Column: Saga of a Food Entrepreneur

Taking Bizzy Lizzy Cookies to market

Ann Arbor is considered a regional hub for food system entrepreneurship. Along with an incredible diversity of grocery and restaurant businesses, Ann Arbor attracts a large collection of emerging ventures. As an agricultural innovation counselor with the Michigan State University Product Center, I help entrepreneurs get their products to market, and I’d like to highlight some of these ventures to provide insights into both entrepreneurship and the potential of developing our local food system.

Most people have considered starting their own business. As an educator who helps people develop and launch food and agricultural businesses, I meet budding entrepreneurs daily. Food businesses often emerge from playful experimentation in home kitchens. Barbeque sauces, salsas, and fruit preserves are fun to make. If, after making a batch and sharing with friends, a hobbyist receives encouragement to try turning their curiosity into a business, they call someone like me to guide them through the process of discovering whether their great product can lead to a profitable and satisfying new venture.

Two years ago, I met Erik Olauson from Hillsdale, Michigan at a food entrepreneurship conference. We sat next to each other during one of the conference presentations. During one of the breaks, he introduced himself to me and mentioned that he and his wife, Sheila, had developed a flourless gourmet cookie and that they were committed to making a career from baking, marketing, and distributing their goods.

Liking cookies as I do, a couple of thoughts came to mind immediately: “What is a flourless gourmet cookie?” and “I wonder how they taste.” I didn’t have to wait long to satisfy my curiosity. Erik pulled out a sample from his briefcase and offered me a taste. Erik then explained that the recipe substitutes oatmeal, peanut butter, and other ingredients like flax seed for flour to create a high fiber, moist, rich cookie.

He also explained the reasons for choosing to go flourless came after lengthy research into the effects of white flour on our overall health. They decided it was worth the effort to eliminate the product from their cookies for the health of us all. However, they did not stop there. They add goodies like oversized dark chocolate chips and Michigan cherries to bump their products comfortably into the healthy dessert category.

Bizzy Lizzy Cookies really are satisfying. Color, texture, and taste rise to the expectations of cookie connoisseurs. Add to the good product the fact that Erik has worked as a professional chef and Sheila is a professional speaker, author, and media personality who focuses on healthy eating and etiquette, and their dream of becoming successful food entrepreneurs sounds believable.

Still, there was hard work ahead of them in their quest to enter the marketplace. For starters, Erik and Sheila were so fixed on the cookie itself that they spent little time thinking through issues related to packaging and presentation. If you order a gourmet cookie from a coffee shop, it is displayed on a nice platter under carefully designed lighting to highlight the cookie’s best traits. To sell in a grocery, however, packaging was key in distinguishing it from ordinary flour-filled cookies that line store shelvesThe color scheme and graphics on the box needed to clearly communicate that the ingredients inside are exceptional.

In their earliest stages of development, Bizzy Lizzy Cookies were packaged in clear plastic envelopes. Plastic wrapping was functional in that it kept the cookies fresh and allowed consumers to see the product. But generic plastic sleeves did little to introduce these baked goods inside with the prestige and panache that an exceptional cookie like this deserved.

With a little persuasion, Erik and Sheila convinced a family friend with a background in graphic arts to help them complete a packaging makeover. Bizzy Lizzy Cookies are now in stunning attire. The six-sided box fits nicely into retail displays. The color scheme screams, “Delicious Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie Inside!” Text on the box tells the story behind the product. Using a clever name like “Bizzy Lizzy” makes Google searches easy. The information on their website is interesting and well presented. 

With a great product in hand, Erik and Sheila have been traveling the roads of southeast Michigan, meeting with grocers and giving out free samples at farm markets and food shows. Their products have been featured in several publications, including The Ann Arbor News and Edible Wow. The Produce Station in Ann Arbor was the first retail outlet to stock the cookies. This month, Calder Dairy will add Bizzy Lizzy products to their home delivery menu, providing more than 1,700 regional consumers and several retail outlets a convenient method for placing orders.

