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by Kate McMahon

"Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.

The Twinkie is back, resurrected from bankruptcy with old-fashioned taste and a cutting edge social media campaign.

The iconic Twinkie and other Hostess snack cake products returned to shelves last month for the first time since November, in what is being billed as “the sweetest comeback in the history of ever.”

It’s a comeback to the tune of $410 million, which is what two private equity firms paid for the snack cake line when Hostess Brands filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Hostess’ Wonder Bread and other bread products were sold separately.

In addition to the Twinkie, Hostess CupCakes, Donettes, Zingers, HoHos and Ding Dongs are rolling out of four non-union manufacturing plants to a store near you.
Though a strike by the bakers’ union was the final blow for the old Hostess, I had to wonder how a line of dated high-calorie desserts wrapped in plastic could compete in today’s marketplace.

But, hey, that first sinful bite of golden sponge cake filled with sweet “cream” clearly still has its appeal, with demand and sales for the products at a record high. Fifty million Twinkies were shipped in the first two weeks, and some retailers reported selling out within hours. Some stores (including Walmart, with a First Batch collectibles box) jumped the July 15 release embargo, and one customer in Rhode Island sustained minor injuries when she was jostled by other patrons trying to grab her boxes of snack cakes.

What’s most noteworthy is Hostess’ decidedly hip, cross-media channel marketing approach, well beyond just a Facebook page. Hostess has launched a website, encouraging fans to post Instagram and Vine videos of themselves enjoying their favorite Hostess product. (Vine is the newest mobile app for sharing short videos; Instagram users share photos and videos.)

Hostess tells MNB that there are 1,000-plus consumer-generated videos with the #cakeface tag trending nationally on Vine and a more than 2,100% increase in Instagram followers in only three weeks. To hit every social media channel, Hostess is also sending the videos out to its Twitter followers.

While staying true to original recipes, Hostess also believes it must continue to innovate and is exploring new products in health-oriented categories which could include whole grains and added fiber.

It will be interesting to watch whether the new owner can sustain a nostalgia-based comeback, meet its goal to more than double distribution to 110,000 stores nationwide and still evolve to meet changing tastes.

In a blend of old and new, the relaunch campaign also features a traditional promotional truck handing out free Twinkies across the country. But in a timely twist, the recipients also receive a handstamp reading #comeback to promote its return on Twitter. Not bad for an 83-year-old.

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