Will Twinkie Survive Head-In-The-Sand Brand Management?


Strong brands can outlive management ignorance

If ever there was a living–or dying–example of brand management’s lack of foresight, insight and innovation it is the venerable, and now vulnerable, Twinkie. The brand will probably survive but only after it is sold at a basement-bankruptcy price and then receives a significant investment in remaking its contents and brand.

The question is: Where was Hostess management’s head while the low-carb and healthy diet trend was marching past them like the Santa Claus parade. If you believe, like I do, that brands are “living things” that touch and delight consumers’ lives, then you will see this as an unnecessary financial and brand travesty.

Twinkies have delighted customers for 82 years (that’s a sustainable brand) and yet top management ignored all the signposts on the highway to decline. In 2004, a Globe and Mail article chronicled some history. In the 1970s there was the Atkins Diet, which promoted low-carbs, then came the South Beach and Zone diets (and now it’s gluten-free diets). A study showed over 40 million U.S. consumers were on low-carb diets and “… 61% of Canadians were limiting their carb intake … and sales would surge to $30-billion.” I see that as a market serving up endless opportunities for what I call “simple-adaptive” innovation–just make small adaptations to what you are already doing. Where was Hostess during this march to produce more low-carb products?

My guess – they had no idea how to innovate and no clue how brand value and the bottom line are connected. Today, they blame unions and spin other lame excuses, when in reality they failed to take the simplest of steps to innovate. What were they thinking when, in 2008, baker and entrepreneur Angie “Bakerella” Dudley became an overnight sensation with her “Cake Pops” – a simple, ingenious extension of a traditional product? Angie’s idea reflected the world around it – a shift to healthier lifestyles (smaller portions) and easy access for people on the go – “look ma, no fork!”

For me, the demise of Hostess is a blinding glimpse of the obvious. There was no innovative or entrepreneurial thinking inside the encrusted, status quo thinking of a sleep-at-the-switch corporation with its head stuck in the flour. And yet, the Twinkie brand might survive if a new company buys the brand and adds a large dose of innovation to its recipe.

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You Can’t Counter Culture

Innovation Insights
One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO


Have we seen the death of the Twinkie? If urban legend is correct, they can survive just about anything … except, maybe, a change in consumer culture.

Hostess Brands built its success around the development of sweet, indulgent snack foods, from its original chocolate cupcakes to the cream-filled shortcake Twinkie. James Dewar, who invented Twinkie in 1930, called them “the cream puff of the proletariat.” But something has changed. The proletariat began to realize that they wanted to live longer, healthier lives… fighting the sweeping epidemic of obesity, not dying from it.

Contrast Hostess with Pepsico, whose CEO has announced her objective to generate 50% of company revenue from healthful food. Pepsico embraced the new wave of health-conscious thinking and made it a corporate crusade. They have diversified into snacks and drinks that support today’s active lifestyles, through Gatorade, Quaker, Aquafina and more.

With Hostess’s parent company filing for bankruptcy protection in January, the respective failure and success of these two companies couldn’t be more dramatic. But it hinged on one minor difference. Pepsico looked and listened and recognized that while change is all around us, one thing doesn’t change: The customers know best. Don’t ignore what they’re telling you.

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