The last step of successfully launching this business depends on actions of regional consumers. Bumping sales up to a level that will sustain a vibrant food business will require that consumers walk into their favorite retail outlet, ask for the product by name, buy the cookies when they show up on the shelf, and continue to buy them occasionally or frequently based on their preferences and variable levels of self control. Bizzy Lizzy is looking for retail outlets and distributors that will help their business respond to growing consumer demand for their premium flourless cookies. Erik and Sheila just rented a kiosk near Sears in Briarwood Mall. They are hoping to capture holiday sales and to increase consumer awareness of their products.

Mike Score, an Ann Arbor resident and agricultural innovation counselor with the Michigan State University Product Center, can be reached at


  1. By Conan Smith
    December 12, 2008 at 9:04 am | permalink

    Mike this is great! And a wonderfully accessible way to communicate what you all are doing! Now, that said, peanut butter is gross. Let’s get him to use cashews!

  2. By Sue Lackey
    December 12, 2008 at 12:08 pm | permalink


    I’m appalled! Peanut butter is one of the important food groups, and when combined with chocolate AND Michigan Dried Cherries, must rise to the level of super food. Mike – can you share local retailers who carry Bizzy Lizzy products? I have gluten intolerant friends to shop for!

  3. December 12, 2008 at 12:42 pm | permalink

    My question – does “flourless” mean “gluten-free”? I can’t find that on their website.

    With certain people that I’m married to recently going gluten-free, I’m reading labels a lot more carefully. Sue – your gluten-free friends will probably want to watch out for things like rolled oats, because (as I’ve learned) oats are often cross-contaminated with wheat, either in the field or in processing. Unless they’re specially grown, milled, and sold as “gluten-free oats”, your gluten-free friends probably can’t eat them. (Mike: for your entrepreneurs, I’ve also learned that gluten-free oats are a whole lot more expensive than regular oats…Yow.)

    And, for the part that really matters: Conan’s wrong. Sue’s right. Peanut butter is awesome.

  4. By Mike Score
    December 12, 2008 at 5:25 pm | permalink

    Murph raises a good point: U.S. oatmeal is often processed in facilities which also other grains. This means that unless oats are processed specifically to be gluten-free they are assumed to have trace levels of gluten. That said, many people who are sensitive to gluten find that they can eat oatmeal.

    Regarding the debate about peanut butter, I’ll stay out of that battle.

    Thanks to readers for feedback. I’m interested in hearing more.

  5. By Juliew
    December 12, 2008 at 8:56 pm | permalink

    We talked to the Bizzy Lizzy people at the Calder Open House and they said they did worry about the peanut butter and tried lots of other ingredients, but for a lot of reasons (stability, taste, nutrition, texture, availability, etc.), peanut butter was the way to go. The cookies are tasty and even good for you.

  6. By Steve Bean
    December 13, 2008 at 11:31 am | permalink

    And cost, I suspect. Cashews would more than double the price, I’m guessing.

    Thanks for the informative piece, Mike. Fits the Chronicle style, including the level of detail.

    I hope you’ll keep writing, helping us understand the whole system, from soil to supper.

  7. By Mike Score
    December 13, 2008 at 11:58 pm | permalink

    Thanks for your comments Steve.

    To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had a cashew cookie. Aside from this point, a key issue is whether consumers in our region prefer a cookie developed and produced by a local entrepreneur over nationally distributed cookies. Bizzy Lizzy cookies are comparable to cookies purchased in coffee shops. Who’s cookies will we purchase? Price is comparable. Do we exchange money for cookies with someone who lives next door, or do we neglect the issue of source and purchase based on convenience and brand name recognition?

  8. By Betty
    May 26, 2009 at 4:23 pm | permalink

    Hi. What is the food entrepreneurship conference that was mentioned in this article?
    Betty George

  9. By Mary Morgan
    May 26, 2009 at 5:46 pm | permalink

    Betty, I’ve emailed your question to Mike Score and I expect he’ll get back to us with the answer soon.

  10. By Mary Morgan
    May 26, 2009 at 7:15 pm | permalink

    Mike writes: “The conference mentioned in the article was the annual conference hosted by the MSU Product Center. To learn more about the Product Center, visit its website. From this website you can track food system entrepreneurship news and upcoming events.”