-- The company behind the Hydrox cookie is capitalizing on the buzz that Donald Trump generated last year when he criticized rival Oreo's production move to Mexico.
Hydrox's new packaging in the next couple of months will show the American flag with the words, "Proudly made in the USA."
Ellia Kassoff, CEO of Leaf Brands, which makes Hydrox, said the company learned valuable lessons when the cookies entered the political fray after Trump's comments last year.
"The feedback was really big for us," Kassoff said.
Hydrox, which calls itself America's first sandwich cookie, was created in 1908 by Sunshine, which was bought by Keebler in 1999. (Kellogg later acquired Keebler.) The Oreo didn't hit the market until 1912.
Leaf Brands acquired the Hydrox brand in 2013, but it wasn't until last year when the cookie re-launched following Trump's criticism of Oreo's parent company Mondelez International.
Kassoff likens the return of Hydrox as the Pepsi to Oreo's Coca-Cola.
Some loyal Hydrox fans have commented that Oreos may be too sweet and that Hydrox cookies may be crunchier, Kassoff said.
"It’s a person that likes to go against the grain -- the typical Pepsi drinker," he said.
In July of last year, Illinois-based Mondelez said it planned to invest $130 million in four manufacturing lines to produce products like Oreos at an already-existing facility in Salinas, Mexico. Doing so caused the loss off about 600 jobs at a plant in Chicago. Trump criticized the move, later proclaiming he would never eat another Oreo again. As it turns out, Oreo, which is made in 18 countries, is still made in the U.S. at other facilities in New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon, according to Mondelez.
On July 27, the Twitter handle @HydroxCookie tweeted: "@realDonaldTrump We’re making our @hydroxcookie in US, not like @Oreo moving to Mexico." The wooing of Trump continued, and in September, Leaf Brands released a statement announcing the re-launch of the cookie and an invitation to Trump to visit the Hydrox plant outside Los Angeles.
"We can’t spend $30 million on an ad campaign, so I tweeted," Kassoff said. Bloomberg reported Leaf Brands had $1.5 million in sales last year, but Kassoff said the privately-held company doesn't release its numbers.
Kassoff said some consumers questioned why the cookie maker would enter the political fray and misinterpreted the invitation as an endorsement of Trump. The floodgates of detractors opened.
"I gotta tell you, those people were pretty passionate. They said they would never eat Hydrox again," Kassoff said, noting that he was surprised by the response.
"The political climate is different than other years. It’s so divisive. People get really emotional. We didn’t think that was going to happen," he said.
Meanwhile, a number of people who had never heard of Hydrox responded positively and encouraged the company to put the American flag on packages. The company took action and the new packaging will appear in about 30 to 45 days, Kassoff said.
Among the lessons learned from the Trump experience, Kassoff said, was: "The consumer loved our product and said 'Don’t get into politics, please.'"
Kassoff said he wouldn't mind some positive publicity from public figures like Trump, who still hasn't publicly acknowledged Hydrox, but the company is toning down its reliance on the Trump bump. This month, the company announced that Kroger supermarkets are carrying Hydrox nationwide while touting its Hydrox mascot, who is running for president under the "Cookie Party." Hydrox is available on Amazon, and Kassoff said the cookies will be available at additional regional and national chains by late May.
"We can make fun of the whole political cycle. We’re independents," Kassoff said. "We have no loyalty to anybody. We just wanted publicity."