How President’s Choice® created its iconic chocolate chip cookie.
In the late 1980s, Dave Nichol gave the President’s Choice® product development team a deceptively simple task: Create an exceptional chocolate chip cookie. The best of the best.
For Nichol — the visionary executive who helped develop the iconic President’s Choice® brand line of products— this was a true passion project. A devoted lover of chocolate chip cookies (crunchy, not soft), his goal was to create the true connoisseur’s version of the beloved treat. In fact, “The Chocolate Chip Cookie for Connoisseurs” was the name of the first chocolate chip cookies released under the no name® brand. These were a kind of test version of the Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies, which used extra chocolate chips in place of pecans, and launched under the President’s Choice® banner in 1985.
But in 1987, Nichols wanted to push that cookie even further. “Dave wanted this chocolate chip cookie to be bigger and better,” says Kathlyne Ross, vice-president of product development and innovation at Loblaw. To start, it had to have twice the chocolate chips of the leading national brand. The team got close, stymied only by the laws of physics. “You can’t actually put that number of chips in a cookie,” explains Ross. “There’s not enough dough, and it all just falls apart.” And while they won’t divulge the exact percentage of chocolate chips, it’s said to be around 37%, which is “definitely more than the next leading national brand.”
Choosing the chips was another discussion. In the ‘80s, it was all milk chocolate, all the time; consumers hadn’t yet “developed a palate for bittersweet or semi-sweet,” explains Ross. But the product development team was adamant that semi-sweet chocolate provided the best eating experience, because it was still sweet, and had enough cocoa butter to give the cookie the chocolaty depth it needed. And so, The Decadent® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chip was introduced under the President’s Choice® brand. “It was created for the cookie, but now it has a great legacy of building a portfolio of products that’s really iconic,” she says.
When it came to the base of the cookie, for Nichol, it was butter or bust. In 2020, that doesn’t seem particularly revolutionary. But in the low-fat, no-fat-obsessed ’80s? “It was unheard of,” says Ross, “but Dave was convinced that to create the best cookie, we had to go back to real butter. No shortening, no other fats.” The team’s search for the best butter eventually took them to Quebec, a province famous for its excellent dairy products.
At this stage in the process, the cookie was great, but Nichol felt it was still missing something, a certain texture. This was when a member of the team suggested adding coconut. This product developer was from South Africa, where the unexpected ingredient was ubiquitous in the “biscuits” on their grocery shelves. It added that ineffable “something” and, with this final puzzle piece, a Canadian icon was born.
As for how the cookie got its name, Dave Nichol relayed that story in the Spring 1988 edition of the PC® Insider’s Report® publication, when he introduced it to the world. It came from a colleague, he said.
Upon tasting the cookie for the first time, the colleague’s “eyes glazed over,” recalled Nichol. “Are they good?” Nichols remembers asking. “They’re beyond good,” his colleague replied.
It’s been 32 years since The Decadent® Chocolate Chip Cookie first hit store shelves, and in the decades since, it’s become more than a grocery-list staple. It’s still our best-selling cookie: the one homesick expats tuck into their suitcases and parents mail to kids at university as a comforting reminder of home. “This little indulgence,” Ross says, “is not just about the sensory experience, but that feeling you get.”
So, did the product development team deliver on the brief, all those years ago? Well, Dave Nichol called it “the best President’s Choice® food product we’ve ever created.” Mission accomplished.