Bellefontaine Examiner

Switch to desktop

Crave a Twinkie? The price is going up fast online

Article Index

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Twinkies are being sold on the Internet like exquisite delicacies.

Twinkie2 

Hours after Twinkie-maker Hostess announced its plans to close its doors forever, people flocked to stores to fill their shopping baskets with boxes of the cream-filled sponge cakes and their sibling snacks — Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and Zingers.

Late Friday and Saturday, the opportunists took to eBay and Craigslist. They began marketing their hoard to whimsical collectors and junk-food lovers for hundreds — and in some cases — thousands of dollars. That's a fat profit margin, when you consider the retail price for a box of 10 Twinkies is roughly $5.

Greg Edmonds of Sherman, Texas is among those who believe Twinkies are worth more now that Hostess Brands Inc. has closed its bakeries. He lost his job as a sales representative eight months ago, so he is hoping to make some money feeding the appetites of Twinkie fans and connoisseurs

After spending a couple hours driving around to stores Friday, Edmonds wound up with 16 boxes of Twinkies and Ding Dongs. He started selling them Saturday on eBay, advertising three boxes for a hefty price of $300.

"I could really use the extra money since I'm unemployed," Edmonds, 50, said. "I figure I better sell them pretty quickly because I am not sure how long this novelty is going to last."

Contrary to popular belief, Twinkies don't last forever. Most bought in stores Friday carry an expiration date of early December,

If buyers don't bite, Edmonds isn't sure what he will do with his supply. He doesn't even like Twinkies. "I do like to have a Ding Dong, every once in a while though," he said.

John Stansel of Tampa, Fla. blanches at the thought of eating a Twinkie. He's a self-described health nut.

Yet he, too, rummaged shelves late Friday at a neighborhood Walgreens and then again early Saturday at Target and a grocery store. He spent about $100 for 20 boxes of Twinkies and Ding Dongs. His goal: sell them for about $1,000 and put the money to good use.

"Maybe I will hire a personal trainer for myself or go do some shopping at Whole Foods or donate the money to a charity to fight diabetes," Stansel, 40, said. "No matter what, I figure I am getting sugar off the streets."

Although Hostess is shutting down, it's still possible that Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos could make a comeback. That's because Hostess is planning to sell its brands and other assets at an auction to be overseen by a U.S. bankruptcy judge in New York. Several potential buyers could emerge for Twinkies, particularly with the recent outpouring of affection.

A hearing on Hostess's liquidation request is scheduled for Monday morning.

Not all online sellers are demanding top dollar. Some boxes are being listed at $5 to $20. Others are willing to barter. "I am willing to trade a box for some good microbrew. A real quality six pack," offered a thirsty New York seller on Craigslist.

Despite his disdain for junk food, Stansel confesses he won't sell a few of his individually wrapped Twinkies. He plans to give them to his nostalgic friends and family as stocking stuffers for Christmas.



J.M. HIRSCH,AP Food Editor

 

Let's not panic. We all know that Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Wonder bread and the rest of Hostess Brands' oddly everlasting foods aren't going away any time soon, even if the food culture that created them is gasping its last.

Yes, Hostess is shutting down. And odds seem to favor the roughly century-old company disappearing from our corporate landscape. But before you rush out to stockpile a strategic Twinkie reserve, consider a few things. Namely, that Twinkies never die. You know full well that the snack cakes down at your corner 7-Eleven are going to outlive us all. Probably even after they've been consumed.

And then there's the acquisition-happy nature of the business world, an environment that increasingly prizes intellectual property above all. It's hard to imagine the fading away of brands as storied and valuable as Ho Hos, Ring Dings and Yodels. Within hours of announcing the closure Friday, the company already had put out word that Zingers, Fruit Pies and all the other brands were up for grabs.

Even if production really did stop, how long do you think it would take for some enterprising investor intoxicated by a cocktail of nostalgia and irony for the treats Mom used to pack in his G.I. Joe lunch box to find a way to roll out commemorative Twinkies? Special edition holiday Ho Hos? It's just the nature of our product-centered world. Brands don't die, even when perhaps they should.

But let's pretend for a moment they did. What would we lose if Twinkies fell off the culinary cliff?

Certainly few obesity-minded nutritionists would bemoan the loss. With some 500 million Twinkies produced a year, each packing 150 calories... Well, let's just leave it by saying that shaving 75 billion calories from the American diet sure could add up to a whole lot of skinny jeans.

