Famous Amos Can't Capitalize on His Fame

Trying to Establish New Cookie Line Without the Old Brand Name

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Wally Amos and his new line of cookies.
Wally Amos and his new line of cookies.
Wally Amos, who founded Famous Amos in Hollywood, Calif., back in 1975, has a great name for selling cookies. Too bad he can't use it.

"I am known as the cookie man," Mr. Amos, now 73, said in an interview. "There is no one more associated with chocolate chip cookies than Wally Amos." But Mr. Amos sold those rights when splitting with the brand in the 1990s. Kellogg now owns Famous Amos.

Mr. Amos doesn't have much to say for how his cookies are sold now. "If I were selling Famous Amos cookies today I would never be famous, or be successful," he said. What Kellogg has done to the recipe, he said, has "cheapened the product." "You can't even count the chips in a Famous Amos cookie," he said.

Now, under the name Chip and Cookie, Mr. Amos is making his original cookies, with 33% chocolate and pure extracts. Sound familiar? Probably not. One big change is butter. "When I started in 1975, it was believed that margarine was better for you than butter," Mr. Amos said. He reverted to butter when he started making cookies again.

Kellogg doesn't quite see it the same way. "We are committed to producing high-quality, great tasting products for our consumers and we are very proud of our Famous Amos cookie," Kellogg spokesman Mike Morrissey said in an e-mail. "Since Kellogg acquired the brand in 2001, we have not made significant changes to the recipe. The cookies continue to be very popular and are adored by many"

A discerning taste test held in Ad Age's newsroom led to lots of oohs and aahs, and few comparisons to the mass-produced originals. "They [Chip and Cookie] were good," said Ad Age reporter Jeremy Mullman. "Much better than you get in the vending machine." In fact, the primary similarity between the cookies is their size. Chip and Cookie cookies are crunchier and sweeter to Famous Amos' milder taste and sandier texture.

Chip and Cookie are boy-and-girl cookie characters that wife Christine Harris Amos came up with in 1985. Mr. Amos is convinced that the brand can be a licensing phenomenon, like Hello Kitty, with dolls, TV shows and even movies -- but with cookies on top. "When it gets going, it just snowballs," he said. "So that is our ultimate goal."

But the past 17 years have been an uphill battle. Mr. Amos launched "Chip and Cookie, by Wally Amos," with T-shirts and ceramics at five JCPenney stores in Hawaii in 1992. He was quickly sued, citing a breach of his separation agreement. He has opened two of his own retail stores in Hawaii, one in 2004, and another last fall, as the economy tanked.

Costco is selling frozen Chip and Cookie dough in the Los Angeles region, and Mr. Amos is working to get pre-made cookie bags into stores. He has inroads with the grocery chain, as they've carried his "Uncle Wally's" muffins. He also links up the cookies with charitable causes, selling them deeply discounted bags for resale. It's been a boon for an admittedly slow business, and it helps to be in Hawaii. "I've got a famous name," Mr. Amos said. "But in Hawaii, I'm really famous!"

But it's a lot of work for a successful 73-year-old who could easily be off playing golf. Then again, he said, "retirement is a flawed concept" that was created by insurance and financial services companies to "sell you more products."

"Inactivity will kill you," he said. "It's a direct path to the grave. Do something you love and it will extend your life, keep you going."

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