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Summer 2009 Cracking Open a Fortune

Part of the fun of cracking open a fortune cookie is the little “fortune” tucked inside. Now Stephanie and Tom Benner, a husband and wife team from Fallbrook, CA, are betting that customizing those little fortunes and placing them inside giant versions of the standard model will prove fortunate for them.

Their business concept—Expressive Fortunes—focuses on oversized (7” wide by 7” high), chocolate-dipped fortune cookies that can be customized for the recipient. At a mall cart, customers help design the product they want: A customer chooses a type of cookie (dipped in either white or dark chocolate), drafts a personalized fortune message and selects a coordinating ribbon for the finished product. The personalized fortune, which can become a keepsake, is printed out on location and inserted into the cookie. The final product is wrapped in cellophane and topped off with ribbon. The cookies come in a variety of styles or options such as Birthday, Bride and Groom, Congratulations, and more.

The Benners debuted Expressive Fortunes at the California Gift Show in 2003 and have accounts that have grown to over 100 retail locations. They say that mall cart sales have been a part of their business plan since day one. The concept has already tasted success—the Expressive Fortunes mall cart at the Westfield Santa Anita Shopping Center brought in nearly $6,000 in sales the week before Mother’s Day.

Fantastic following

Expressive Fortunes have won raves from celebrities such as Sheryl Crow, Tori Spelling, Mary J Blige, Destiny’s Child and Hayden Panettiere. In fact, a slideshow of celebrities posing with the cookies is part of Expressive Fortune’s turnkey package.

Stephanie Benner says that in addition to the giant cookies, the company also wholesales classic-sized fortune cookies packaged in clear Chinese takeout pails. These come in packages of two, five, twelve or twenty-five.

For now, the Benners plan on selling only the giant fortune cookies through mall carts. The individual cookies might follow at a later date. Benner reports that the giant fortune cookies typically enjoy a 300% markup and retail at $24.95 to $32.95 depending on the mall location.

Plans for growth

Stephanie Benner remembers the earliest days of the company’s launch well, particularly the challenges posed in shipping a fragile product. “We had a lot of broken cookies in the beginning, but now our breakage is practically non-existent. We’ve also mastered the technique of insulating shipments during the summer months,” she adds.

Benner reports that the business is doing well despite the weak economy. The concept was also a hit at SPREE ’09.

“Ironically, when businesses struggle in a weak economy, they lean toward more creative marketing ideas to draw in new business,” she adds, pointing out corporate orders as part of marketing programs form a sizeable chunk of sales.

“We plan to add about 25 new carts in mall locations throughout the U.S. by year’s end,” Benner says. “We’ve worked very hard at marketing our product line so that our cart operators don’t have to. All they have to do is sell giant fortune cookies.”

Sharon Naylor

Naylor is the author of 30 wedding books, including Your Special Wedding Vows and Your Special Wedding

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