When you think about cookies, Indian spices might not be ingredients that readily come to mind.
But that didn't stop Marshall Tully from developing protein-rich cookies that feature spices such as cardamom and saffron.
That may seem like a strange combination for many people who think about Indian spices as being, well, spicy as opposed to part of a sweet confection, but Mr.Tully's cookies seem to be satisfying a hunger.
"The thing about Indian cuisine is [that]the longer it sits, the spices get more complex, kind of like stews and curries," he said in a recent interview. "That is the great thing about Indian food; it ages well, and I just found it lends itself to baking really well. There really wasn't anything on the market like it in terms of the flavours, such as cardamom."
So where did the inspiration come to create his different cookies?
Mr. Tully said the roots for his Toronto-based company, Muscle Masala, come from his love of Indian cuisine and travels to India.
In addition to running a private fitness training studio in downtown Toronto, Mr. Tully also prepared catered meals for clients, many of them U.S. actors in town for movie shoots. One of the biggest hits were protein cookies.
"The flavour profiles for our products are inspired by Indian dessert spices," he said. "I developed the idea for the product a couple of years ago, after spending a month travelling through India. It seemed like a natural marriage between my love of Indian cuisine and my alter ego of fitness/nutrition coach."
Mr. Tully said the cookies, which contain no preservatives or artificial sweeteners, have become popular with fitness-conscious people because they're an alternative to store-bought protein bars. There is also healthy demand from the South Asian community, as well as foodies who are simply into new and interesting flavours.
Before Muscle Masala started selling the cookies last April, Mr. Tully said he had to formulate the recipes, establish the nutritional information through a food laboratory, and get a food safety inspection done.
There was also an investment to buy commercial-grade equipment to bake the cookies, design the packaging, and build a website that could handle online sales.
Mr. Tully said Muscle Masala is selling 300 to 400 cookies a week. They sell for $3.50 each at a small number of retail stores, gyms and yoga studios, and run $44 for a dozen cookies through the company's website.
His goal, he said, is to push sales to about 1,000 cookies a week within the next few months.
The cookies are baked on Sundays, and delivered using bike couriers for local purchases or Express Post nationwide on Monday.
Mr. Tully said Muscle Masala lets customers know about each new batch via e-mail, and then promotes their availability on Facebook and Twitter. Muscle Masala has also driven awareness by sending cookies to chefs, and influencers within the South Asian social media community.
With Muscle Masala quickly turning into a viable business, Mr. Tully said the company is already looking to preparing itself for more growth. He said a priority is to determine if the shelf life of the cookies, which is about a week, can be extended without adding preservatives or additives.
Muscle Masala currently sells two types of cookies – chocolate cherry cardamom and vanilla fig saffron. Mr. Tully said he is working on a new flavour that will cater to endurance athletes, such as triathletes and bicyclists.
As well, he's hoping to branch into the non-athletic world by creating high-end cookies but jokes the challenge is convincing people that a cookie using Indian spices can be as delicious as a muffin or a "normal" cookie.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.
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