Ho Hos, the Swiss-rolled chocolate-covered snack cake, not only has a rich filling, but also a rich history. Hostess Brands’ beloved snack cakes have filled consumers with sugar and fat for nearly 55 years and have had an undeniable impact on American snack culture. Here’s everything you need to know about the history of one of America’s favorite snack cakes.
When Continental Baking Co. bought Taggart Bakery in 1925, the brand that would later become Hostess was born. The now infamous snack cake maker would introduce Twinkies five years later as an inexpensive product at the height of the Depression. The iconic cream-filled yellow snack cakes survived the Depression, sparking further product innovation at Hostess with the introduction of Sno Ball cakes in 1947.
It wasn’t until 1967 that the first Ho Ho would be handmade in a San Francisco bakery. Mass production quickly followed. According to the Chicago-based Button Museum, “Early advertising campaigns for Ho Hos featured the mascot ‘Happy Ho Ho,’ a cartoon rendering of the snack cake dressed like Robin Hood.”
On its 40th birthday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a 1970s jingle described the popular pastry as a “Chocolaty snack that gives you go! It’s candy and cake. All in one. It’s two great treats. And so much fun!”
Behind the scenes, the snack cake had several different owners. Just a year after the snack was introduced, the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT) purchased Continental Baking Co. in an unlikely acquisition. In 1984, ITT agreed to sell it to Ralston Purina, the food conglomerate best known for its pet food. Just over a decade later, Continental was sold to the Interstate Bakeries Corporation, the largest bakery brand in the US.
Ho Hos in the 21st Century
Ho Hos and its sister products Ding Dongs, Sno Balls and Twinkies, all thrived throughout the 1900s. But once the new millennium began, health concerns arose around the fat- and sugar-filled snack cakes. Consumers were still purchasing the snack, but not as often as they once did. In 2004, Interstate succumbed to the low-carb South Beach and Atkins Diets, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
That would not be the end of the road for the snack cakes, as Interstate eventually emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 and renamed itself Hostess Brands. Just three years after coming out of bankruptcy, Hostess was back where it started, filing for Chapter 11 again in January 2012. After a workers strike, the company liquidated its assets, laid off tens of thousands of employees and closed its plants. Yet, this still wasn’t the end of the road, despite consumer fears that their favorite snack cake brand would be defunct.
Hostess sold Ho Hos and its other famous brands to two investment firms, Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Company, in 2013. Both firms have a history of corporate turnarounds and own Pabst Blue Ribbon and Vlasic. In 2016, Hostess’ new owners agreed to sell a majority stake in the company to a private equity firm and it now trades on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol TWNK.
In 2017, a peanut butter version of the chocolate snack cake was unveiled alongside other product innovations that have helped Hostess maintain demand for its products even as consumers gravitate towards healthier snacks. Since many shoppers still want to indulge, Hostess has positioned itself well to fulfill that need.
Hostess’ Q1 net revenue in 2021 was up nine percent from last year, generating a net revenue of $265.4 million, perhaps a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But one thing is clear: Ho Hos aren’t going anywhere as long as Hostess maintains a stronghold on the packaged sweets market.