stopped doing our farmer's markets in person which is probably right after St. Patty's day. That year, we were able to offer free shipping for all the local folks who couldn't come out or weren't coming out or didn't want to do pick-ups. So we just went immediately into free shipping. It was pretty fantastic. The people were sending cookies to family and friends all over the place as, a wish we could see you, we miss you, hope you're doing well, feel better, that kind of thing. And while we missed people smiling faces at the market and popping by to pick up cookies, we got some of that love by reading the things that they were putting, the little gift notes that they were putting in with their cookie orders.
So it was really nice to see all the love going around. Luckily, the farmer's markets that we were in at that time by May or June of that year, had all figured out how to do online pre-orders and pick-ups that were no contact, which allowed us to return in some manner to farmer's markets without physically being there. We hadn't hired for the summer. By that point, we were just about to start, we basically just decided not to for the year. So we were short-staffed, and I wasn't going to put someone in a farmer's market when I wasn't willing to go myself.
Georgiana Dearing: Oh yes. Yes.
Julie Strange: So we were really thankful that we could do pre-order pick-ups, and that continued for most of the year.
Georgiana Dearing: It gets fuzzy, doesn't it? We've been handling it for a long time.
Julie Strange: It all blends in, for sure. Yes. At some point, we had to stop doing markets for a myriad of reasons. But for the most part in 2020, we're very thankful that our market systems had figured out ways of doing the online pre-orders, and that helped a lot. At that point, we were still in the Leesburg Farmers Market because that one was all year round, cascades were still going or had just started, and we were about to be in a bunch of others for the summer season which we would have been finding out about around that time or in February. And then we decided we couldn't go. So I think about our height, we were in six or seven farmer's markets a week. This was a couple of years ago. That was our height. It was really great.
[00:06:21] Georgiana Dearing: That's a lot of management, though. I think of that in terms of pop-up shops. That's a lot to do.
Julie Strange: It is, yes.
Georgiana Dearing: It is a peer for a day in a week.
[00:06:32] Julie Strange: Yes, for sure. And at that point, I had the staff do it. So we had to make some decisions with, I wasn't going to show up at a farmer's market pregnant in a pandemic. And I wasn't going to attempt to get someone to do that for me, so we stepped away from that. But eventually, the information about COVID came in a little bit more. We felt a little safer opening up the shop to no contact pick-ups so you could order through us and then just stop by and pick up your stuff without having to talk or see anybody. But our shipping, even now, has remained a larger percentage than usual. The holidays notwithstanding, we do probably 90% of shipping during the holidays because we have a bunch of corporate customers. We ship all over the country to their clients.
Georgiana Dearing: So you've had a diverse set of sales channels. You had farmer's markets where you do have a brick-and-mortar location.
Julie Strange: Sort of, yes.
Georgiana Dearing: And then you have that whole corporate sale is a channel of its own, I think.
Julie Strange: Yes, and it was different for so long. So I was due right before Thanksgiving, so we never had a Christmas with Noshy last year. So all of my corporate folks were like, no, what are we going to do? And I've had a bunch of reaches out already this year. I usually would have emailed them by the end of August saying, hey, just letting you know that this is what we're doing this year. But I had a bunch of people emailing and saying, hey, we really hope you're doing Christmas this year.
Georgiana Dearing: My goodness.
Julie Strange: Which, thankfully we are. I have to figure out how that's going to work with the little one. But we definitely are going to do Christmas this year.
[00:08:05] Georgiana Dearing: I should have changed my question and asked you, how are you doing post-parenthood? Because that's another whole global disruption of it.
Julie Strange: Yes, it's true. It's very true. With a skeleton staff and, luckily, I can bring the kiddo in. But obviously, I'm not nearly as productive as when he's not there. But he's been a champ a handful of times. I've brought him in already.
[00:08:28] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, that's good. Our focus has always been on local ingredients. And I think sometimes, there's this fuzziness around baked goods because we just aren't known for wheat in Virginia. So put it on your website. You talk about mindfully chosen ingredients, and you have a commitment statement that I really admire where you talk about it. "It's not enough for us to make amazingly delicious cookies. We care about the earth and the people who live here, and our company reflects that." And I want to say, can you speak to how that commitment carries through to the products you make?
[00:09:03] Julie Strange: Yes, absolutely. So the local sourcing and the sustainability and knowing what's in our stuff and where it's coming from is a no-brainer for the business because that's how we live our life at home. We always look at ingredients. We always try to find a local product, if possible or make stuff from scratch instead of buying the pre-packaged things. There's a bunch of ingredients that we try to avoid at home like high fructose corn syrup and palm oil, and all sorts of things. So we want things to be wholesome and not have a bunch of random things that we can't pronounce in the ingredient list. So it was a no-brainer to do it as part of the business because that's already how we live our life. So sourcing things like butter and eggs hyper-locally which I consider to be 25 miles- 50-mile radius is not always cost-effective. We do make sure that it's at least within a 150-200 mile radius which hurts me a little bit but still is much better than having things shipped from all places.
