What I learned as spokesperson for Twinkies and Wonder Bread

The outpouring of sadness over the loss of Hostess and Wonder brands doesn’t surprise me. Before I founded Standing Partnership, I spent three years as communications manager and spokesperson for Twinkies, Wonder Bread and related iconic brands. With the current owner’s bankruptcy filing and potential liquidation, I feel compelled to share a few stories from those days.

1. Some iconic brands inspire tremendous passion among consumers.

Certain brands hold special meaning for consumers; Hostess is one of them. Americans have always loved Hostess Twinkies, CupCakes, Ho Ho’s, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread. (Like so many others this week, I savored a few last bites of my favorite product, a Hostess fruit pie!)

At Continental Baking Co. in the late 1980s, I became an expert on bread and snack cake history, production and marketing.The process started with guided tours of the bakeries (in the required hairnets and safety goggles) and riding along on delivery routes to supermarkets and convenience stores in the wee hours of the morning. I learned never, ever to go into a store without straightening out product on the shelves.

2. Even the most storied brands evolve … carefully.

During my time with Continental, its new owner Ralston Purina Company closed 13 bakeries as the company focused on improving production efficiencies and marketing savvy. They weresignificant, painful changes for an organization historically driven by a strong sales ethic and plan. Hundreds of people lost jobs with each bakery closed.

Even “fun” brands have a serious side when it comes to reputation management in the midst of the changes like bakery consolidations, labor negotiations, product tamperings and even an attempted boycott we faced during my tenure.

To lighten things up, we introduced nearly 15 innovative new snack cake and bread product offerings in three years, including Wonder Light bread, Wonder High Fiber, Oatmeal Goodness Bread as well as Fruit and Crème Twinkies and Choco-Bliss.

3. Learn to keep up with changing consumer tastes and trends.

Consumers took a great interest in nutrition in the 1980s. An early call from a health food advocate asked how I could, in good faith, promote “junk food” with “no nutritional value.” The experts in our Quality/Food Protection department offered that, “A Twinkie is a desirable adjunct to a balanced diet.” True enough, but when I read myself quoted repeating that line in a national newspaper, the stilted language didn’t fit the Twinkies brand. In later interviews, I said, “If you have a balanced diet, you can enjoy a Twinkie once in a while!” That worked a lot better.

After Thanksgiving, I plan to share two more blog posts with a few more quick stories about my time with Hostess and Wonder Bread:

  • How Hostess Twinkies were selected as the cake for Superman’s 50th birthday
  • How Wonder Light bread came as a late entry to the “diet bread” category
  • How Hostess “squiggle” inventor Doc Rice celebrated the snack cake’s 70th birthday
  • How we averted a near-boycott by bringing thousands of “Twinkies to Tallahassee”