The Bittersweet Revenge of Hostess
By Meredith Hauryluck-Draper
“The Sweetest Comeback in the history of Ever.” Yes, Hostess is back. And while much of the spotlight focused on the disappearance and reappearance of the iconic Twinkie, what I missed was Hostess Cupcakes. Especially the orange-flavored ones. But the standard chocolate ones were always a part of my sweet binges.
Sometimes, I bought them by the box, at the supermarket and other times, the handy two-pack, picked up on impulse, in a variety of stores. I never bought them all the time, I didn’t need to always have them in my cupboards. It was enough knowing that they would always be there. And so they were, until that awful day, November 21, 2012, when Hostess announced it was all over. Bankrupt. Unable to fight its way back to solvency, Hostess stopped production and shipped the last of their stock. The end of an era.
I have to admit that, while the announcement saddened me, it did not produce the urgent need to gather a secret stash, but I did make a mental note to buy a box or two the next I visited the supermarket. As it happened, that was the very next day. Off to market I went. Up one aisle and down the next, still not registering any urgency to get to the snack aisle. But when I got there all I found was chaos. Scads of people, crowding around the shelves, snatching blindly at any box bearing the “Hostess” name. There were several people literally filling their carts with Twinkies and Cupcakes and the like. I couldn’t get near a shelf, much less grab a box. I never managed to buy them again before they disappeared for forever.
Interestingly, with Hostess cakes now nothing more than a memory, I found myself craving them more and more. I found myself trying different brands of snack cakes, Little Debbie, Sara Lee (which was a new offering in the snack-cake genre), store brands, and even making my own from scratch and mixes. None tasted the same, not one was an acceptable substitute. I accepted I was doomed to a Hostess-less life. I knew it was time to move on. I gained a new understanding of what friends and relatives went through after giving up cigarettes. Yet, even as the cravings receded and eventually went away, there was always that sad little longing feeling whenever I passed a shelf that in the past had held Hostess cakes.
So, life went on, snack-cake-less, but on all the same. But I often wondered what was about Hostess that made its passing so traumatic. Other food products and brands have gone before, and while missed them, I couldn’t remember any other food disappearance that had the same effect on so many people. Hostess was a truly iconic American brand. Twinkies were invented in 1930, by Alexander Dewer, who was a baker for the Continental Baking Company. Continental made a cream-filled strawberry shortcake, but only while strawberries were in season; the rest of the time, the machinery that was used to make those cakes sat idle. Dewer invented the Twinkie to utilize the machines during that downtime. Originally, Twinkies were filled with banana-flavored cream. Bananas were rationed during World War II, though, so the company switched to vanilla-flavored cream. Hard to imagine, but yes, real fruit was used back then! Twinkies and its brethren became American staples. Twinkies even went on to become part of legal world. Remember the infamous “Twinkie Defense”?
And then came the announcement that lightened my heart and gave me back my hope. Hostess had been bought in a bankruptcy sale, and would be back on the shelves in a few short months. Billed as “The Sweetest Comeback in the history of Ever,” people spent months, drooling waiting for the rollout, myself included.
Now, some months later, Hostess cakes are back with a vengeance. But not in my house, I am sad to say. My beloved cakes have changed, and not for the better. Pricier, different tastes, different textures, smaller, and in some cases, shipped frozen to stores, who then thaw them before stocking their shelves (and, no, you don’t know which stores request frozen deliveries). It is true that some changes were made before Hostess closed, the smaller size, for instance, and the increase in shelf life (almost doubled, from 14 days to 26). But those changes were so new, that they affected very few consumers until now. And the fact is, no matter which company changed what, when, any and all changes will always be associated with the new owners.
For me, though, it is all about the taste. Two weeks ago, I bought a box of Hostess Cupcakes. Paid a little bit more than I used to pay, to get a little less than I used to get. But that was all right. It had been a long time since I had one of those cupcakes. I opened the box and removed one cellophane-wrapped treat. It looked smaller, probably more so than it actually was and less fresh. The chocolate didn’t seem as dark or as rich. There was one other major difference in appearance. The white squiggle of icing on the top wasn’t. It wasn’t white, but rather an unappealing, muddy-looking beige. I knew then that this comeback was going to be far less sweet than I had been promised. I would like to tell you that that first bite I took belayed my fears. I would like to tell you that, but I can’t. It just tasted blah, bad. I ate it, but I didn’t like it. I did not have another. I have not bought another Hostess product since, and I doubt I ever will.