This past week, Hostess Brands, Inc., current owners of the Twinkies, HoHos, and Wonder Bread brands, among others, announced that after filing for bankruptcy in May of 2012 and the failure of mediation with its striking union workers, that it was shutting its doors after 85 years of operation.
This, of course, came as a shock to much of the public, which promptly went out and emptied store shelves of all types of Hostess products, especially Twinkies. Hostess snacks were a big part of every boomer’s childhood, but its origins date back a generation before ours.
Twinkies were first produced by James Alexander Dewar as a baker for the Continental Baking Company (originally the Ward Baking Company) in 1930. Looking for a way to keep factory machinery that produced strawberry cake treats busy beyond the strawberry season, Mr. Dewar concocted a recipe of yellow sponge cake filled with a banana cream. Known as much for its shape as its moist, sweet taste, Twinkies became an almost instant hit with consumers.
A decade and a half later, World War II helped change Twinkies history. Bananas were being rationed, and that forced the company to change the Twinkies filling from banana to vanilla. Consumers liked the vanilla cream so much that after the war it was kept as the only filling for the snack cake. After a failed foray into a strawberry filling, the company re-introduced banana cream-filled Twinkies in 1976, coinciding with the release of the movie, King Kong. It has remained a part of the brand line since.
Twinkies became one of many food brands to be marketed toward kids via commercials during the children’s television boom of the 1950s. Most notable among the programs that Hostess chose to sponsor was the Howdy Doody Show. That exposure was probably the earliest introduction to Twinkies for the first wave of boomers.
As the number of boomer children continued to grow, so did sales of Twinkies. Even after the boom had ended, the company chose to continue to relate the brand with children by introducing the Twinkie the Kid mascot in the 1970s.
Mister Boomer certainly recalls days of Twinkies in lunch boxes, though it wasn’t a regular occurrence for him. For cash-strapped families such as Mister B’s, though, two Twinkies per package allowed boomers’ moms to separate the cakes and wrap them individually with wax paper so two children could enjoy a single snack from the ten- or fifteen-cent package.
Mister B preferred the squiggle-topped chocolate cupcakes to Twinkies; then his taste buds evolved to include the original Hostess Sno Balls. Still, as time went on, Mister B only ate one out of a package at any given time. In the early days Mister B only saw the Sno Balls in white. He may have quickly disavowed liking the snack if forced to eat a pink version. Nonetheless, on rare occasions, Twinkies were purchased and consumed from the lunch boxes of Mister B and his siblings.
The company changed hands several times through the years, including its final incarnation as Hostess Brands, Inc. after the Intercontinental Baking Company was bought out from its first bankruptcy filing in 2009. The company has stated that it is considering selling individual brands from its product line, including Twinkies. Several firms have already expressed interest, including ones that produce Chef Boyardee and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
Weighing in at 2.5 grams of saturated fat per cake, changing tastes for healthier snacks may have contributed to the demise of this iconic snack food, but it appears that nostalgia may be just the recipe to save it from complete extinction. Industry analysts are reporting sufficient sales to suggest a niche market does exist to be able to sustain the brand.
How about it, boomers? Do Twinkies hold a special place in your memories, or are they a relic of a time gone by?