There was a time when the world didn’t know it needed Oreos, Goldfish or, until recently, flaming hot Takis. Until they were created, that is. But with all the cookies and crackers crowding store shelves, how can an entrepreneur have the nerve to think their concoction is the next Doritos?
Laura Shafferman had such a deep belief that her snack creation (“part cracker, all cookie”) would be irresistible that she named it Legally Addictive. “It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s crunchy. I don’t think anyone could ask for anything else in a little sweet snack,” she told The Bridge. Shafferman started her Brooklyn-based company three years ago, after spending ten years working in real estate. So, how does one go from marketing properties to baking cookies on a commercial scale? For starters, a great recipe. More on that in a moment.
Shafferman will be touting her growing product line tomorrow (June 28) at Brooklyn Eats, the borough’s largest food-and beverage trade show, where last year 100 exhibitors offered a taste of their brands to 2,000 guests. (Attendance is free to the trade and $10 to the general public.) The show can offer a breakthrough opportunity for startups, as Shafferman experienced last year.
“We picked up our biggest customer. It’s a store called Lolli & Pops, a national candy store,” says Shafferman, with more than three dozen shops. “It’s a beautifully curated store and they’re doubling their stores this year. That was sort of a tipping point to be in a store like that,” she says. (While Lolli & Pops has no shops yet in New York City, Legally Addictive is available in dozens of other NYC shops.)
In the food business, Shafferman is a total self-starter. “I did not have a background in food at all. My background was in real-estate marketing and I was laid off from my job,” she says. While a non-compete contract kept her out the business for a year, Shafferman decided she was done with the industry for good. “I decided to take things into my own hands. I was really tired of working in this industry. It’s incredibly toxic.”
At around that time, a friend of Shafferman’s asked her if she could make some food for a holiday office party at Brooklyn-based Etsy. Shafferman decided to make a childhood favorite often called “crack cookies,” made from cracker, toffee and chocolate. “I brought them to this Etsy event and I sold all of them in four hours. And then that’s when I decided, ‘People like this. Let me see what I can do with this.’”
She spent the next year getting her state food-handler’s license, putting together her business-startup paperwork, and working as a caterer for a digital creative agency. “Someone hired me to cater lunches for them every single day, which is crazy considering that I didn’t know how to do anything. But I learned really quickly. I used to save all these recipes on Food 52 and learn how to make them for 14 people everyday. I did that for about a year while I was trying to get the business up and running,” she says.
Her next step was picking up a couple of wholesale accounts in New York, including the flagship of the Dylan’s Candy Bar chain. As the accounts grew to eight, Shafferman worked out of a rented kitchen on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, then graduated to Pilotworks (formerly called Foodworks), the food-startup incubator in the old Pfizer Building. A year ago, Legally Addictive moved into its own kitchen that it built in the same building.
Despite the steadiness of Legally Addictive’s growth, when Shafferman looks back on the last three years, she realizes that she proceeded without much of a clue at first. “I had no idea what I was doing. Literally everything was a challenge,” Shafferman says. “I had no idea how to keep track of money, how to acquire customers, nothing.”
The hardest leap, she says, was going from a boutique, kitchen-table business to a real commercial enterprise. “So as the business grew, ultimately the biggest challenge is scaling the business. They’re very easy to make at home. But if you make it for a shelf-stable product without using any preservatives, and make hundreds and hundreds of bags a day, then you have a completely different situation,” she says.
Currently, there are three Legally Addictive flavors: The OG, Peppermint Crunch, and Everything. At the Brooklyn Eats show, a fourth will be introduced: Surprise Party. The new flavor will be similar to the others, but covered with colorful sprinkles to appeal to a younger audience.
“It’s a crack cookie with milk chocolate and sea salt and rainbow sprinkles. It’s very pretty,” says Shafferman. “I heard from a lot of moms that their children really love chocolate but kids prefer milk chocolate. I was like ‘Okay, maybe I’ll make something for kids but also for adults. Something a little bit more childlike and fun.'” The new flavor will start shipping in September.
The host of the Brooklyn Eats show, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, points out that Shafferman is one of 21 women-owned businesses making their mark at the show. “The manufacturing scene for females has certainly taken a shift in past few years, especially in the food-and-beverage sector. And through our Brooklyn-Made certification program, we noticed the trend right away,” said Kat Benedetto, the Chamber’s project manager of economic development.
Among the other female entrepreneurs showcasing their products include Anita Shepherd, the founder of Brooklyn-based Anita’s coconut yogurt, and Hedvig Bourbon, the founder and baker at Norwegian Baked, who makes her products in Sunset Park. The show will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at BKLYN Studios in City Point.