Twinkies are back: Snack cakes hit Walmart Supercenter shelves ahead of Monday’s official ‘comeback’

Dolly Madison Bakery in Columbus making all but a few of the sweet treats

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 12, 2013 

The maker of Twinkies and other sweet snack cakes have been hyping the return of the treats to America’s stores on Monday.

But mega-retailer Walmart got a jump Friday on what Hostess Brands has dubbed “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever.”

The Walmart Supercenters in the Columbus area were receiving Twinkies on Friday, with the store on Gateway Road in north Columbus putting them on display promptly, said Ben Thames, general manager of the Gateway Road location. The price: $2.98 for a box of 10.

“I’m going to put mine right up in front of my building,” said Thames, confiding he, too, has a sweet tooth for the golden sponge cakes with creamy filling.

“I’m thrilled that they’re bringing them back. I think it’s good for business. But I’m going to try to stay away from them a little bit, just for my figure,” he said with a laugh.

USA Today reported that about 1,600 Walmart stores were expected to have Twinkies for sale Friday, with 3,000 of its 4,000 locations stocking them by Sunday.

Hostess Brands LLC, which bought Twinkies, Zingers and other snack-cake brands out of bankruptcy court in April, has been pushing hard toward a July 15 debut. In particular, it has been using social media and general word of mouth — including late-night comedians and talk shows — to promote the products’ return.

While some online commenters have taken jabs at the snack cakes — often referring to their lack of nutritional value — others genuinely appear to be craving another chance to consume the sugary creations.

“I need cupcakes. For the love of all that is Holy ... I am pregnant with twins and need cupcakes!,” joked one woman on the Hostess Brands Facebook page promoting the products’ comeback.

“Already asked for Monday off. It’s just gonna be me and you twinkies .... And its gonna be amazing!,” said another person, obviously unaware of Walmart rolling them out even earlier.

Any way you slice it and digest it, the goodies will be spreading across the United States in the coming days. And there will be a Columbus connection.

The Dolly Madison Bakery on Victory Drive is one of four plants purchased by the new Hostess owners. The others are in Emporia, Kan., Schiller Park, Ill., and Indianapolis.

The Columbus facility was among 11 bakeries shut down in November after former owner, Dallas, Texas-based Hostess Brands Inc., decided to liquidate the entire production and distribution operation following bitter negotiations with labor unions over pay and benefits.

Private investment firms Metroupoulos & Co. and Apollo Global Management bought the Hostess and Dolly Madison brands for $410 million. Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers Foods is forking over $360 million for the bankrupt company’s bread line, including the popular Wonder Bread brand.

The Columbus plant has been preparing several weeks to resume production, with 200 workers hired initially and long-term plans to grow that to 300 as demand increases, company officials said.

When the local bakery shut down last fall, it had 426 on the payroll. A decade ago, there were more than 1,000 people earning a paycheck at the plant that emits a sweet aroma during production.

Hannah Arnold, a public relations representative for Hostess Brands LLC, said Friday via email that the Columbus factory will make all of the company’s snack cakes, with the exception of Sno Balls, Suzy Q’s, Ho Hos and Mini Muffins. The locally produced products will include the popular Zingers.

She said a new distribution system put in place will use third-party vendors to transport the goods to retailers’ warehouses.

There have been media reports that Hostess will ship some of its products frozen. But Arnold said 90 percent of the items will be delivered fresh.

“A small number of customers — representing only about 10 percent of the distribution — explicitly requested to receive frozen product,” she said. “This allows the retailer to date the product for freshness, provides flexibility in filling their shelves and has no impact on the quality or taste of Hostess products.”

Various media reports indicate Hostess Brands plans to broaden its distribution strategy to include not only supercenters, supermarkets and convenience stores, but drug stores, warehouse clubs, dollar stores and vending machines. It also apparently plans to market at some point new products that are more nutritious and healthy.

One thing that won’t be returning, however, are the old Dolly Madison outlet stores that offered snack cakes, breads and other goods at discounts, Arnold said.

A statement Friday from Hostess Brands LLC President Rich Seban referred to the coming blitz to bring Twinkies back to the U.S. store shelves as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to take advantage of the brand’s nostalgic place in pop-culture history, while serving up a “bolder attitude” that connects with current consumers.

“When Hostess left the market last year, people were in a state of mourning,” Seban said. “The social media universe erupted with emotional tweets and posts from consumers who couldn’t fathom a world without Hostess snack cakes and rushed to stores to get the last boxes of product. There was no question that consumers wanted the products they knew and loved back.”

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