Last week, Flowers Foods, maker of Nature’s Own bread and Tastykake snacks, emerged as the leading bidder for a number of brands being sold by bankrupt bread maker Hostess. The $360 million proposal includes Wonder Bread, Butternut, Home Pride, Merita, and Nature’s Pride brands, along with a separate $30 million deal for Beefsteak bread.
But one notable Hostess product isn’t part of the deal: Twinkies.
This is somewhat surprising, because when Hostess announced late last year that it would liquidate, the outcry from American consumers focused almost exclusively on the iconic, cream-filled, golden snack cake. Within days, Twinkies started disappearing from store shelves and going for record prices on the secondary market. Suddenly, it seemed, Americans wanted Twinkies again.
As it turns out, several large corporations are rumored to be eyeing Twinkies, and it’s thought that the company will likely be sold in a matter of weeks. Among the interested parties are reported to be Grupo Bimbo, the baking giant that owns Sara Lee, Entenmann’s, and Thomas’ English Muffins, among other brands; supermarket chain Kroger; and Walmart.
But how much is this iconic brand really worth? Twinkies doesn’t have the market reach it once had, after all. That’s partly because Hostess failed to innovate as Americans gradually shifted their eating habits and went looking for healthier and healthier-seeming products. Long gone are the days when most American parents can drop a Twinkie into a child’s sack lunch and feel they are rounding out a balanced meal by doing so. That said, there is still good money to be made producing guilty pleasures: Hostess baked about 500 million Twinkies last year, according to company spokesperson Lance Ignon, bringing in about $74 million.
“The value of a brand is what the company that acquires it decides to do with it,” says Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, who recently blogged about the brand’s future. If, for example, a corporation decides to acquire Twinkies merely to keep selling the same product to the same retailers in the same locations, then the winning bid may not be much – likely less than $50 million, Chernev predicts.
On the other hand, he says, if a company with experience reviving flagging but iconic brands decides to bid — perhaps deciding that the Twinkies brand can be made bite size, or turned into a new line of ice cream products — then the winning bid will likely be higher.
Robert Passikoff, founder and president of research firm Brand Keys, says that Twinkies can be compared to Flower Foods’ Tastykakes brand, which is a similar product but not as well known. Flowers paid $34 million for the brand in 2011, and Passikoff believes that if you balance Twinkies’ more expansive cultural reach with its slightly smaller distribution compared to Tastykakes, Twinkies is likely to go for something in that ballpark. “You could say the range of products and a certain broader demographic appeal for Tastykakes is balanced out by Twinkies’ cultural importance and resonance,” says Passikoff.
Either way, Twinkies’ new owner will likely control not just the brand but also its manufacturing and distribution outlets, which are immediate and reliable pipelines to consumers who still buy up the snack.
It’s long been said that their long shelf lives make Twinkies one of the few things that could survive a nuclear attack. The question for the brand’s potential bidders is whether the brand can survive changing consumer tastes — and a trip through bankruptcy court.