The untold truth of Hostess Cakes

There's nothing more nostalgic than a bite-sized sweet treat from Hostess. I remember many happy afternoons accompanying my dad to the Hostess store to pick out anything I wanted. I always went for the bright pink Sno Balls. I've never been a Twinkie gal, but I think I'm in the minority there.

After some tough times, Hostess is back and better than ever. Twinkie sales are up, and they're just as good as you remember. Since Hostess has been around for nearly 100 years, there are plenty of sweet and juicy secrets to share.

The cupcakes started it all

When most of us hear Hostess, we automatically think of those sweet little sponge cakes called Twinkies, but it was the chocolate cupcake with a white swirl that started everything for Hostess. The company, known as Continental Baking at the time, wanted to start a line of sweet treats in addition to their popular Wonder Bread.

In 1919 they launched the Hostess Cupcake, a chocolate cake with a creamy vanilla filling and swirled icing. The vanilla filling for the cupcake is the same one inside Twinkies and Sno Balls as well. Why mess with success?

Twinkies came out of the depression

More than 10 years after Hostess launched their chocolate cupcakes, they made history with their next treat. In 1930, the company's bakery manager Jimmy Dewer created Twinkies and actually thought of the name on his way to a meeting. He passed a sign for "Twinkle Toe Shoes," and the name Twinkies came to him.

Twinkies came just in time for our country. They were the company's way to make an inexpensive product during the depression. Two of those little sponge cakes were sold for a nickel, and everyone got to enjoy sugar again. That's a reason to celebrate!

Twinkies were meant to be banana-flavored

Now here's a choice I just can't get behind. Twinkies were originally banana-flavored and were never supposed to have vanilla filling at all. For over a decade, Twinkies were sold as little sponge cakes with a banana filling. They were always meant to be banana-flavored, but the banana rations during World War II forced them to switch to a vanilla center instead.

However, for all of you weird banana Twinkie lovers, you may still get your chance to try the originals. Hostess actually brought back the banana Twinkies during a promotion for the movie King Kong, and sales jumped. Banana lovers unite!

The Sno Ball has a secret inside

Now onto the best product Hostess makes. The Sno Ball didn't hit shelves until after World War II, because it wasn't allowed yet. Because of the flour and sugar rations during the war, Hostess couldn't make something this sweet. After the war, everyone was ready to get their sugar fix again. The Sno Ball is a chocolate cake with a vanilla filling, covered in marshmallow and coconut flakes.

If there's something very familiar about the Sno Ball, there's a reason for that. Iif you peel back the marshmallow, you may get a surprise — the inside cake of a Sno Ball is simply an upside down Hostess cupcake! Work smarter, not harder I guess.

Did Twinkies lead to murder?

Twinkies can make people do strange things. You may drive an extra hour to find them at the store during a craving, or maybe even toss a few too many in your cart and go on an all out sugar binge. However, you've probably never murdered someone due to that Twinkie-induced sugar high.

Well, someone did, and the jury listened. In 1979, Dan White was on trial for the murder of his supervisor Harvey Milk. White argued that he couldn't have planned to murder his boss, because of his sugar high from eating too many Twinkies. The shocking fact is that his defense worked, and White was convicted on manslaughter instead of murder.

Hostess cakes were used as political bribes

So if Twinkies are powerful enough to inspire murder, what else could they cause someone to do? Well, they may have bought a few votes. In 1986, Minneapolis city council candidate George L. Belair was accused of bribing seniors to vote with Twinkies and other Hostess cakes. He and his campaign team passed out Twinkies to multiple senior groups during the election, which was a big no-no according to the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Belair was actually arrested, but later released and ended up pleading not guilty. ”I had no intention of bribing anybody with Twinkies and Ho Ho's and a cup of coffee,” Belair told The New York Times. Twinkies strike again!

Woody Harrelson insisted on healthy Twinkies

The terms "health" and "Twinkies" have probably never been in the same sentence, but that's exactly what Woody Harrelson insisted on. When Harrelson starred in the film Zombieland, he wasn't worried about having to appear to be eating fellow humans. His character had another vice… Twinkies. Unfortunately, Harrelson doesn't eat dairy or sugar and lives as a vegetarian. Therefore, he wasn't all about the onscreen Twinkie binges and insisted on finding a better way. The set crew actually had to make him fake Twinkies for those scenes.

"I'm not a Twinkie lover. I don't do sugar or dairy either. When we finally shot my Twinkie-eating scene in the movie, they had to give me a specially made mock Twinkie made of cornmeal," he told Reading Eagle. "It could spur a healthy Twinkie revolution."

So if Twinkies are off the table, what is Harrelson's guilty pleasure? "I'd be searching for a mango," he said. "Or an avocado. It really is a tough call between the two."

The leaders slashed wages

While Twinkies were a featured character in Harrelson's movie, that wasn't enough to save the company. Hostess hit some tough times, especially as consumers began looking for healthier options. Snack cakes that come in plastic and are rumored to last for months on the shelves don't exactly appeal to the Whole Foods crowd. 

By 2012, Hostess had filed for bankruptcy more than once and was taking on major debt. In addition to ignoring the new health trends, they attempted to keep selling their cakes for cheap, while using the same processing techniques they always had. Cuts had to happen somewhere, and they were taken out on the staff. Management cut workers' wages and benefits, and that was not a popular decision.