One of the things that I haven't finished doing, and that's a new goal when through all that free time I have running a business with a new baby is to make sure that all of our ingredients don't have any palm oil. I know that there are more sustainable palm oil options out there, but it's basically impossible to determine what source your palm oil is coming from. We don't use it as an ingredient, but it's in. It's a sub ingredient in chocolate chips and things. So that's the final thing. And we're always making sure that ingredients don't change on us, which has happened a couple of times. We used to get butterscotch chips from a certain company for our gingerbread butterscotch cookie, which is delicious. Our main cookie that launched the entire company, if I do say so.
And all of a sudden, I noticed that they looked different and they tasted different, and the ingredients had changed with absolutely no warning. And they were subpar, and they tasted awful. And the ingredients were theoretically more wholesome, it was just gross. I basically sent all my friends to every store that they sold these things in, regardless of quantity, even if it was like a little bag to go get the kind before they changed the ingredients. And then about a year later, after many, many emails on my part, I'm sure I only had a tiny, tiny effect if any, at all. They did change their ingredients back to the original. So the butterscotch chips taste wonderful. And while they're not, they have things like red 20, which we try to avoid. But it's butterscotch chips, it's hard to make your own. So we're not going to try to do that. But we want to make sure that things are not just, and it's not just what is in the ingredients or where they came from, but also the company that's sourcing it or the farm that's growing it or whatever. We want to make sure that the company itself also aligns with our values of sustainability and focus on the environment, and keeps their employees happy and well-situated. So we're always looking to make sure that all of the bits and pieces that we do and where they come from are aligned with our values which, again, is something we do at home. It takes a lot of work sometimes, but I think it's worth it.
[00:12:21] Georgiana Dearing: I was gonna say, that's a lot of extra research that you don't get necessarily in the product catalog from your food distribution company.
[00:12:29] Julie Strange: Right. Exactly. I think my rep for one of our companies has me on their list of, oh, here she goes again. Okay.
[00:12:37] Georgiana Dearing: My goodness. Well, can we also talk about sustainable packaging? I'm going to say before I let you speak that this has been a very hot topic this year. Particularly with mail-order products, because we've had such a rise in direct shipping, and such a squeeze on the supply chain. So I wanted to talk about sustainable packaging with you. And I see that you've got a relationship with a compost service. So I want to hear more about this from you.
[00:13:08] Julie Strange: Absolutely. So I'll talk about the compost service first. Food Loop is a local Loudoun County compost service. Lauren started it. A couple of years ago, we happened to be next to each other at the farmer's market. Her first day there, and we got to talking. And it made sense to have a bucket of hers because she does local pick-ups. You get a bucket, you pay however much amongst you to fill it up. The bucket goes away. You get a new bucket. It's a really easy system. She also has drop-off locations around the county and gets some of the composts back to put in your yard when it's all nice and fluffy and dirty again. So we made a lot of sense to bring her services into the bakery. Basically, she just gets all of our eggshells because we don't have a lot of them, we're not going to give butter or scraps like that to her. But all the eggshells are fantastic. I love crunching them down in the bottom of the bucket when it gets full, you just crunch. It's a great sound. So that's really fantastic. It was a no-brainer. We do that at home. As soon as I knew that she had a service like that, we’re doing it everywhere. At home, work, and all the places.
Georgiana Dearing: They give you a bucket and then they pick up your waste, and then later you get some compost back.
Julie Strange: Yes, if you want to. Yes, you can say yes. I'd like the compost back. Or no, you can give it to whoever else. It's really fantastic. I should have her URL memorized, but I don't.
Georgiana Dearing: We'll look it up.
[00:14:28] Julie Strange: Yes, it's really great. And I think they've partnered with another local composting company that was starting up so that they have a bigger area of coverage now, which I think is fantastic. So packaging, again, is a no-brainer. This is how we live our life at home. We try to buy things that aren't in plastic and try to find things locally instead of shipping. Of course, pandemic notwithstanding. We, like everyone else, had made a lot of requests for shipping of all of the things, especially when we can't find stuff in the local stores like baby formula. Who knew that would be hard to find? Apparently, very.
So our packaging has always been either recycled or recyclable or compostable or biodegradable or reusable. Actually, the big thing is that it was one of those things that I didn't realize wasn't what I should be doing. We were using plastic packing tape. One day, I was like, wait a minute. I can use paper tape. It's not necessarily recyclable because of the glue, but it's at least not plastic. So that was a no-brainer once we figured that out. But everything from our cardboard shipping boxes to the tissue paper that we put everything in to keep it from jostling around in the box, our actual packaging of the cookies are tins that can be reused or recycled. The cellophane that we put some of our cookies in is compostable, which I verified with Lauren. So, anyone who has our little cookie bags and wants to put them in their Food Loop compost buckets, they can totally do that. And our Baker's Dozen bags and boxes are all recycled, cardboard, or eco-friendly packaging. One of our sources for packaging has a green line. So we try to get everything that we can from there.
