How Do You Revive Twinkies? A Q&A With the New Owners: The Metropoulos Brothers

Twinkies' new owners talk about why they bought the Hostess brands, their plans for new lines of Twinkies (think low cal) and whether they're going to tinker with the decades-old Twinkie recipe.

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Evan Sklar / Getty Images

A few months ago, Twinkies appeared to be on the brink of extinction. The snack cake was disappearing from store shelves across the U.S. because of consumer fears that the cakes would be no more. Hostess Brands — which at that time included Wonder Bread, Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, Zingers, and a couple dozen other snacks and foods — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2012 and began shutting its doors by November.

But last week, private equity firms Apollo Group Management and Metropoulos & Co. snatched up the “snack cake” portion of Hostess for $410 million, and on March 19 a Manhattan bankruptcy judge officially approved the sale. Metropoulos & Co. has purchased several instantly recognizable all-American brands, including Bumble Bee Tuna, Chef Boyardee, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, but Twinkies might be their most iconic holding yet. C. Dean Metropoulos, the 66-year-old founder of the firm, will serve as CEO. But it’s up to his two sons — Daren, 29, and Evan, 32 — to breathe life into the business again.

(MORE: How Much Is Twinkies Worth?)

TIME spoke to Daren and Evan last week about why they bought the Hostess brands, their plans for new lines of Twinkies (think low-cal snack cakes), and whether they’re going to tinker with the decades-old Twinkie recipe.

So, why buy Twinkies?

Evan Metropoulos: It’s an iconic brand and it’s something that millions of Americans love and enjoy. It’s very much worth saving.

But the Hostess brands have been struggling for years. Do you think those brands still have value?

Daren Metropoulos: Throughout the turmoil that the company has had the last few years, the consumer base has not declined. There continues to be strong demand for these products in the marketplace, and we feel we can capitalize on that with some fresh new marketing ideas and some more consistent sales efforts.

EM: Our father is very, very talented as a turnaround specialist, and he has taught us that these brands are resilient and very hard to take down. They have a hard consumer loyalty and with some TLC and some good management fundamentals, these brands can flourish and grow with new audiences.

You guys own a bunch of well-known American brands — Chef Boyardee, PBR, now Twinkies.What’s the common thread in all those?

EM: I don’t know that it always makes sense. We’re talking about several different acquisitions over many years. Luckily some of these brands, because they’re so nostalgic, have struck a chord with younger hipster consumers and people that are on the pulse of what’s trend-setting. If you look at the stock market today, you’ll see a premium being paid for brands that are all-American brands that people grew up with, like Clorox, Smuckers. Those stocks are at all-time highs. I think people pay a premium for what they know, what they’re comfortable with.

DM: The commonality has always been that they’re great iconic heritage brands that have intrinsic value. These brands, no matter how badly they’ve been mismanaged, cannot be killed over time. They just need a fresh perspective. They need reinvestments. What we’d like to do is create efficiencies in these companies and reinvest those profits back in product innovation, new marketing ideas, restructuring the sales force, making it a better company from all different angles and on all levels. We move quickly. We don’t like to be slowed down with analytics or bureaucracy. We like to put together a team of people who have a sense of urgency and share the same same vision for these brands, and we move quickly to cut through the red tape, beat the pavement, and try to get better displays, better shelving, better pricing.

(MORE: PBR Owner Making a Bid for Twinkies)

EM: Don’t forget, these brands are very coveted trophies. But once these giant conglomerates get a hold of them, they become lost in the shuffle. They become mismanaged because they don’t have entrepreneurs behind them pushing for results, pushing for innovation, for new products. They just become part of a larger investment scheme. So if we could get some individual brands away from some of these conglomerates, we could do miracles with them.

But hasn’t the era passed when parents are putting Twinkies in kids’ lunchboxes and regularly eating them as a snack? It seems like more Americans today opt for foods that are more nutritious.

DM: Listen, we’re never going to neglect the consumer that loves to buy Twinkies at the convenience store. But we also have to realize that tastes change. So of course we’re going to look to reinvest and innovate new products, whether they be 100-calorie packs or healthier alternatives. I think a grocery strategy would be more targeted towards mothers and healthier options for children and younger consumers. Conversely, there will be an independent convenience store strategy that looks to nurture the core consumer.

How do you think the brand was mismanaged over the years?

EM: I don’t know necessarily that it was mismanaged. I can’t say that it was. I think there were some outside factors that gave the management team some challenges that maybe we won’t have in the future to deal with. I think there are brand extensions and new business opportunities like dollar stores that Hostess hasn’t even tapped into.

What did you guys actually buy?

DM: We’re getting the Hostess brands, which are Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Cupcakes, Donettes, Zingers, Snoballs, Dolly Madison. And you get the recipes, also.

You actually get the recipe. Like, Here’s the Twinkies recipe. Here it is on this card.

DM: Yeah. Absolutely. And let me tell you this. Research and development will be a big part of this going forward, in terms of increasing shelf life. Currently these products have a 45-day shelf life. We think we can make that better in some respects. And we think there’s always things we can do to refine the taste and the quality and especially in new product development.

(MORE: Time to Start Stockpiling Twinkies? Hostess in Limbo as Workers Strike)

So you’re going to change the Twinkie recipe?

EM: I don’t know if the product needs to be improved, per say. I think the product is excellent, and there was no issue with the product amongst consumers. What I think we’re trying to say is that when you’re starting or using new baking facilities and you have a fresh perspective — and one of the things we’ve always valued over the years is research and development — there will be opportunities to look at baking them to make them as fresh and tasty as possible and to get to the consumer as quickly as possible and to be priced as fairly as possible.

