PORTLAND – Tucked away in a corner of Hannaford’s cavernous Forest Avenue store, Donna Cox and her sister Marie Wiley-Cushman let out a little “ooh” of delight and put their arms out for an embrace.
A chance meeting with an old friend? In a way.
The two quickly grabbed the object of their affection: boxes of Twinkies.
The golden sponge cake with the creamy filling “is like a long lost friend,” said Wiley-Cushman. “It’s been forever.”
Well, not quite – it’s been just seven months since Interstate Bakeries, which owned the Hostess brand, as well as Wonder Bread and Dolly Madison, among others, was hit by a workers’ strike while it was already in the grips of a rocky bankruptcy.
The company’s management followed through on a threat to shut down its entire operations without a labor deal and the company’s iconic brands – Wonder Bread, Ho Hos, Zingers and, of course, Twinkies – were cast into the dustbin of history.
But only for a while.
Early this month, Hostess Brands’ new owners, Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Company, announced that Twinkies were on their way back, first to large chain stores, including Hannaford, Target and Walmart, and eventually to smaller chains and convenience stores, for those times when nothing but a sugary, springy cream-filled cake will hit the spot.
The re-emergence officially begins Monday, but it will take time to rebuild the supply chain. Hannaford spokesman Michael Norton said not every Hannaford store will have Twinkies on the shelves next week. He estimates about 24 Hannaford stores in Maine will have Twinkies by Monday. Smaller chains, independent grocers and convenience stores may not be stocked for a couple of weeks.
But on Wednesday – when Hannaford jumped the gun a little, setting out the Twinkies early at its store on Forest Avenue – the taste of baby boomers’ youth was back. The display case adorned with Twinkie the Kid – a Twinkie, inexplicably dressed in cowboy gear, riding a Twinkie — proclaimed it “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever.”
When he was pulled under by financial forces beyond his control, Twinkie the Kid wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves. Norton said Hannaford sold nearly 4,000 boxes a week last September — before the looming possibility of a shutdown swelled sales of the treats. Spread across the 181-store chain, that worked out to slightly more than 20 boxes a week per store.
And sales were relatively slow on Thursday, too. Those looking for a more nutritionally sound no-fat yogurt had to first pass by the Twinkies, which shared a floor display with the also revived cream-filled cupcakes and Donettes – powdered or chocolate frosted.
Most people passed the display without a second glance at the Twinkies, for sale at the same pre-disappearance price of $3.99 for a box of 10. A few remarked, “Hmm, Twinkies,” without breaking stride. But then there were the Twinkie diehards, like the two sisters from Portland.
“I’ll probably have one in the car,” said Wiley-Cushman, while Cox promised that, considering she has to share them with her husband, “they’ll be gone quickly.”
Gail Wenstrom, 50, also of Portland, saw the return of the snack as a chance to relive her childhood with her grown sons.
“It was the best treat,” she said. “I want my kids to have Twinkies.”
Wenstrom said she views the snack cake as a treat, an occasional indulgence, and not what some baby boomers may have viewed as an appetizer, main course and dessert all in one.
“You’re not going to eat a Twinkie every day,” she said. “It’s like s’mores.”
The difference, though, is that Twinkies are not as good for you, said Susan Quimby, a nutritionist with Nutrition Works, a Portland counseling firm.
Quimby said the list of ingredients in Twinkies reads like a top 10 of items to avoid.
There’s white flour, sugar, corn syrup and niacin, “which is a B vitamin. Why it has that, I don’t know,” she said.
Then there’s water, more sweetener – high fructose corn syrup – and partially hydrogenated oil, “which is the worst fat you can consume,” Quimby said.
“Then it gets worse,” she said, with caramel coloring, red dye No. 40 and yellow dye No. 5.
“Really, on top of everything, they’re going to put food coloring in it?” she said.
“Look, I grew up on Twinkies. I’m a baby boomer. I ate Twinkies as a kid and lived to tell about it,” she said. But even though they won’t kill you immediately, Quimby tells her clients that there are other snack foods that are tasty and not so bad for a person – dark chocolate-covered almonds almost qualify as health food, at least by comparison.
Still, it’s not as if Twinkies are going to be named Maine’s official treat, she said.
Of course, whoopie pies pretty much have that spot all sewn up.
“We won’t even get started on whoopie pies,” Quimby said. “They’re made with half a can of Crisco.”
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: