Chocolate chip cookies are not exactly synonymous with health, but when you talk about Sweet Loren’s, the woman-owned, nationally distributed cookie dough company, health is exactly what you’re talking about.
Growing up in New York, Loren Brill was always interested in health and wellness. Then tragedy struck. “Right after I graduated college I got sick and was diagnosed with Stage II cancer,” she told the Forward. “At twenty two years old, with all your friends getting their first jobs, I was busy being treated. I saw how precious life was and how important it is for us to take care of ourselves. After that I was committed to being as healthy as possible.”
Today Brill is in remission and she’s the CEO of Sweet Loren’s, the cookie dough company and media darling that is disrupting the food landscape. “Food is the most important thing we can do to keep ourselves healthy,” she tells me. “I cut out hydrogenated foods, started taking cooking classes, meditating…I couldn’t find delicious worthwhile food that was wholesome and unprocessed. It started out as a personal need. I started with the chocolate chip cookie.”
Who doesn’t love a chocolate chip cookie? Invented by a fellow entrepreneur, American chef Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1938-era Whitman, Massachusetts, this iconic sweet treat was what Brill eventually turned to on her quest for wholesome, delicious fare. Fueled by her new lease on life, Brill began cooking. There were thousands of batches and trials.
Brill was committed to using 100% whole grain flour, the highest quality dark chocolate, having vegan/gluten free options and being dairy free. The cookies had to be nutritional, digestible and delicious. Those were some high standards to meet, but finally, after a long period of trial and error, a recipe was perfected.
“I was an entrepreneur,” says Brill. “I had to do it for myself. It was a side-hobby for many years, developing recipes. Finally I quit my restaurant management job and Whole Foods was my first customer. At twenty six years old, I just walked into Whole Foods with a plate of cookies. My website still said ‘coming soon.’ I was freaked out.”
It was a life changing meeting for Brill.
“The Whole Foods buyer told me the whole team loved the cookies. How soon can you get on our shelves? They asked. I was a one woman show, a total hustler, working seven days a week then,” she said. “You know, I could’ve opened a bakery, I could’ve sold cookies,” Brill muses. “But in the end, this was the best way to keep it fresh.”
Brill sends me some cookies to try. The packaging encourages me to ‘be sweet to myself,’ in an enticing hot pink. Every package is adorned with Brill’s sign-off, XO, Loren. But by far the most interesting discovery of all is that the cookies are actually good. An utter marvel of non-processed engineering! I eat one, followed by a second and a third and resolve to give up conventionally processed hydrogenated cookie trash forever. I am being sweet to myself. The healthy cookies are an oxymoron, and I have succeeded in the impossible; being healthy and indulgent all at once. (Will it still be healthy if I finished all twelve cookies? I wonder. “Everything in moderation, even moderation,” as per Oscar Wilde.)
“I realized how big the need is for this kind of food,” says Brill. “Everyone is more educated and aware of health these days.” Indeed, research shows that the gluten free vegan market is booming. By 2020 the market for gluten-free food is projected to be $7.59 billion. 8% of people followed a wheat-free or gluten-free diet as of 2016. There are 61 million gluten intolerant, vegan/vegetarian, kosher and nut allergic people in the United States, along with another 23 million people “inclined to eat vegetarian/vegan” (myself being one of them). Allergen friendly foods reached a worth of $11 billion in 2015. There’s a lot of money to be made in changing people’s lives for the healthier, and it seems like Sweet Loren’s is along for the ride.
“It changed the food industry,” says Brill, with the utter lack of modesty of a cookie dough revolutionary. She is the sovereign queen of these non-GMO, dairy free, nut free, vegan morsels and the wellness community is her kingdom. The people demand better food, and Sweet Loren’s is committed to bringing it to them.
The American people, those inveterate couch dwellers and Oreo double stuff consumers, are finally informed enough to demand better than the chemical infested slime sold at gas stations across the country. We want more for ourselves and we’re going to get it.
“So how do you suggest people eat healthier?” I ask Brill. “Just fall in love with vegetables and salads,” Brill suggests. “There are so many clean foods out there, so many amazing soups to make, so many ways to affordably fill yourself with nutrients.”
I imagine a bowl of broccoli soup pales in comparison with the sheer animal pleasure of microwaving a doughnut, but I understand the perspective. Feel good, taste good, look good. It’s a seductive philosophy and more and more people are buying in.
“It’s a new era. Traditional recipes haven’t been based on health and wellness. Fall in love with cookbooks and chefs, learn how to make things delicious,” she tells me. Easier said than done, although the presence of her Gluten Free Chocolate Chunk Cookies in my refrigerator do seem to make health a little less intimidating and a little more accessible. “Also,” she suggests, the consummate businesswoman (and #girlboss), “there are recipes on my site for healthy desserts to make.”
The food landscape is changing. People are more educated on food now, more conscious of their bodies and what feels best. “We all have to be our own nutritionists, shoppers and chefs,” she says. “Have fun with it. Nothing feels better than feeling good because you’re healthy.”
The chocolate chunk cookies I try don’t taste very healthy (a good sign) but I certainly feel good eating them. It’s the dawn of a new day in the wellness industry and Sweet Loren’s is up bright and early.
Shira Feder is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org