Twinkies get slimmed down

By: AP
By: AP

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) -- Hostess Twinkies are becoming the latest product remade and repackaged into 100-calorie snack packs, a product some analysts say could do well given that more people are packing their own lunches in the slumping economy.

The maker of the golden yellow, creme-filled cake is launching "Twinkie Bites" nationwide in stores on Monday. It's also introducing a snack pack featuring strawberry cupcakes as it extends the 100-calorie pack line originally aimed at women who wanted to snack more sensibly.

Hostess launched its 100 calorie cupcakes in 2007 but held off on making a version of the Twinkie because the product was a favorite overall, not just among those looking for low-cal options, said David Leavitt, vice president of snack marketing at Hostess owner Interstate Bakeries Corp. Some 500 million Twinkies are sold every year.

And while Leavitt notes that the original Twinkie come in at 150 calories, people asked for a lightened version and the company got to work. They didn't want to just shrink the Twinkie, known for its elongated shape, Leavitt said, so they created three, miniature round versions. Leavitt said people enjoy having multiple bites rather than just the one product.

"It's not some impostor like some portion control products would be," Leavitt said. "From that standpoint it eats like a Twinkie, it smells like a Twinkie, it tastes like a Twinkie."

He didn't disclose how they ensured that the new version kept the taste of the old one.

Snacks in 100-calorie packages tend to do well when they're similar to the original product but don't take off when the slimmed-down version loses the filling or tastes different otherwise, said Marcia Mogelonsky, an analyst with Mintel International in Chicago.

Leavitt said Hostess is hoping to make more of the 100-calorie products, honing in on their portability since they're easily taken to the office for lunch. Hostess makes more than 15 million boxes of its 100 calorie packs -- including cupcakes, muffins and coffee cakes -- each year. The top seller is a chocolate cupcake. The company wouldn't disclose its own sales figures but said total industry sales of 100-calorie sweet snacks is more than $400 million a year. Five years ago, the category was virtually unheard of, the company said.

A Twinkies sales boost would come at an opportune time for Interstate Bakeries, as it seeks creditor approval of a plan that would allow the Kansas City-based company to exit more than four years of bankruptcy.

Mogelonsky said products like 100-calorie sweet snacks often carry a premium price that could dissuade people looking to save on costs who can create their own snack packs. But the slumping economy could also help these products, she said, because more people are packing their own lunches -- and as they grow tired of preparing them every day, they'll turn to these types of snack packs.

"It's the convenience that's selling these things, not just the calories," she said.


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