Hostess Brands invigorated its classic HoHos by using peanut butter to spark new consumer interest. 

With consumers’ preferences changing practically by the day, how do baking and snack companies decide which products to reinvent? How do they know it’s time to modify a mainstay product?

Sometimes product reinvention is an easy decision based on popularity and sales. Burke Raine, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, Hostess, said the company’s iconic HoHos brand was in decline for much of 2016. Hostess wanted to give the product some publicity and excitement among consumers.

“We looked at the intersection of sales and consumer trends data,” Mr. Raine said. “The HoHo is an icon, and we didn’t want to change the original flavor — which many consumers love — so we, instead, decided on a line extension to reinvigorate the brand.” 

Last year, Hostess launched Peanut Butter HoHos, which include a chocolate cake coating with stripes of peanut butter and a peanut butter filling. Mr. Raine said the HoHo brand is growing again, and Hostess even converted one of its plants into a peanut-friendly facility to keep up with demand for the popular new product and other peanut butter-flavored items.

In addition to playing up the classic peanut butter and chocolate combination, Hostess took into account consumer demands when deciding which direction to go.

“With Peanut Butter HoHos, it was consumer acceptance of the concept that got us most excited for the flavor,” Mr. Raine said.

But the new product was more than just a change in flavor.

“Consumers are looking for real ingredients as well, so being able to say ‘made with real peanut butter’ was a nice bit of permission for people to enjoy a treat,” he added.

To be successful with product reinvention, a company must know its consumers. Just as people’s preferences constantly evolve, so should a company’s engagement with their wants and needs. Ms. Lyons Wyatt stressed the importance of reinvention as “a part of an overall innovation strategy that companies look at to drive incremental growth and to evolve with consumers’ ever-changing needs.”

Shoppers’ taste buds won’t stop searching for something new. But by using brand loyalty and classic snacks to their advantage through product reinvention, companies can ensure curious consumers keep coming back to the brands that are keeping up with them