The Utah cookie wars took social media by storm last month, but the competition for our calories doesn't end there...

In Utah, cookie companies compete for our calories

In Utah, cookie companies compete for our calories

Step aside, alcohol.


In Utah, cookie companies compete for our calories

Step aside, alcohol.


Christian McDaniel likes to think of himself as the true OG of cookies in Utah, even before the Utah cookie wars. The entrepreneur started Smart Cookie Co. back in 2005, selling traditional hand-rolled sugar cookies and custom ice cream cookie sandwiches to Brigham Young University students for $1.50 apiece. Back then, Mrs. Field’s Cookies was his only competition.

Today, inflation has doubled the cost of his cookies’ high-end ingredients, and there are hundreds of fast-growing cookie shops in Utah—including half a dozen in American Fork alone—that hawk elaborate $4 cookies. 

“Sugar is synonymous with Utah,” McDaniel says. “Cookie stores have saturated the market. It’s hard to fathom so many cookies being consumed each day.”

The state’s sugar economy is cutthroat and comprises not only cookie stores but donut and cupcake businesses, bakeries, candy stores, and hundreds of drive-thru soda shops popping up statewide. Entrepreneurs must fight for their turf and put their own twist on sweets—whether it’s square bars, specialty ice cream, cream-stuffed cookies, rotating flavors of cinnamon rolls, or custom soda flavors. 

Demand in Utah is big thanks to the large population of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members, who live an otherwise clean lifestyle that prohibits alcohol and coffee. As a result, Utah has the lowest alcohol consumption per capita of any state, and sugar, McDaniel says, “is their alternative vice.”

More than 140 bakeries and cookie shops have exploded across the state with names like Chip, Insomnia, Goodly Cookies, and Quirky Cookie. In addition to scores of bakeries, there are cupcake concepts including So Cupcake and Cravings, and donut shops blossoming like Banbury Cross Donuts. 

Competition became sticky with the arrival of Utah cookie giant Crumbl, with its oversized cookies in 200+ weekly flavors like peanut butter blossom, fried ice cream, and cotton candy. The company started three years ago and has expanded to more than 26 stores in Utah and another 274 franchised bakeries in 36 states, making it the fastest-growing cookie company in the nation. 

Because Crumbl has grown so fast and many of its franchise territories sold out quickly, other entrepreneurs set out to create their own franchised cookie businesses. In May, Crumbl launched a high-profile cookie war when it filed lawsuits against two competitors claiming they copied trademarks and other intellectual property. Dirty Dough, based in St. George, has 100 franchises that sell fat cookies with a long line of sweet mix-ins, and Midvale-based Crave Cookies sells fluffy treats at four Utah stores and one in Florida. Both companies have denied the allegations. 

In the months since, Crumbl has faced backlash from both employees and customers, who have taken sides on social media in the Utah cookie wars (it even has its own hashtag, #utahcookiewars). This summer, Dirty Dough ran a comical billboard ad that took punches at Crumbl and published this tweet from its founder Bennett Maxwell: “A billion-dollar company suing 2 startups. Why? Because apparently if you put sprinkles on your cookies, Crumbl thinks they own that. Watch out Grandma, you better throw away those sprinkles, or you will be Crumbl’s next victim.”

In late August, Crumbl CEO Jason McGowan released on LinkedIn a document that claims a former Crumbl employee gave Dirty Dough stolen trade secrets from Crumbl’s internal database, including 66 Crumbl recipes, building schematics, processes, store-level statistics, cookie calendars, and training videos. “We have confirmed through voicemails and other proof that Dirty Dough planned to leverage these materials to develop their copycat concept,” the document says. “Dirty Dough wants the public to believe the lawsuit is about stifling competition; this is really about Dirty Dough conducting business in an unethical manner.”

Cookies remain one of the most profitable items in the retail bakery business. Some stores can make a cookie for 90 cents or less but may sell them for $4 or more. Those margins vary by rent and employment costs, specialty ingredients, or whether cookies are mass-produced efficiently in a factory and frozen or made more labor-intensively from scratch in the store. Revenues can range from $800,000 to $2.5 million per store.

