Twinkies make early return at Wal-Mart stores
NEW YORK - Wal-Mart and other retailers are making Twinkies available this weekend, even though Hostess says it asked stores to wait until Monday to start selling the spongy yellow snack cakes. The world's largest retailer announced Friday that the cakes were available at about 1,600 stores and that about 3,000 of its 4,000 U.S. stores should have them by Sunday morning. That's a day before the July 15 return that Hostess has trumpeted in its marketing. Supermarket operator Kroger, which owns Ralphs, Fry's and Food 4 Less, also said the cakes were available in about a quarter of its more than 2,400 stores Friday and that the figure would expand over the weekend. Hostess said in a statement that it shipped out products to give retailers the same opportunity to display the product on Monday. "Hostess has not, and is not, giving any particular retailer exclusivity or preference to have products first and is making a great effort to fulfill orders equally and timely to everyone," the company said in a statement.But Wal-Mart announced Friday morning that Twinkies would make an "early comeback" at its stores. "The product was in our distribution centers, and we went out early," said Veronica Marshall, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Marshall had earlier said that Wal-Mart had worked with Hostess to make the snack cakes available early exclusively. But she later clarified the statement to say that Wal-Mart had worked with Hostess to make special packaging with the words "First Batch" available exclusively at its stores. By late next week, Wal-Mart says its stores will also have Hostess Mini Muffins and fried Fruit Pies, Marshall said. Coffee Cakes, Ho Hos, Orange CupCakes, Suzy Qs and Zingers will be available by August. Sno-Balls will arrive in the fall. A representative for grocery store operator Safeway did not immediately respond to say when it would start selling Twinkies. Notably, the new owners of Hostess say that Twinkies now have a shelf life of 45 days. That's nearly three weeks longer than the 26 days the previous company had stated for the cakes. Hostess says the changes were made under the previous owners and longer-lasting cakes hit shelves right before the company went out of business. Hostess also says it will be freezing Twinkies for about 10 percent of its retailers upon request, which lets stores stamp their own expiration dates on the cakes. Marshall said Wal-Mart isn't one of the retailers that will get frozen Twinkies. Hostess went bankrupt late last year after years of management turmoil and a standoff with its second-biggest union. The company sold off its various brands, with Twinkies and other Hostess cakes going to private equity firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co., which is known for fixing up ailing brands, then selling them off for a profit. Marshall declined to say how Hostess cake sales were performing at Wal-Mart stores before the bankruptcy. The retailer also sells Little Debbie cakes, which are made by McKee Foods Corp, and Tastykake, which is made by Flowers Foods. Wal-Mart also sells store-brand versions of the cakes. In a statement, the second largest union for the bankrupt Hostess company said that it had consistently stated its interest in working with the new owners of the company. It said that the experience of its members would give the "best chance for long-term success in consistently putting out a quality product." The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union said it hoped the new owners would change their approach and work with its union members to ensure long-term success for the cakes.