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Spotted Cow Cookies: The Cookie Queen

Spotted Cow Cookies: The Cookie Queen

Working from a domestic kitchen and holding down three jobs at once didn’t deter Tahnee Walters from pursuing her dream of sharing her gourmet cookie creations with the world. Australian Baking Business finds out how Spotted Cow Cookies went from being a small-scale operation to a major player.

As a nanny, Tahnee Walters often baked cookies as a way of entertaining the children she was caring for, and making sweet treats for friends and family was something that gave her great pleasure.

Having worked various jobs over the years, Tahnee was still searching for her passion when she turned 30.

“I realised I didn’t just want to do menial jobs anymore,” says the now 39-year-old sydneysider. “I didn’t want to just float around; I actually wanted to do something with my life. And that’s what inspired me to start the business.”

Tahnee spent months working on recipes in her home kitchen and testing them out on her friends. With her boundless optimism and perseverance, the sky was the limit.

“Because I hadn’t had any formal training as far as doing patisserie or bakery at TAFE, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what would and wouldn’t work,” she says. “so, I’d come up with a fantastic idea and think ‘oh yeah, I can do that’. It might have taken me a little while to achieve the end result, but I definitely got there in the end.”

A year-and-a-half into the business, spotted cow cookies won its first major contract with Trippas White Group – a milestone Tahnee remembers well.

“Before that [I was going] into cafes to sell the product; this time I was actually sitting in front of a group of chefs, purchasing managers and venue managers, explaining why I wanted them to take on our product.

“It was a very interesting experience – still to this day I’m petrified of chefs!” she laughs.

Experiencing her first taste of success early on was a source of motivation and allowed Tahnee to learn as the business grew slowly but surely.

“In the beginning, I didn’t plan forward. I didn’t think about making 5000 instead of 500 cookies a day. For the first four years I actually sub-let off catering kitchens and bakeries, which was great because I could learn to do everything properly on a small scale, and when we got bigger it was quite an organic growth – one step at a time. I think the biggest transition was when we moved to our own production kitchen and at the same time gained a couple of new distributors. Our production levels changed quite dramatically pretty much overnight. And the transition period involved was about two or three months of pretty hard work and long, long hours in the kitchen.”

The business’s biggest coup to date, Tahnee says, was being offered a contract with Virgin Australia in 2010.

“The fantastic thing was they actually called us,” she recalls. “We were so, so lucky: One day I got a phone call and they wanted us to send them a box of samples, and that’s how we ended up onboard Virgin, which is just incredible. [We’re also] supplying to star city casino and are now in the Hudsons coffee chain nationally as well.”

Next stop, global domination?

“Absolutely!” Tahnee laughs. “There’s a lot of room for us to grow in Australia still but I would love to see our products being exported.

“There’s Japanese importer showing our products in the FoodEx trade show, which is pretty incredible… it will be the first taste of the export market for our product.”

Almost 10 years on, Tahnee reflects on some of the major decisions she’s made in order to secure spotted cow cookies’ continued growth and success.

“For quite a few years the business was quite stressful. Working in the business and trying to wear all these different hats and keep everyone happy was really hard, I have to admit. [Now] I’m back where I started, where I can focus on coming up with ideas, and I find it a lot more fun.”

The best decision she ever made, she says, was bringing on an extra investor.

“We have three female owners. My aunt actually bought into the business early on because she believed in me and my vision. Then my bookkeeper also bought into the business. she’s absolutely brilliant and brings an element of the business that I was never any good at and could never get my head around.”

Tahnee has also hired someone to handle day-to-day administrative tasks as well as a kitchen manager – “the second best decision I’ve ever made” – freeing her up to focus on product development and her vision for the business.

“Ideally, we want spotted cow cookies to be a little big different to what everyone else is doing, so we want favourites such as the macadamia and white chocolate and choc chip cookies as well as products that are different that people will grow to love,” Tahnee says of the new the gourmet variant dessert cookies, with flavours such as lemon tart, chocolate and salted caramel, and pistachio and chocolate.

“When I started the business I thought that people would be more experimental, but I’ve discovered as I’ve gone along that people aren’t willing to experiment as much as you’d like them to. They like to stick to the safe choices sometimes. We’re only now in a position where we can start promoting products that are a little bit different.”

With the business having achieved an enviable level of success thus far, 2012 looks set to deliver Tahnee’s biggest milestone yet – her first child, due in July.

“I’m very lucky that my partner, Laurent, is also my production and kitchen manager, so I’m able to come back to work straight away [and bring the] baby with me. And, really, my business is my baby too – I love it.”


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