The maker of Little Debbie cakes will expand its snack line in the Big Apple next week by bringing back the 125-year-old Drake's cakes brand to store shelves.
McKee Foods Corp. announced Thursday it will start shipping Monday Drake's most popular varieties -- Devil Dogs, Coffee Cakes, Ring Dings and Yodels -- to grocery and convenience stores in the Northeast.
"The launch of these top four varieties is just the beginning for Drake's," said Chris McKee, executive vice president of marketing and sales for the Collegedale-based bakery. "Our first mission is to get the most popular and familiar tastes back into the pantries and lunch boxes of Drake's loyal fans."
McKee paid $27.5 million this spring to purchase Drake's brands and the equipment from Drake's Wayne, N.J. bakery. Hostess Brands, which previously made Drake's snacks, Twinkies, Ho Hos and other snacks, shut down its bakeries in late 2012 after filing for bankruptcy.
"We wound up bringing 12 trailer loads of equipment back to Tennessee and all that had to be tested and installed both here at Collegedale and at our plant in Virginia," McKee communications manager Mike Gloekler said.
McKee had the recipes and branding rights, but no final product to go by in reintroducing the Drake snacks. Gloekler said McKee will continue to sell is own snack cake brands in the Northeast, but it expects a sales bump in New York City where Drake's outsold McKee's own Little Debbie snacks by better than three-to-one margin.
"We had to do our own R&D and market testing to make sure we got the tastes right," he said. "These are going to be exactly the same Drake's snacks as what left the shelves when Hostess went bankrupt. The packaging also is the same with the addition of the McKee logo."
McKee also has maintained Drake's kosher certification from the Orthodox Union, which consumers can verify by looking for the circled-U symbol (hechsher) on cartons.
The purchase of the Drake's line is the biggest acquisition in the 79-year history of McKee Foods and should strengthen the market presence for the Collegedale bakery in the Northeast.
McKee is reintroducing the most popular Drake's snacks as Drake's snacks celebrates its 125th anniversary.
"I can't think of a better way to celebrate 125 years of an iconic brand such as Drake's," McKee said. "We've been working to ensure that loyal Drake's fans enjoy the same great experience they remember."
To tout the return of Drake's to store shelves, McKee has been running a social media campaign, offering up to $5,000 in prizes to those who may have seen Drake's mascot, a duck named Webster.
The return of Drake's snacks comes two months after Hostess's best known brand, the Twinkie, returned to store shelves by investment firm Metropoulus & Co., which bought the Twinkie brand in March.
Drake's founder, Newman E. Drake, established that brand in 1888 selling sliced pound cake in Brooklyn, N.Y.
McKee Foods was started by O.D. and Ruth McKee in Chattanooga in 1934.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.