I was actually thinking the other day because we have a subscription service, so you can get cookies just showing up at your door as if by magic. Every month, you can choose the tin or a Baker's Dozen. And the tin, it suddenly occurred to me and I'm like, I have a couple of folks who have the "forever subscription". And that means it just goes on until they decide to stop. And I have a couple of folks that's been going on for two years for them. And I kept thinking, man, they must have a lot of tins laying around their house. And I wanted to ask, what are you doing with these tins? Are you gifting them? Are you hoarding them? Are you recycling them?
Georgiana Dearing: You need to ask.
Julie Strange: I do, I really do.
Georgiana Dearing: Pull them out of your email list and ask. If you're listening, tell us, what are you doing with all these tins? But you could change that subscription too. If you sent a tin that you couldn't use, then send a compostable bag that they could just put the cookies in the tin.
[00:17:15] Julie Strange: That's one of the many things on my list of when I have time to look into these things. I think the main thing is sometimes these are gift subscriptions. They might be just for three months or for six months, and they're going to somebody else. And I feel like someone having to keep the tin around like it's just another level of inconvenience for someone. Also, the tin really helps keep the cookies safe in transit. I have thought about that. Or if folks are local, they can bring the tins back and we will just refill the same tin.
Georgiana Dearing: I was thinking of that loop. Loop was trying to do them. Put things in aluminum, you can send them back and then you get clean and then refill them. Well, I am curious about your online sales. Can you tell me how much of your business really is mail-order?
Julie Strange: Currently or pre-pandemic?
Georgiana Dearing: Well, actually, I'd be curious about both to be truthful because I think that the next adjustment cycle for food brands is when things normalize, what can you really expect from your sales?
[00:18:16] Julie Strange: Yes, so pre-pandemic, not around Christmas time, our mail order was probably about 40% of our business. Probably closer to 60% or 65-ish with the corporate orders and the large bulk orders around Christmas time. Farmer's markets were the big portion of our sales in general for a long time. So things leveled out a little bit, obviously, we're not showing up at farmer's markets. So we're doing a lot more pick-up in our bakery, which is just a commercial kitchen. We don't have a walk-in, oh, I'd like that cookie and that cookie, and also a cup of coffee. We had that when we were a part of a Women-Owned Bakery Cooperative in Herndon, a bunch of years. But that was also very hard to manage.
Georgiana Dearing: I was going to say, that's another level of management and service. Almost like a different part of your brain.
Julie Strange: It is. And thankfully, we had a really great group of women. Shout out to Amy of former Cake Ball Fame. She basically ran it for us and we just showed up and baked things, and it was awesome. And I learned a lot from those ladies as well. So now that we're not doing farmer's markets, a lot more people are coming over. Surprisingly, a number of people work near us so they're like, oh yes, I just work around the corner. I'll swing by whenever the cookies are ready. Okay, great. Because I feel like we're on the other side of Delis and there's nothing around yet. There's a bunch of construction, but I digress. I would say our shipping portion of sales is probably closer to 70% or 80% now. And I expect it to remain that way because not going to farmer's markets as much as it pains me to not be part of that community, at this time, I don't really see a way that we can get back there without my brain exploding, because I would have to hire and train while I'm used to doing that. It's also one other thing with being a new mom and trying to run the business. It's just a little too much at this point. So I would imagine our mail order, which is going pretty strong. It's just going to continue being the bulk of what we do.
Georgiana Dearing: I think this will take a long time. I used the word normalize earlier, and I think it's going to take a long time for the market to slide back to pre-pandemic. I don't even say it's going to be like that. But what you thought your business was, I think mail orders are going to stay up from those times. People are used to it now and e-commerce was growing before there was a crisis. So I don't think it's going to slide back down low.
Julie Strange: Yes, I agree.
[00:20:47] Georgiana Dearing: Business needs balance. It's good to have three legs of income. So are you looking at expanding food service or anything like that to balance out the farm market online sales?
[00:20:58] Julie Strange: Yes. We had also done catering for events and things. So the partner that we have in the bakery, former bakeshop girl, Evan, makes the most delicious cakes ever. Sometimes, she'll have a bride or a birthday cake customer, and they'll want cookies so it's a match made in heaven. But we would also do catering on our own as well. And that obviously was in-person events, taking a nosedive that business went down as well. I do expect that to come up a little bit. It's starting to already, but lower-key, much smaller events. People need a box or a platter instead of five platters, or something like that. So I expect that to grow a little bit more once people are feeling safer to gather in large groups. But we're also not going out and finding the bandwidth I have right now. If they come to me, great. And that's just where we are right now.
