The deep-fried Twinkie is jumping from the state fair to the home freezer.
Hostess Brands, the maker of lunchbox treats like Ho Hos, is launching packaged "Deep Fried Twinkies" starting Friday that mark its first foray into frozen foods. The cream-filled snack in vanilla or chocolate is the result of a yearlong collaboration between Hostess and Wal-Mart, as both companies look to spark food sales with innovative products.
Battered and partially fried before being frozen, the Twinkies need to be finished for a short time in the oven, toaster oven or frying pan. They'll cost $4.76 for a box of seven and for the first three months are available only at Wal-Mart.
It has a "retro cool factor," says Ellen Copaken, Hostess' vice president of marketing. "It plays into the comfort food trend. And it's fun."
The Twinkie, long one of Hostess' largest sellers, is a bigger business now than even right before the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012, Copaken said. Executives had considered developing a deep-fried version, like those seen at local fairs, but put the plans on hold until Wal-Mart approached them last summer.
For Wal-Mart, which gets more than half of its sales from food and other groceries, the partnership is part of a strategy of working closely with suppliers to come up with new twists on existing foods or developing new ones, and getting them to the shelves faster. The company opened a food lab in June for that teamwork, a process that can cut costs and shave several months off a product launch, says Charles Redfield, executive vice president of food at Wal-Mart.
The food lab at the company's Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters has 10 test kitchens and space to accommodate 12 individual taste tests at a time. Specific feedback from customers gathered there gets shared with suppliers to determine if an item needs more work. Being tested now: new flavors for its store brand sparkling water, frozen stuffed doughnut bites, and vacuum-packed Paleo meals.