How will the marketing the change? There are reports Zack Galifianakis is on board to be in Twinkies commercials.

EM: I can’t say that is accurate. I can say that we know him. We’ve exchanged e-mails. He’s a huge talent now and I don’t even know if the schedule permits.

DM: I think a lot of it will be guerrilla marketing that we’ve done with many other brands in the past, building on the retro nostalgia of these brands. And we think there’s serious opportunity to develop a merchandise business. So I think it’s going to be a mix of very guerrilla-type, tactical creative marketing and then some more traditional stuff. There could be possibilities for 30-second media advertisements. But certainly there will be an element of guerrilla marketing, or social media marketing, through Twitter, through Facebook, through Instagram, to really get some great viral buzz.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities? And what will your dad be doing?

DM: Our father’s going to be the chief executive officer. We will have roles at the Hostess company. Nothing too defined yet because we’re still putting this deal together. But we will be intimately involved every step of the way.

When can we expect Twinkies to be back on store shelves?

DM: We’re shooting for the summer to get the products back out there.

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71 comments
amitami
amitami

I want Orange Cupcakes back!!!!!

AliGoria
AliGoria

Don't even THINK about changing the product, dopes. 

amckown
amckown

Are they ONLY making the twinky or ALLLLL of the goodies? example wonder bread, donettes, cupcakes, pies?

grybak2013
grybak2013

On my new job as a trucker for a great company(hostess employee 12 years )i notice they are auctioning all the route trucks in alsip illinois at the auction off 294. They got there employees good stealing there vacation pay and severance owed to them.With the price of gas and maintenance only a idiot would go owner operator if thats what they have in mind.Mismanaged good grief the worst run company ever.Good luck to the metropolis crew what they got here is golden  and all the best.

bob.doolan
bob.doolan

18 years as Independant Distributer would very much be interested in continuing with Hostess  Managment/Distributer

gioldasisphil
gioldasisphil

When i am going fine and young i need calgon bath i say eats are good.

raiders5612009
raiders5612009

all i have to say is that we as union brothers & sisters either bakers union or teamsters hostess owns a lot of money to the pension fund and with all the money they made from all the millions they made from the sell off they should be able to pay some money back to the workers that are owed pensions and back pay  

Mazin Abdelsalam
Mazin Abdelsalam

I hope they bring back the Chocolate, Banana, and Strawberry Twinkies back too

JVL
JVL

It's NOT "per say".  It's LATIN and it's "per se."


Good grief--the idiot that writes for Time gets PAID for stupidity?

pantrigormortis
pantrigormortis

%s How are you along with getting that embargo on Cuba lifted? %s

rlsAkronOhio
rlsAkronOhio

I worked for Wonder/Hostess for 16 years and I know the potential for these particular brands. These guys have just acquired a goldmine! I can tell you that the company was not "mismanaged", simply a victim of economic strategies by investors. My hope is that these new owners revitalize the Hostess and Dolly Madison brand names and allow some of us to be a part of their resurrection.

JennyLewis
JennyLewis

Why NOT buy Twinkies? They're legalizing pot. Match made in heaven!


Onepatriot
Onepatriot

Don't forget the Suzy Q's!!!!!!!!!

TheeDesign
TheeDesign

Wonder what will happen to all of those twinkies that people made a mad rush to buy hoping they would be valuable? lol

hrdani
hrdani

Wow Twinkies only have a shelf life of 45 days? I thought it was much much longer than that.

LindaElizabeth
LindaElizabeth

Listened to the interview with Evan on Howard Stern this week - great interview and I'm excited to see what they do with the iconic brand :)

Farmagedddon
Farmagedddon

@TIME @TIMEBusiness Everyone knows they never really die. You can save them for years, still edible into infinity and beyond. River Forest!

FranticKL
FranticKL

@TIME @TIMEBusiness make them into cupcake shape with different fillings to taste and repackage them plus make it less sugary sweet :D

frattik
frattik

%s CPR? %s It'll be messy

sprice623
sprice623

Je veux qu'ils se venir sortent avec un 100% de blé entier version!

I want them to come out with a one-hundred-percent whole wheat version!

Sec2Bruin
Sec2Bruin

@TIME @TIMEBusiness I was a fan of the '100 calorie' snacks. I would clear the shelf of all the coffee cakes! Just get it back on a shelf.

GiselleArtist
GiselleArtist

%s %s I miss Twinkies! Ok, they're not gourmet dessert but just for good old times...and taste :) %s %s

PeterKrane
PeterKrane

@raiders5612009 When will you mafia/Union thugs realize you are the main reason for going offshore and why major businesses go bankrupt and why city and states cannot meet budget because of your outrageous demands?

AliGoria
AliGoria

@raiders5612009 Weren't you the morons who refused to have your bread ride on the same truck as the Twinkies? Idiots. 

raiders5612009
raiders5612009

@Mazin Abdelsalam  im sure the new owners will bring the products back but first of all they need to bring the workers back and there wages back 

raiders5612009
raiders5612009

@rlsAkronOhio  I work for bimbo bakeries here in southern california  and i hope u guys get to go back to work and they keep the union intact cuse we are union brothers and sisters so u all need to keep strong and make sure the new owners get u guys back to work and keep things the way they were 

moni222
moni222

@rlsAkronOhio Sorry but a company that does not change is product to meet new consumer tastes is mismanaged. The new owners are planning what Hostess should have done years ago:

"But we also have to realize that tastes change. So of course we’re going to look to reinvest and innovate new products, whether they be 100-calorie packs or healthier alternatives. I think a grocery strategy would be more targeted towards mothers and healthier options for children and younger consumers."