The unions weren't happy

When leaders cut wages and benefits, you can imagine how the workers took the news. While the cut wages are part of the picture, there was more to it. "The real story is the story of two unions, the Teamsters and the Bakery union of the AFL-CIO," Columnist Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Though the unions agreed to the pay and benefits cuts, they made some other rules that made it very difficult for Hostess to survive. The union responsible for delivery insisted drivers weren't allowed to help unload the trucks, and certain products like Twinkies and Wonder Bread could not ride together on the same truck. Because of these new rules, the bakery union went on strike, because they were being affected.

Hostess went bankrupt

As a result of all of these factors, Hostess filed for bankruptcy not once, but twice. That's probably why there were some skeptics when Apollo Global Management and investor Dean Metropoulos bought the failing company for over $400 million. "It's not in tune with where customers are going," Bloomberg analyst Ken Shea told Ad Age. "There will be a high level of scrutiny on their ability to grow."

However, this American company has such a rich history that investors were excited to bring it back to life. "Hostess presents a unique opportunity to invest in an iconic brand with strong fundamentals that is poised for continued growth," Gores Group Chairman and CEO Alec Gores said. In the end, Twinkies, Ho Ho's, and all the other Hostess cakes were off the grocery store shelves for a total of seven months before coming back.

Twinkies at the Playboy mansion?

In addition to a hidden grotto and loads of scantily clad women, the Playboy Mansion may also now have a lifetime supply of Hostess cakes. In 2016, Daren Metropoulos, one of the owners of Hostess Brands, bought the mansion for $100 million. This was the highest price ever paid for a home in that area.

To make the story even more bizarre, he's allowing the Playboy founder Hugh Hefner to continue living there for the rest of his life. Late night Twinkie parties with Hugh and the bunnies, anyone?

Hostess hired a small ad agency

Even though Hostess is a massive brand, the executives chose to partner with a small, local ad agency instead of a New York City giant. This decision paid off for them, too. Charlotte-based ad agency Tattoo Projects made some major changes to the company's approach. They launched a media campaign for the company's new, deep-fried Twinkies, and people lost their minds. They started trending on Twitter, which is a major accomplishment for a company old enough to remember the Great Depression.

"We wanted a true partner to work with and develop a strong social media presence for the Hostess brand," Hostess Chief Marketing Officer Burke Raine told Charlotte Business Journal. "We chose Tattoo Projects because they are a bold and energetic company that delivers great creative and drives sales." 

The cakes last 65 days

Twinkies and the other Hostess cakes appear to last forever. Let's be honest. There's nothing natural about a fresh cake with dairy filling being able to sit out for months, but that's exactly what they can do.

"Our shelf life is 65 days from bake, and we guarantee 45 days to our customer," Hostess President and CEO William D. Toler told Food Business News. "So the first 20 days are us and the logistics team shipping it from our manufacturing plant to our distribution facility out to our customers, so it has the length of time to allow it to go through a warehouse model, something our competitive D.S.D. products do not have."

Twinkies with a side of salmonella

Unfortunately even fake food like Hostess cakes can cause food poisoning. In early 2017, Hostess voluntarily recalled its special holiday edition Twinkies. The white chocolate peppermint Twinkies actually sound amazing, but may have been contaminated. The company shared that they believed the milk powder used to make the white chocolate coating may have been contaminated with salmonella.

Salmonella is a foodborne illness and nothing to mess around with. It causes fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. It's especially dangerous for babies, young children, and senior citizens. Fortunately no one reported becoming sick after eating the Twinkies.

Now you can drink your Twinkies

You know those mornings when you wake up and just need a Twinkie? Now you can! In March of 2017, Hostess introduced its first drink. They partnered with Kerry Convenience to develop a Twinkie cappuccino. The cappuccino doesn't exactly sound like it's full of natural ingredients, as it's made up of milk, sponge cake flavoring, and a little coffee. Sponge cake flavoring?

"Twinkies cappuccino not only provides consumers with another option when selecting a treat; it combines two of their favorites into one decadent indulgence," Vice President of Marketing at Hostess Ellen Copaken told Food Business News. Dessert for breakfast? Yes please!

New flavors are here

Because Hostess knows it needs to keep things new and fresh to avoid their past bankruptcy problems, they're experimenting with new flavors. The deep-fried Twinkies were such a hit, that they decided to branch out.

Some of the other new products include Hostess Sweet Shop brownies, and returning favorite Suzy Q cakes. They've also added chocolate, peanut butter chocolate, and fudge covered Twinkies, peanut butter fudge Ho Ho's and white fudge Ding Dongs, just to name a few. They've even made a place for themselves in the freezer isle, with a line of snack-cake inspired ice cream products

Sales are up

All of that work with the new flavors is paying off for Hostess in a big way. The company is back and better than ever. "We are pleased with our strong revenue and profit growth for the year," Hostess President Bill Toler told Food Business News. "Our financial performance this year benefited from increased distribution and product innovation initiatives as well as continuing to build market share on our core products."

In fact, the company expects a net revenue of $781 million for 2017. Not bad for a company that hit bankruptcy not once, but twice!