Will Twinkies be extinct?


| dbrennan@queenscourier.com |

Coming from a family of 10 kids, desserts were quite a luxury and often triggered family food fights. Like many kids, the gold standard for us was the Twinkie.

My sister Sue devised an ingenious plan to corner the market on family desserts: She would volunteer to do the grocery shopping for mom. She then had full access to the goodies, controlling them from point of sale to distribution, as they say in the business world. Sue would then HIDE the box of Twinkies, having full access whenever she wanted one, or whenever she wanted to pay off a favor.
Sue also had complete deniability. If anyone found the hidden Twinkies, she would say that they “got lost in the cabinet. Who would hide something in plain sight?”

The plan blew up when one day a suspicious younger brother (me) kept a close watch on Sue as she unpacked the grocery bags, and saw her sleight of hand “accidentally” hiding the cache of Twinkies. It looked like she had a six-month supply stashed away.

No surprise. Who doesn’t love a Twinkie?

So it comes as quite a shock to hear that the Twinkie, which has lasted more than 80 years, may not last another 80 months. Hostess has filed for bankruptcy, threatening a great American institution.

The Twinkie was invented in 1930 in Schiller Park, Illinois, by a baker named James Alexander Dewar. He made strawberry shortcakes and one day had an idle machine, so he started making banana-filled cakes. During World War II, bananas became scarce, so the flavor became vanilla.

So what happened between 1930 and 2012? How could you possibly screw up a business that seemed to have an endless supply of kids willing to devour creme-filled cakes with a seemingly eternal shelf life?

Some experts say the trend toward healthier eating was a factor. In a book called Twinkie, Deconstructed author Steve Ettlinger cited 39 ingredients, “many often more closely linked to rocks and petroleum than the four major food groups.”

The Twinkie always had plenty of competition. Folks in my office listed their favorites that included Devil Dogs, Yodels, Ho-Hos, Suzy Q’s, Funny Bones, Hostess Cupcakes, Ding Dongs and Ring Ding Juniors, to name more than a few.

But until now, the Twinkie had beat back all comers. I’m not sure how to save the Twinkie (I haven’t consulted Sue, who grew up to be a college professor of business, and probably hasn’t had a Twinkie since she was 16).

Perhaps we need a Washington-style solution. Maybe we need a bailout. That’s it — a Twinkie bailout! It’s too big to fail. And when it gets back on its feet, the “Golden Sponge Cake with the Creamy Filling” will last another 100 years.

Even Steve Ettlinger, the 39 ingredients guy, is rooting for the Twinkie.

“The hostess people like to trot out an old guy who has had a Twinkie every day of his life,” he says. “I mean, they’re a treat. They’re not gonna kill you.”