Georgiana Dearing: Well, they clarify though. When you say catering, it's literally party platters that you're providing. No one is going out and standing behind a cookie table.
Julie Strange: Yes, we'll deliver cookies. We did actually do, so I guess, they're more promotional events like Yelp had a birthday or things like that. We'll go and we'll stand there, and we'll reach out with people and serve them cookies. But for the most part, it's…
Georgiana Dearing: We're providing just a bulk order that is nicely presented. Yes, so you talk about all the things. You're obviously in a state of change, but you're not alone in that because you have some extenuating life circumstances. But you're not alone in the food industry where you're like, do we, don't we, just because of the state of gatherings and people, all the things you just mentioned. Do you have plans for growth? What do you think about when you're looking ahead? Maybe just flavors, what's up?
[00:22:45] Julie Strange: Yes, this is probably a personality disorder but I always have a running list of new things to try as far as flavors, or new packaging to look into, or new income revenues if we were doing more wholesale, or doing whatever else, selling to a supermarket or something. I don't think that is in our future. I really do like the cookies going directly from us to the people and putting any middleman unless it's a local coffee shop or something. In between that, it just really doesn't jive with my vision. But I'm always looking at new flavors.
Georgiana Dearing: I know about you, and I should have asked you to mention some of your flavors because I think it's very interesting. You talked about butterscotch, gingerbread, what flavor combos could you get right now?
[00:23:33] Julie Strange: We have the usual chocolate chip and we have VA sprinkles, which is just a really fun sugar cookie with sprinkles, which we switch up for the holidays. So instead of yay sprinkles there, boo sprinkles at the moment for Halloween. And we do hohoho sprinkles for Christmas. But the flavor combinations, my personal favorite is cardamom molasses, there's a little bit of black pepper in there and it's just so good. And we also make that as a sandwich cookie with some lemon buttercream in there, and the combination of lemon. I know the combination of cardamom and lemon is just so good. And I feel like cardamom either had before the pandemic or is currently having another resurgence of people like, oh, let's put cardamom and all the things. And it's just, it's so good. So we also have a Mexican hot chocolate sugar cookie which has a little bit of cayenne pepper in there for some warmth, which actually, I really love taking drinks that I love and trying to make it into a cookie. And so the Mexican hot chocolate cookie is actually inspired by a hot chocolate from the coffee shop in my old library I used to make where I worked. It's warming and it's delicious and it hits you at all angles. And it's really, really yummy.
[00:24:45] Georgiana Dearing: Those sound just delicious. And so now, you're just running through your mind, all the new flavors you're going to try out.
[00:24:51] Julie Strange: It's true. Before the pandemic, I was tinkering with tea-flavored buttercreams so that the buttercream was more of the compliment, or the front-forward flavor than the cookie was like a little more low-key cookie and a punchier buttercream. Usually, it's the other way around, the cookie is the main event. And then the buttercream for our sandwich cookies is more of the extra special edition. And then the pandemic hit, and then we were having a baby. So the tea-flavored buttercream took a side along with everything else. But I really love taking inspiration from the food and the drink that I love, and trying to figure out a way to make it into a cookie or a brownie flavor, or a Pop-Tart combination because we do make Pop-Tarts for our wholesale clients. And it's funny. The last time I really went out into the world was late February 2020, right before all these became a thing. And I was sitting on the train coming back from New York City. I had the inspiration of Pop-Tart combinations running through my head like brown sugar and bacon, and lemon and poppy seed, and all of these different combinations that I wanted to try out on our wholesale clients which, again, then the pandemic and then the baby. And so, they've been getting the same strawberry and Nutella that we've always done. I think if I had two of me, it would be a lot easier. One of me could be actually making all the things, and that the other one of me figures out how to combine.
Georgiana Dearing: That's the small business owner's dilemma.
Julie Strange: Exactly.
Georgiana Dearing: You'll solve that. You have to figure out how to separate doing and inventing yourself. Well, all of this sounds delightful and you're making me hungry. But I'm glad I asked about your flavors because I think they're just enticing. But before we close, can you share with the listeners how to find you?
Julie Strange: Absolutely. So our website is getnoshy.com That's We're also on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, all with the same handle. It's getnoshy.
Georgiana Dearing: Well, that's great. I am sure you're going to find some more followers today.
Julie Strange: Fantastic. We can't wait to bake for them.
Georgiana Dearing: Well, thank you for joining me. It was a delight talking to you.
Julie Strange: Absolutely. Thank you so much. This was fun.
Georgiana Dearing: Thanks for listening. And if you want to learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My Brand at vafoodie.com. If you're a lover of local food, then be sure to follow us. We are at @vafoodie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people, and good brands.