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John Sanders, a 22-year-old from Massachusetts, first tasted a stroopwafel when he was 5 or 6 years old, thanks to Dutch relatives. For years he was only able to eat them when family members returned from trips to Holland.
But a few years ago it began to change. Americans like Sanders who want to buy caramel waffles stateside can now find them easier. Once relocated to European specialty stores, the treaty has bounced from the cruel obsession to ordinary purchases.
In June, McDonald's introduced the Dutch treatment to the masses as it included a Stroopwafel McFlurry as one of four time-limited international menu items. United Airlines said earlier this month that stroopwafels would join pretzels as a permanent inflight snack option.
Food Training Expert Kara Nielsen attributed the growing popularity of wafers to the interest of global "authentic" foods ̵
This cake fits what Americans like to eat: It's crispy, crispy biscuits and then the caramel, says Nielsen, Vice President of Trends and Marketing at CCD Helmsman.
Salted caramel popularity a decade ago set the scene for a generation of people looking for a more balanced version of caramel, Nielsen said.
The companies that make stroopwafels are mostly private and refused to share sales data. Stroopwafels are part of the stuffed biscuit section, which Euromonitor expects to achieve $ 4.3 billion in revenue in 2019. This represents a 1.8% jump from last year's sales, although category growth is slightly moderate.
Stroopwafel's increase follows a well-known trajectory for trendy foods that come from obscurity to appear in grocery stores and fast food restaurants.
According to Matrissens Nielsen, American food trends develop in five stages, from fine dining places, then specialty magazines and stores. Next comes landing at recreational cooking stores like Williams-Sonoma, then women's magazines. The last step is food store shelves and fast food restaurant menus.
The Dutch invented stroopwafels in the late 1700s or early 1800s, melted a thin layer of caramel syrup between two narrow crispy wafers.
The Americans began making stroopwafels during the decline as part of the general resurgence of craftsmanship in the United States, Nielsen said.
Shortly after, American start-up began as did stroopwafels, such as Rip Van Wafels and Belgian Boys. They introduced new take on stroopwafel, making them available in chocolate and other flavors. Rip Van Wafels developed a protein-packed version with fewer carbohydrates and sugars.
Although they were adapted to modern consumers, the two companies stuck to a tradition: production of stroopwafels in the Netherlands.
Stroopwafel's great break came when United put them to their rotation of free snacks for financial passengers. Beginning in December 2015, when the airline announced stroopwafels as part of its free snack listing, Google search for stroopwafels began to train.
United Airlines three free snacks
Source: United Airlines
The distribution agreement went to Daelmans, the world leader in stroopwafels.
Despite its global popularity, Daelmans had previously tried, but failed to get American consumers hooked on their stroopwafels. For the last time, the family-owned business has helped The Brand Passport, a New York based company helping overseas food brands, enter the US
Brand Passport CEO Tom Daly has previously earned marketing and strategy roles at Pepperidge Farm and Godiva.
When Daly and his team began to pitch stroopwafels to buyers, they had to try different strategies. They chose to call the snail at their Dutch name instead of "caramel waffles" to appeal to customers through Daelman's history and authenticity.
"We didn't quite know what to do about it," he said.
At least until they started telling the buyers about a Dutch trick: Add a stroop waffle to the top of hot coffee or tea. The caramel softens and becomes tough as the waffle's exterior heater.
United shared this technique through a social media video from 2015, based on the expectation of stroopwafels February 2016, as part of a wider effort to improve customer satisfaction. By offering the snack on domestic morning flights, the airline introduced snacks to Americans who can never travel to Holland.
Then, passengers eager to eat more stroopwafels could find them at dealers such as Target, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks. Dollar General and Walgreens soon followed.
When the airline removed Dutch sweets from the rotation in mid-2018 to introduce new snack options, the customers let the airline know how dissatisfied they were about the social media decision. The airline brought the snail back at the beginning of the year before expanding its availability throughout the day in July.
Now McDonalds is helping to introduce even more Americans to stroopwafels through Stroopwafel McFlurry. The frozen dessert is the same one found at Dutch McDonald's, down to the shattered Daelmans syrup waffles.
Google Trends data shows that the search for "stroopwafel" sketched the week of June 9 to June 15 – the week of the launch of McDonald's worldwide favorites.
"As far as we've been in the last seven or eight years, most Americans still don't know what a stroopwafel is," Daly said.
But the fast food giant may face the same setback from consumers as United when their American stores stop selling the McFlurry flavor for a limited time.
For his part, Sanders said he hopes McDonalds will keep the McFlurry flavor permanent.