Sales may be dictated by a strong economy, and Utahns have been feeling flush: Average wage growth for Utah during the first quarter of 2022 was 9.5 percent. “It’s an impulse purchase and an affordable indulgence,” says Dan Malovany, executive editor of Baking & Snack Magazine, a trade publication. “It’s driven by the fear of missing out, the way people are treating you, the display case, the way it smells. The experience is all built into the price of the cookie.”

A Crumbl franchise, for instance, may ultimately cost between $227,666 to $567,833 just to open a store, but a single store generates anywhere from $734,000 to $3.6 million in annual revenue, according to research by, which offers analytical data on franchises and businesses. Annual profits from a single store may run from $33,260 to $628,102.

Yet Smart Cookie and even Crumbl aren’t exactly new—they are the latest in a long string of single-product concept stores. A few years ago, people were going crazy for custom cupcake shops. A decade ago, there were lines out the door for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and many mom-and-pop retailers struck it hot with cronuts—a deep-fried combination of croissant and donut. Long before that, there was Mrs. Field’s Cookies. 

“It’s a sign of the times of what’s popular now,” Malovany says. “But people get tired of a concept after a while.”

Nonetheless, the hype was enough to prompt Reegan Young to buy Batch Baked Goods in Riverton from her friend last spring. “I thought, ‘He has no idea what he has,” she says. “This could be another Crumbl—but for cinnamon rolls. I mean, who doesn’t love cinnamon rolls?”

Just a couple of days after Batch reopened in June under Young’s ownership, another cinnamon roll store opened three miles away. Another sweet shop, Blox, which sells various cookie bars, is located next door. Young is now trying to tout the differences between her cinnamon rolls and cookies and the competition. Batch gets most of its big business on weekends when church members hold get-togethers. “When the LDS conference comes around, we can’t keep our take-and-bakes in stock,” she says. “It’s a really good market.”

The market is also good for soda shops, which have exploded in recent years. Today, there are as many as 126 soda shops around the state with names like SodaBean, FiiZ, Sugar Rush, the Pop Stop, Sip It Soda Shack, and Sodalicious.

Bailee Gray opened Sugar Rush Soda Shop in Ogden at age 21, and four years later, she has regulars who arrive at the drive-thru starting at 6:30 a.m. “We have people getting their same drinks two to three times a day,” Gray says. With steady growth, she plans to eventually expand Sugar Rush to more locations. 

Other soda chains are already growing. Soda chain FiiZ started in 2014 and has 51 stores in Utah, Texas, Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada and 46 more stores in the pipeline, while competitor Sodalicious has 25 stores and expects to double that in three years. Twisted Sugar, which sells both cookies and sodas, has 26 shops around the country and late last year had projected 100 by the year’s end.

Unlike competitors, Swig did not franchise. Started 12 years ago by Nicole Tanner, a mother of five, Swig opened its first store in St. George. Tanner, tired of waiting in drive-through lines for her soda fix at Sonic, pioneered a concept of a drive-through with frosted pink cookies and customized sodas with creamers, limes, lemons, puree, or other syrup. She called it a “dirty soda,” and the concept exploded.

Five years ago, Swig inked a partnership with Lehi-based restaurant investment firm Savory Fund, which put $12 million behind the company and helped open 45 company-owned stores—including 25 in Utah—and more than 30 under construction across the country.

Speed and volume are key in the soda business, especially when selling a $3 soda and a $2 cookie versus a $15 burger. So far, the volume is there, at least for Swig. “Swig does revenues that would shock you, topping some of the top fast-casual chains in the nation,” says Andrew Smith, managing director of Savory Fund. For comparison, revenue at many such restaurants may hit $1 million to $2 million per store with 16 percent to 27 percent profit margins. 

And here’s a secret Swig learned in growing its reach beyond the Utah borders: the chain is doing better in the Midwestern states and Texas than it is in Utah, Smith says. In fact, a Swig shop that opened in August in Fairview, Texas, served 1,400 cars in just six hours. 

“Utah isn’t really the sugar capital of the world,” he says. “People like sugar and sweets everywhere—and we have proof of that.”

Jennifer Alsever is a freelance journalist with bylines at Fortune and Marker; and an author of young adult fiction. To learn more about Jennifer visit