Except that Twinkies aren't merely a snack cake, nor just junk food. They are iconic in ways that transcend how Americans typically fetishize food. But ultimately, they fell victim to the very fervor that created them.

Despite the many urban legends about the indestructability of Twinkies — Did you know they are made with the same chemical used in embalming? Or that they last 5, no 15, no 50 years? — and the many sadly true stories about the atrocious ingredients used to create them today, these treats once upon a time were the real deal.

They started out back in 1930, an era when people actually paid attention to seasonality in foods. James A. Dewar, who worked at Hostess predecessor Continental Baking Company in Schiller, Ill., wanted to find a way to use the bakery's shortbread pans year round. You see, the shortbread was filled with strawberries, but strawberries were only available for a few weeks a year.

So he used the oblong pans to bake spongecakes, which he then filled with banana cream. Bananas were a more regular crop.

Let's pause so you can wrap your mind around that for a moment. Twinkies once contained real fruit. Twinkies were created because of seasonality.

All went swimmingly until World War II hit and rationing meant — say it with me — Yes! We have no bananas. And so was born the vanilla cream Twinkie, which was vastly more popular anyway. Even then, there was a crafted element to these treats. The filling was added by hand using a foot pedal-powered pump. Pump too hard and the Twinkies exploded. These days you only see that when teenagers post YouTube videos of themselves microwaving them.

It was around this time that American food culture did an about face. It was an era when the industrialization and processing of cheap food wasn't just desired, it was glorified. Cans and chemicals could set you free. And they certainly set Twinkies free of the nuisance of a short shelf life. It's not formaldehyde that keeps these snack cakes feeling fresh, it's the lack of any dairy products in the so-called "cream."

"Something about it just absolutely grabbed the popular culture imagination," says Marion Nestle, a New York University professor of nutrition and food studies — and no fan of junk food. "It's the prototypical indestructible junk food. It was the sort of height to which American technological ingenuity could go to create a product that was almost entirely artificial, but gave the appearance of eclairs."

When Twinkies signed on as a sponsor of the "Howdy Doody" show during the 1950s, their cultural legacy was sealed. Taglines such as "The snacks with a snack in the middle" began etching themselves into generations of young minds and it was considered perfectly fine that Twinkie the Kid would lasso and drag children before stuffing his sugar bombs in their faces.

It was the snack cake heyday. Twinkies were being deep-fried at state fairs, doing cameos in movies like "Ghost Busters" and "Die Hard" and being pushed by Spider-Man in comic books. A pre-vegan President Bill Clinton even signed off on including Twinkies in the nation's millennium time capsule (the two-pack was later removed and consumed by his council overseeing such matters for fear mice would add themselves to the time capsule).

Sure, not all the attention was positive. Somewhere along the line, Twinkies became the butt of jokes, mostly about their perceived longevity (though Hostess staunchly maintains 25 days is the max). And not all associations were great. The so-called "Twinkie defense" came out of the 1979 murder trial of Dan White, whose lawyers included his junk food obsession among the evidence of his supposed altered state of mind.

Then something happened. Suddenly, Americans who for decades had been tone deaf to how food was produced suddenly started paying attention, seeking out organic goat cheeses made from the milk of an unoppressed herd raised on a fence-free collective within a 20-mile radius of home. Even Doritos went artisanal, and an awareness of seasons and availability crept back into the culinary consciousness.

Suddenly products that had so prospered by their artificiality lost their allure. Even Hostess, which blamed this week's shutdown mostly on a labor dispute that hobbled its facilities, has acknowledged that consumer concern about health and food quality changed the game. People just weren't buying snack cakes like they used to.

So what would we lose if Twinkies really did go away? From a culinary standpoint and from a nutritional standpoint, it's hard to love the Twinkie (or pretty much any Hostess product). It's hard not to wonder how the American diet, the American palate, would be different if the parents of the '50s hadn't begun a cycle of turning to processed packages as the de facto snack of childhood.

And does nostalgia alone justify the continuation of something so patently bad for us?

Of course nostalgia, even irony, taste awfully good.

And I notice that a growing number of — dare I say it — artisanal bakeries are going retro, creating their own inspired takes on classic processed snack cakes. Treats like red velvet "twinkies" made with real ingredients. So perhaps it isn't time for Twinkies to go away. Or to stay the same. Maybe it's time for them to go back to their roots. And then, we lose nothing.

___

J.M. Hirsch is the AP's Food Editor. Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.

 

 

 

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn