Lessons I learned at the Post Office
It is a good thing I am a lifelong learner! The same day I defended my dissertation, my committee told me, "Congratulations! You can now teach YOURSELF." I shouldn't have taken them so literally. My life plan involved retiring from teaching school and sailing into retirement baking cookies and philosophizing from the porch swing. Well it started innocently enough with rolling out cookies and it grew. It grew exponentially....like a mushroom cloud! Next thing I know I am inviting friends to join with me in my passion for butter and sugar creations and then BOOM! I want my own signature flavor. It was fun! I ordered up enough chemicals to land me on the FBI watch list and began blending flavors until I had about 15 great options. Then I did my market research that involved asking a lot of good natured people to eat two cookies for me and articulate which one they liked better.
I kept score. I collected data. I narrowed the choices. Finally, I landed on the product that would become Cookie Nip. It is a bakery flavoring described as a butter sweet blend of vanilla bean and salted caramel. It can replace teaspoon for teaspoon, any recipe calling for vanilla. It has been thoroughly tested in cookies, cakes, frostings and fondants and then it transitioned into coffee, pralines, bread, whipped cream and pancakes. In fact, you can put it in anything you are cooking! I love how people have reacted to the product that I carried around in little vials during the trial stages of production. Now that we have dropped anchor, all we need is a bottle, a cap, a label and then I should be in business, right? Not so fast. There are hoops.....soooo many hoops..... to jump through. Chemists. Inspectors. Professionals. Agencies. Georgia Dept. of Agriculture. FDA. And every last one of them is doing their due diligence to prevent retired teachers from getting bored and manufacturing and distributing a sweet, golden liquid; no matter how delicious. Patience, grasshopper. If I plan to get Cookie Nip in the hands of every baker who wants to try it, I have got to start jumping high. Otherwise, I will be checking in to Shady Pines while still waiting for the last approval.
Surprisingly, the FDA was the first agency to give it a thumbs up. We ordered bottles and caps and started giving it away. We were hoping to give out a hundred or more samples so people wouldn't have to buy before they try it. I am just going to say it. The label, and all that it involves is more complicated than developing the product under it. I believe we are on version 4,219 at last count. Add this, take off this, rearrange that. Fluid ounces and metric mL. Be sure to indicate where it was manufactured. Indicate that it is kosher and allergy free. Change up the barcode for every different size bottle. List your ingredients and sub ingredients. Add an expiration date. Link to your website. Squeeze in a QR code for more information. Yeesh. Who knew there was so much involved in creating a shelf stable, low water activity, kosher, allergy free product?! All I am saying is that I have not fully appreciated every bottle of sauce that sports a label in my pantry.
We got such tremendous feedback from the first few samples we distributed around here, that we began to think about how to get it into the hands of bakers everywhere. It is difficult to do trade shows when you have a couple of day jobs..and a family. I thought it might get out a little further than central Georgia if I asked other bakers to try it. I would just mail them a sample. I can just order up a whole lot of those padded envelopes. I love the Post Office. They will let you mail ANYTHING except Anthrax and occasionally, people have mailed that. One thousand requests for Cookie Nip later, I learned that it is quite expensive to MAIL a little bottle of flavoring from Bonaire, Georgia to Spokane, Washington.
When I used to sell stuff on ebay, I mailed parcels way bigger, way heavier, way further than some of these packages are going and it never required mortgaging the house. I was suffering from sticker shock and the postmaster completely lost me at the fourth zero. Surely there has to be a better solution. I know, BULK MAIL! All this junk mail that I get here every week. Someone had to pay for that and I am sure it wasn't THIS much. No problem. All you need to do is get a $226 PERMIT to mail bulk packages, print a thousand new labels and stick them on the packages. THEN, the price will be reduced to a couple dollars per package. Then sort all of them by various postal zones and drive them to Atlanta where we will probably be asked to climb aboard the postal trucks and sort them in to the appropriate bins, alphabetically, by zip code, before sunrise. It sounds like it might be easier to hand deliver them to everyone's doorstep, and see the country while we are at it. Oh, I forgot to mention that every one of these parcels contains a little bottle of an intoxicatingly delicious liquid. Well now. Liquids. That is a whole different story. Should you want postal carriers to deliver little bottles of liquids that might spill out in transit, you have to overnight air two samples to some important guy in New York who will ask you to verify every last ingredient and certify that it is not flammable before forwarding it to the Haz Mat team for further inspection. And just in case it should it spill in route across the country, you must package each bottle individually in a ziplock bag so as to protect the Postal Employees from any harm. Are you kidding me? I recommend that if this bottle should leak out all over your mail truck, you should immediately pull over and roll around in it. (What happens when you go home smelling like butter, and vanilla and salted caramel is none of my business.) Whatever you do, DON'T waste this golden nectar. Okay I totally have a frame of reference for people who just SNAP and "go postal." At the very least, this is why I need to fill my blood pressure medication prescription.
Meanwhile, back at my computer, I am flooded with sweet emails from people who "signed up in good faith three days ago for a free sample" and they have been watching their mailbox ever since. Yeah, it's not going to be delivered today either since these boxes are still sitting in my kitchen. But, just as soon as that guy from New York opens his Air Express package and certifies that Cookie Nip is not harmful or dangerous to you or any postal employee, it will be on it's way.
If you are in Bibb or Houston County, please pick up your sample from any Cookie School Instructor or from Cory Alan Jones in Perry on Carroll Street. I promise you will get it faster than waiting on the Bulk Mail parcels to arrive. When your sample does arrive, please post a picture of what you added it to and post it on The Cookie School facebook page. If you are not from Georgia, be sure to let us know where you are using Cookie Nip!