Supply delays in 'The Sweetest Comeback' hurting Twinkies' momentum

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When Sam Guido unveiled the new line of Twinkies at Kuhn's market in Ross last month, customers were ecstatic. "People were waiting for them to come back," the store manager said. "I put them right in the front door just to let people know that we have them."

But the new owner of the Twinkies brand concedes it has struggled to keep up with orders following the snack cake's highly publicized rebirth last month, leading to empty shelves for some retailers, including O'Hara grocer Giant Eagle.

Mr. Guido's initial delivery sold out, and despite his best efforts, his Kuhn's store did not receive another shipment until last Saturday. Now, he says, he is out of Ho Hos -- and there is no word when the next shipment will arrive.

The famed prepackaged cake returned to grocery shelves in mid-July following an eight-month absence from the market. Hostess -- the company that produced treats including Twinkies, CupCakes and Ho Hos -- ceased operations in November after filing for bankruptcy earlier in the year.

In March, private equity firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. purchased the business for $410 million. They planned a swift turnaround and a marketing campaign based around the tag line "The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever."

With all the hype surrounding the relaunch has come an "unprecedented" demand for Twinkies, said Hostess spokeswoman Hannah Arnold, as orders continue to exceed production capacity "by a significant amount." Some local retailers say that after the first shipment of Hostess products arrived in grocery and convenience stores across Pittsburgh last month, the supply line dried up.

Smithfield News, a convenience store Downtown, received its first Hostess shipment post-relaunch Friday.

"This is the first time we've got Twinkies since they were discontinued," said Ciara Vera, a cashier at Smithfield News.

Giant Eagle is also "experiencing temporary issues with keeping certain items in-stock related to supply challenges," according to Victor Kimmel, a spokesman for the company. He said the supermarket chain is working with Hostess to make the snacks available to customers.

Ms. Arnold said Hostess is doing what it can to meet demand.

"Hostess is operating bakeries at maximum levels and is doing everything possible to make sure it is fulfilling orders as quick as it can, so retailers can re-stock shelves for shoppers," she said in a Friday email.

Ms. Arnold said she did not have any Twinkies sales numbers available for the period since mid-July.

Meanwhile, some retailers report they have not encountered major supply issues.

Kim Householder, human resources manager at the Target in East Liberty, said there was some hype surrounding the relaunch the first week but the store has not had trouble keeping Twinkies in stock since. And Veronica Marshall, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said the retail chain feels comfortable with the inventory it has in its stores.

"Hostess continues to work with us to make sure that we do have product in stock," Ms. Marshall said.

Although Hostess has received plenty of publicity that has helped revive interest in the Twinkies brand, the company's efforts to keep the snack cakes on shelves are key to maintaining momentum. Mike Walsh, associate professor of marketing at West Virginia University, said product shortages can alienate consumers.

"Brand loyalty only goes so far," Mr. Walsh said. "People are hungry and they want something to eat."

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Gavan Gideon: or 412-263-4910. Michelle Hackman: or 412-263-1969. First Published August 10, 2013 4:00 AM


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