Show unwraps making of Little Debbies

Show unwraps making of Little Debbies

May 28th, 2011 in Business Around the Region

Oatmeal creme pies are a popular offering of McKee Foods Corp. in Collegedale.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.


• Name: McKee Foods Corp.

• Headquarters: Collegedale

• Founded: Company founders O.D. and Ruth McKee bought a small Chattanooga bakery in 1934 and moved the business to Collegedale in 1956

• Annual sales: More than $1.1 billion in 2010

• Staff: 6,000 employees

• Locations: Production plants in Collegedale, Gentry, Ark., and Stuarts Draft, Va., and a distribution warehouse in Kingman, Ariz.

• Ownership: The privately held company is still owned by the McKee family

• CEO: Chris McKee, grandson of O.D. and Ruth McKee

• Website:


The making of the Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies by McKee Foods Corp., will be featured on the Food Network program, "Unwrapped," at 9 p.m. tonight. The program airs on Comcast cable channel 58; EPB channel 65 and Dalton cable channel 50.

McKee Foods Corp. boasts one of America's best known brands with its Little Debbie snack cakes.

But even with more than 5 billion Little Debbie snakes produced a year at bakeries in Collegedale, Stuarts Draft, Va., and Gentry, Ark., McKee remains very private about the way it makes its oatmeal creme pies.

America's biggest privately owned bakery will give viewers of the Food Network a glimpse into its production process tonight during the 9 p.m. showing of its program "Unwrapped."

"We try to avoid coverage or attention of our production process because of our trade secrets which we like to think provide us a competitive advantage in our products," said Chris McKee, the third generation McKee who is chief executive for the Collegedale-based food giant. "But I think this will provide a little bit of footage of our plant and some attention to our brand story, which we like to talk about."

Company founders O.D. and Ruth McKee adopted the Little Debbie name more than a half century ago after their then 4-year-old granddaughter. Today, the real Little Debbie, Debbie McKee-Fowler, is executive vice president for the family-owned company.

Although the company continues to improve its bakery and distribution lines, Chris McKee said, most of the company's top-selling brands today were also the most popular brands 40 years ago.

That is typical in the snack, cookie and doughnut lines where top-selling brands like Oreo or Chips Ahoy have remained popular for decades.

"There is so much change in our world, but with food people tend to hang on to what is tried and true," McKee said.

With more than 90 varieties, the Little Debbie brand has remained tried and true for McKee Foods, accounting for more than 90 percent of the company's annual sales of more than $1.1 billion. Chris McKee said sales have remained flat through the recession. Some consumers have cut their purchases of snacks, but others have shifted to lower-priced snacks such as Little Debbie.

"We've always delivered a good, fresh taste and an attractive price and I think that's been key to our success," McKee said.

Health-conscious Americans may be trimming some of their snack purchases, but McKee said the oatmeal cream pie has remained popular "because moms tend to like oatmeal and they know Little Debbie snacks taste great."

Tonight's show on the Food Network was shot at McKee's manufacturing plant in Stuarts Draft, Va., which the company built in 1990.

"It was fun to be able to show off our manufacturing facility here in Stuarts Draft," said Randy Smith, vice president of operations at the plant.