BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — Chances are you have munched on treats from Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies without ever knowing it.
That’s because the private-label Salem cookie wholesaler pumps out 2 million frozen cookies a day for hotels, cruise lines, in-store supermarket bakeries, catering operations and food service distributors nationwide.
It does so from a sizable cookie production plant at 96 Swampscott Road, where it settled in 2006.
While Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies is not a household name, the state is certainly aware of the expanding bakery.
Last week state economic officials toured the company with founder Jacqueline Hazel of Revere; President Marc Hazel of Swampscott, Jacqueline’s son; and quality assurance manager Lucille Freddo of Swampscott, Jacqueline’s daughter.
Greg Bialecki, the state’s secretary of economic development, and other officials arrived not only to sample the cookies, don hair nets and tour the plant, but to highlight the company’s growth and the financial help it is receiving from the state’s Economic Development Incentive Program. This state tax credit program, Bialecki said, favors manufacturers that have managed to stay competitive in a tough business environment.
Jacqueline’s has $30 million in annual sales and 75 employees, many of them from Salem, Lynn and Revere. The company plans to add another 35 jobs over the next several years.
Officials toured the noisy plant where ingredients for cookies and scones were being labeled, mixed in giant mixers, extruded onto sheets, weighed, frozen, packaged and boxed. Bialecki asked Marc Hazel if the recession had hampered the company’s growth.
Hazel replied the company grew 25 percent each year of the recession, leading to a recent expansion.
In March, Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies was one of nine projects approved to participate in the Economic Development Incentive Program.
For Jacqueline’s, this meant a $283,000 tax credit spread over several years that can be used to lower the company’s state tax bill to support the $2.8 million investment the company poured into its 25,000-square-foot production facility.
The award also came with a five-year tax increment financing agreement of more than $35,000 from the city, according to the state. The state’s financing represents about 10 percent of what the company invested in equipment and expansion, Bialecki said, acknowledging this is a small percentage of the total investment.
What did the state see in the cookie wholesaler?
“They are making the commitment to invest in themselves,” Bialecki said, “and they are also confident enough about their growth that they make a commitment to the state that they will keep on the people they have and grow and add more jobs.”
The company’s expansion included the addition of a large mezzanine level. It enlarged its freezer to 8,000 square feet to accommodate 900 pallets, up from 300, to smooth production and to lessen the need to send their cookies elsewhere for storage. The company enlarged its warehouse and maintenance spaces, and installed a 90,000-pound indoor sugar silo that automatically pumps the sugar into the mixers when needed.
When asked what makes Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies a success, Marc Hazel pointed to innovation and quality assurance, but the soft-spoken founder said simply: “The taste of the cookies. It’s all the hard work, but if they don’t taste good, no one is going to buy them, you know.”
Jacqueline Hazel, who grew up in Everett and now lives in Revere, founded the company about 22 years ago, making cheesecakes, tortes and tiramisu for local restaurants out of her kitchen.
“I started out with just my sister,” Jacqueline said. “My kids were young, I did practically the whole thing.”
Marc Hazel graduated from Boston College in 1995 and eventually went on to grow his mother’s business. They began to hire help and buy machinery, and along the way moved from Everett to Malden and finally to Salem.
“When we moved from Everett, we really had three employees,” Marc said.
Good customer service, and reinvesting in equipment and in good workers are what makes Jacqueline’s thrive, Marc said. For example, the company has a mother’s hours program that allows for flexible work schedules.
“We try to make it easy for our employees, and if we can accommodate them in such a way, we do,” Marc said. A grumpy workforce can lead to less than tasty cookies, given that making and baking cookies is a science, and recipes need to be exact.
“If they are not on, you will see it in the product,” Marc said.
The company is close to adding a customer that would allow it to run a second shift. Within the next three years, Hazel said the company could add 35 or more employees because of that added shift.
The company even has a growing international presence, with a few accounts in China.
Bialecki said that shows things are still being made in the Bay State.
“We know, in fact, that there continues to be a very active Massachusetts manufacturing industry,” Bialecki said, “and it’s in all different kinds of products. And actually food is a big part of what we do, still.”
Bialecki later asked if the Hazels are constantly thinking of new cookie recipes.
“Every day,” Marc Hazel said.
“That’s my job,” Jacqueline Hazel said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.