Natural Foods Merchandiser

Vegan Cookies Star In Moviemaker's Business

A murderous snowman, brought to life when a janitor spills coffee on his guts, terrorizes a Caribbean island where, amidst death and mayhem, someone asks for an Organica-brand cookie. Such is the plot of the 2000 movie "Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman," a B-movie spoof of other serial-killer B movies. Even though the evil snowman doesn't melt in the sun, the cookies apparently do melt in the mouth, judging by their acceptance by some retailing superstars.

Welcome to the two worlds of Vicki Slotnick—bloody movies and vegan cookies. Slotnick is president of Organica Foods in Toluca Lake, Calif., which makes four varieties of chemical-free, vegetarian, certified-organic, certified-kosher cookies that are a mouthful, both in name and ingredients: Peanut Butter Almond Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Coffee Toffee, Oatmeal Coconut Cranberry Chocolate Chip and Gingered Walnut Cherry Chocolate Chip. Together with her architect-husband, Jeremy Paige, she also owns Storyteller Films, whose productions, in addition to "Jack Frost 2," include "Jack Frost" (1996—not to be confused with a 1998 Michael Keaton movie of the same name) and "Murder in Mind" (1997).

The cookies, which premiered last April at the Natural Products Expo West conference and trade show in Anaheim, Calif., have received better reviews than the movies. "When we went to Expo West, we said if we had one sale, it'd be a success," Slotnick says. "We exploded there. We got every grocery chain we could have dreamt of." Beginning this month, Ralph's (owned by Kroger), Gelson's, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, QFC and Bristol Farms will carry Organica cookies, Slotnick says.

Thank goodness for the accountant who embezzled from Storyteller Films four years ago, or there might not be cookies that promise "your mouth will explode," a phrase that has a hint of Hollywood in it. When she found out about the crime, Slotnick turned to the oven. "I went on a baking spree," she says. "I couldn't stop." The spree lasted two months. During that time, Slotnick "thought it was disgraceful nobody made a good vegan cookie." She remembered a childhood game she played with a girlfriend they called "concoctions." One player would put everything she could find from the refrigerator to make a concoction; the other player, who was blindfolded, would have to figure out what was in it.

Organica cookies thus became concoctions of ingredients that don't harm the earth or animals. Slotnick prefers the word "formulations" to "recipes," since, she says, vegan baking is a matter of balancing natural chemistry. For one thing, Slotnick has figured out how to give her cookies a minimum shelf life of six months. Cookies made by another vegan baker she knows of have a shelf life of just 10 days. "The thing I love about this product is that it's my belief system. I believe you shouldn't hurt the earth or animals or put anything into your body that isn't nourishing, " she says.

Not that Slotnick's 94-year-old grandmother agrees. "She tells me there's too much stuff in my cookies," Slotnick says. Her grandparents owned the decidedly traditional Four Star Bakery in Beverly Hills. Slotnick grew up working behind the counter and hanging out with "kid stars" from Hollywood. After college, Slotnick says, it was natural for her to get into the film business. "I didn't feel like it was something I had to achieve. I felt it was what I should be doing." She worked for George Lucas, Norman Lear, several music video and film companies, and was a producer for "Good Morning, America." Nine years ago, she and Paige started Storyteller Films.

Slotnick's business script for Organica has the company expanding to the East Coast and diversifying its product lines. This fall she begins work on another movie in Europe but intends to travel back to the United States for October's Expo East show in Washington, D.C. "There are a lot of brokers there," she says. "Our intention is to get orders and for customers to receive their deliveries right after the show and not have to wait two months."

Considering the initial odds against a vegan cookie maker—about a snowman's chance in Jamaica—Organica gets two thumbs up.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 8/p. 26

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