McKee sees Drake's snack cakes increasing footprint

by Eric Schroeder
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COLLEGEDALE, TENN. — The reintroduction this week of Ring Dings, Yodels, Devil Dogs and Drake’s Coffee Cake is just the start of what McKee Foods Corp. hopes will be a successful run for the Drake’s snack cakes brand, which was acquired earlier this year from the former Hostess Brands, Inc. for $27.5 million.

McKee kick-started the relaunch with the roll-out of the top four selling varieties of Drake’s snack cakes on Sept. 23, a move Mike Gloekler, director of communications at McKee Foods, told Milling & Baking News was made because the company knew it could get those products “out quickly.”

The Drake’s snack cakes have been off the market for 10 months, and McKee has spent the past few months getting a handle on how the products may effectively fit into McKee’s snack cakes portfolio, which also includes Little Debbie branded snacks. The transition was not always easy, Mr. Gloekler said.

“These were whole new recipes to us,” he said. “We didn’t want to take existing products of ours and just repackage them. We wanted to give Drake’s consumers back what they were missing. But we had no existing prototypes to go from. We had to test our efforts through Drake’s fans on whether we were on the right tracks.”

That was a daunting task considering the 125-year history of the Drake’s brand, but McKee Foods was not flying blind on the reintroduction. The company already makes Devil Cremes, Swiss Rolls and Cocoa Cremes under the Little Debbie brand, and those products are similar to certain Drake’s snack cakes brands. Offering his personal opinion on how the Little Debbie and Drake’s cakes compare, Mr. Gloekler said he thinks Little Debbie products are “a little sweeter” while the creme filling in the Drake’s cakes is “a little creamier.” The chocolate enrobing is “quite different” between the two, he added.

One Drake’s product that isn’t part of the initial roll-out is Funny Bones, which are rectangular chocolate cakes filled with peanut butter flavored crème and covered with milk chocolate frosting. Mr. Gloekler said Funny Bones are a challenge because of the inclusion of peanut butter.

“It’s not cost effective to run alongside our current equipment,” he said. “That product almost needs its own dedicated line.”

McKee currently offers Peanut Butter Crunch Bars and Nutty Bars (which include peanut butter), but Mr. Gloekler said the Little Debbie products are wafers, which require different equipment then the cake-based Funny Bones. McKee is making the Drake’s cakes in Collegedale, Tenn., and Stuarts Draft, Va.

While Funny Bones may not make it back to market anytime soon, McKee does have plans to expand the Drake’s brand, specifically into the breakfast market, Mr. Gloekler said. No launch date has been given, but new products appearing on the company’s web site and slated for future introduction include honey buns, blueberry muffins, banana nut muffins, chocolate chip mini muffins, blueberry mini muffins, cherry cheese Danish pastries and cheese Danish pastries.

“The breakfast market is a very active market right now,” Mr. Gloekler said.

The company also plans to introduce Zoinks!, which are crème-filled sponge cakes similar to Twinkies.

One thing is for sure, with Little Debbie’s national brand recognition and Drake’s strong presence in the northeast, Mr. Gloekler sees no reason why the acquisition won’t pay dividends for McKee in the long run.

“It’s really a chance to increase our footprint,” he said.
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