Some may find it curious that Audrey Martinez’ thriving cookie company was sparked by training for a marathon.

However, her fitness routine and weakness for her guilty pleasure snack-of-choice has been an unlikely but winning union that resulted in her chia seed-based cookies being sold on shelves of 400 grocery stores nationwide.

A.J.’s Fine Foods, Sprouts Farmers Market and Fry’s Food Stores are among the places where Audrey’s Chia Cookies can be found locally. She has also penetrated markets in Texas, Michigan and on the East Coast.

And all this happens just two years after production started on the four-flavor cookie lineup in 2017. Offered in chocolate chip, lemon, peanut butter and almond varieties, the treats are thin an crispy – Martinez’s personal preferences when it comes to cookie texture and mouthfeel – and boast ample amounts of the seed known for being a good-for-you source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, iron and calcium.

The all-natural non-GMO cookies retail for $3.99 and up.

“We’ve always been health conscious,” Martinez said of herself, husband and business partner Randy and their two children, ages 27 and 26.“I’m happy that this stuck because it helps people get away from the bad ingredients.”

The inspiration  

Martinez’ success comes in a competitive and lucrative U.S. packaged cookie market that raked in $11 billion in 2018, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.

Five years ago, Martinez decided to run her first marathon at the age of 50. While training, she researched what foods would give her the most energy as possible and discovered chia seeds. She incorporated the ingredient into her diet every other week and realized that her energy levels were much higher on the weeks when she consumed the seeds compared to the weeks when she did not.

Martinez started to notice other long term benefits like better digestive health, improved nail growth, mental clarity and feeling better overall.

“I experienced all of this and I just wanted to share it with everyone,” she said.

At first, Martinez came up with chia toppers that consumers could put on their yogurt, cereal or fruit. But those didn’t take off.

Then, Martinez had a light bulb moment during a stroll through the cookie aisle at a grocery store. She loves cookies and knew she was by far not alone.

‘Everyone eats cookies’

“Everyone eats cookies. (I thought) ‘that’s how to get people to eat chia!’” she recalled. “If you’re going to snack, you might as well get a boost of nutrition while you snack.”

She brought her concept and flavor ideas to a local chef, who came up with the specific recipes. The cookies are made in a commercial bakery in Tempe. It took six months to get them on shelves.

In the meantime, Martinez researched how to contact grocery store category managers, which helped get the product in stores faster than expected.

Elizabeth Cascio, a buyer who handles the retail division of the Navigreat Fine Food Co., a distributor based in Phoenix, was among the first key contacts in this process. Cascio was instrumental in getting the chia cookies into A.J.’s and Sprouts.

Several factors ranging from the flavor and health aspect to the eye-catching packaging that utilizes bold colors in a friendly vehicle that begs to be picked up are reasons these cookies have caught on as rapidly and widely as they have, Cascio explained. She agreed this kind of fast success is rare in this market space.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years. … When I saw this product, I had the intuition that this is the next big thing,” said, Cascio, whose personal favorite flavor is lemon. “There’s a lot of interest in the new ‘it’ foods and that’s exactly what her product is.”

There also is no substitute for old-fashioned grindstone hitting.

“The fact that Audrey is out doing demos, giving coupons out to people and the company is doing everything they can to make it successful, that’s a huge part of the success,” Cascio said.

Laying the foundation for cookies

The Martinezes were in the homebuilding business until the recession forced them to close that company in 2011. Randy went into the home remodeling industry, which he continues to do today while Martinez runs Audrey’s.

They both were experimenting with potential entrepreneurial ventures, none of which were food related but all focused on natural-based products.

Then, Martinez started training for the marathon and the rest is history.

She continues to include chia in her daily diet and said she has continued to experience the initial benefits plus others, like balanced blood sugar and sustained energy. Positive feedback continues to provide encouragement and affirmation.

She talked about a friend whose father is in a nursing home and has a restricted diet. The friend brought her dad the chia cookies one day.

“He was so excited and now he’s always asking for the cookies,” Martinez said. “When you hear people are so happy that this cookie is so good … that’s exciting.”

What: Audrey’s Chia Cookies

WHERE: Tempe


INTERESTING STAT: Retail dollar sales of the packaged cookies market is projected to exceed $12 billion in 2023, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.


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