Is the Twinkie Back for Good?

Can Twinkies maintain sales momentum or are they in one last snack food binge?

August 31, 2013, 8:16 AM
PHOTO: Twinkies snack cakes sit in a tray in the packaging area of a Hostess bakery in Schiller Park, Ill., July 15, 2013.
Twinkies snack cakes sit in a tray in the packaging area of a Hostess bakery in Schiller Park, Ill., July 15, 2013.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Aug. 31, 2013 — -- When I'm commuting, on the road or otherwise out and about, I always have an eye out for stuff to bring home to share with my wife. There is no pattern, I'm all over the map, the objective being put a smile on her face and reinforce the fact I've been thinking about her while I was away. Might be an indie flick from a RedBox kiosk, a tchotchke from a hotel gift shop or even a good joke.

Last week however, I really hit the jackpot: big smile, hug and a kiss.

What did I do? I brought home a package of newly minted, recently revived Twinkies.

Yep, Twinkies is back, with new marketing and a brand new target. As usual, I began to pay closer attention to what they are doing and started evaluating their efforts. The question is: will this re-launch actually save and grow the brand long-term or have they just capitalized on nostalgia for a short-lived revival?

Read More: Shelves Stocked for Twinkies' 'Sweetest Comeback'

First of all, for those of you who were not paying attention, Hostess, the company that made Twinkies, filed for bankruptcy and ultimately shut down. Stores all over the country, for the first time in more than 70 years, found themselves without the Quonset hut shaped snacks. For more than eight months, fans of the junk food superfood had to do without, or make do with the handful of imitators who nailed the shape and color but couldn't quite match the texture or taste.

But now, the crème-filled twin cakes are back and they have a plan to target men 18 to 35 who like to snack. (There is a secondary target of moms, but that will ramp up once they have some planned product extensions on the shelves.)

The re-launch to date has focused heavily on men in the new target, while the messaging has also been inclusive of past fans for the product who missed it while it was off the shelf.

The company was purchased by C. Dean Metropoulos & Co and Apollo Group Management, both private equity firms. Metropoulos has also recently purchased Bumble Bee Tuna, Chef Boyardee and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The snack cake is now smaller (this happened just before the bankruptcy) and has a longer shelf life (45 days, not infinity, a myth perpetuated by urban legend.)

In Photos: Hostess Products Through the Years

The launch tagline, "The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever," is being used in a traditional ad campaign. There are some high-visibility location outdoor ads in New York (including Times Square), Chicago and Los Angeles.

Grassroots promotion includes buttons that say "I Saved Twinkies" and a Twinkies food truck on a road trip across the country passing out samples. There has been heavy social media activity on Facebook, Twitter and its Vine video service and Instagram.

The company also has long-term plans to extend the Twinkies line to include gluten free, bite-sized, low sugar and fiber-enriched versions.

The re-launch has been successful, according to the company: Almost 85 million Twinkies have been shipped, and re-order demand has been steady. With no new product news, the brand has been riding the excitement of returning an iconic brand to the people.

Once that wears off, experts agree, the brand will need to focus on adding new devotees; a harder proposition given healthier lifestyle trends. The question that needs to be answered is what the company will do to grow the brand. Twinkies sales had been declining before the sale, according to court papers, so nostalgia will only be able to take the brand so far.

Twinkies has a very strong brand. Perhaps the new owners will be able to expand the footprint and launch new products or find complementary associations that can increase the brand's value. The brand might even license its use in other categories to find additional profit. As for the proposed product innovations, it remains to be seen whether there is a market for portion-controlled or better-for-you Twinkies.

Read More: What's New About the Twinkie and Other Hostess Brands Favorites

For now, Twinkies continues ride the wave of snack food fans, happy to have Twinkies back in the starting line-up.

My wife put on a pot of coffee and leisurely enjoyed her Twinkies between sips. Although she is glad they are back, she doesn't think she'll buy them any more frequently than she has in the past and warned me that I shouldn't get in the habit of bringing home snack food for her consumption. And that was a domestic demonstration of the current brand challenge.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Larry D. Woodard is CEO of Graham Stanley Advertising and the co-author of the book, "Advertising as a Branding Tool."

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