Some co-manufacturers are too big for most brands. Others are too small. And then there is Fantasy Cookie Co. The producer of cookies and snack bars is just right for serving fast-growth and high-pace startup brands, premium private label store brands and national better-for-you product lines. 

“If you think of the three bears with the porridge, we’re not too hot or too cold,” said Russ Case, chief executive officer of the Sylmar, Calif.-based company. “We’re just the right size because we’re not a mega bakery with 300-foot ovens, but at the same time, we’re not a rack oven bakery. To be honest with you, there are not a huge number of companies that do what we do.”

Fantasy Cookie operates an 85,000-square-foot operation with four versatile production lines that create a variety of wirecut, rotary-moulded and sheeted cookies as well as co-extruded, fruit-filled and baked bars.

Many of its products are homemade-style treats made with “real” ingredients found in a typical family’s pantry along with a bevy of gluten-free, organic, KOF-K kosher-certified and Non-GMO Project verified products.

From a packaging perspective, versatility is in its DNA so the company can serve its diverse clientele. The flexible operation can produce everything from overwrap trays, stand-up pouches and vertical form/fill/seal bags to individually wrapped items, 100-calorie packs, bag-in-box, club packs and in-store bakery tubs. Package sizes range from 1 oz to 20 oz.

“We consider ourselves an artisan commercial bakery,” Mr. Case explained. “When you say artisan, you think of a small, storefront retail bakery. That’s not what we are, but the products we produce are still artisan in their makeup. We use real butter, cane sugar and not a lot of preservatives. Our products tend to be better for you and higher quality. Our bars are functional products that are nutritionally on-trend with the latest health-and-wellness movements.”

To expand the business and broaden its customer base, Fantasy Cookie is in the process of replacing two of its smaller lines with 100-foot ovens

Specifically, the bakery is adding new 2,200-lb Peerless mixers along with versatile Reading Bakery Systems (RBS) makeup lines and state-of-the-art tunnel ovens that will bolster capacity by 40% or more. The first line, which includes additional packaging systems, is currently being installed, while the second could start up production as early as mid-2024.

Moreover, in the second half of this year, the operation is adding an enrober and 55-foot cooling tunnel to fully or bottom coat cookies and bars or add drizzles and icing to them.

As part of this project, Fantasy Cookie is enclosing its temperature-controlled spiral cooler, which reduces cooling times from around 40 to 21 minutes and quickly lowers the temperature of cookies and bars to 45˚F to allow for chocolate and other temperature-sensitive flavors of enrobing.

“Right now, we’re making figs and fruit bars, but soon, we’ll be making them with nut butter like almond, peanut butter or cashew butter,” Mr. Case said.

The enhanced capacity couldn’t have come at a better time since retailers are reopening their shelves to new products and branded companies are searching for a reliable co-producer while many bakeries are restricted by supply chain and labor issues.

“We’re working with companies who are looking at their suppliers as true partners,” Mr. Case said.

As a mid-sized co-manufacturer, Fantasy Cookie differentiates itself with its speed to market. Because it has an in-house research and development lab, it takes only six to eight weeks to develop a line extension or limited time offer for an existing product line, noted Matt Cobb, director of sales.

Brand new items typically need a little longer — five to six months — to go from concept and formula development to full-scale production. Sometimes the process goes faster, but it all depends on how quickly the packaging is designed, manufactured and sent to Fantasy Cookie.

“That speed to market is what makes us different,” Mr. Cobb said. “The customers may have their own proprietary formulas and come to our bakery to work in our lab to get the products to scale.”

Coordinating product development requires a collaboration effort between Mr. Cobb on sales; Christina Lates, director of R&D and food technologist, on product formulation, and Joe Rivera, director of operations, who brings the concept from bench to full-scale production runs.

“Christina’s job is to formulate, get the flavor profile and the nutrition facts on the product,” Mr. Cobb said. “It’s Joe’s job to work with Christina to find the right equipment and process to develop a line trial to get it to 100% of where it needs to be.”

In some cases, Fantasy Cookie develops new products from scratch using a concept provided by qualified customers. In other instances, the bakery relies on the brand’s formulas, which are then refined by Ms. Lates and commercialized by Mr. Rivera.

Ms. Lates also collaborates on creating formulas in conjunction with the branded company’s R&D team. She also provides ingredient legends and a nutritional facts panel using the Genesis program provided by ESHA Research Software.

“We don’t charge for R&D work in our lab, and that sets us apart,” Mr. Rivera said. “For some companies’ brands, they’re going to pay $50,000 or $100,000 to create a recipe, but that’s the value we offer by having a food scientist with an ability to work with them.”

Mr. Case added that Fantasy Cookie’s product development capacities make it a player in the premium co-manufacturing market.

“It puts us in that arena that shows we’re serious about it,” he said. “Even bigger customers who have larger R&D teams still rely on Fantasy Cookie to help commercialize their products.”

Overall, Mr. Case said, Fantasy Cookie has come a long way in a short time to solidify its niche and bolster its position in the co-manufacturing arena. 

“Now we’re a commercial artisan bakery with standard operating procedures and a very disciplined approach to the business. We have experts throughout the company to serve our customers on a highly professional level,” he explained.

That’s how Fantasy Cookie offers a Goldilocks scenario that feels just right for emerging and private label brands searching for a mid-sized co-manufacturer to create a little magic in the marketplace.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Fantasy Cookie Co., click here.