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Twinkie clones filling a need for sweets fans

Golden Creme Cakes, the Market Basket version of Hostess Twinkies.

Golden Creme Cakes, the Market Basket version of Hostess Twinkies.

The box on the Market Basket shelf is simple and blue, with a modest name printed across the front: Golden Creme Cakes. But the spongy, yellow snacks inside this unassuming packaging face some very big expectations.

Could this be the new Twinkie?

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Since Hostess Brands ceased production in November, Market Basket and its customers have been filling the void with the grocery’s own version of the defunct baker’s most iconic snack cakes, including Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and CupCakes.

The Market Basket products have done “phenomenally well,” said David McLean, operations manager for the supermarket chain. He is particularly encouraged that sales have continued to grow since they were first introduced, indicating that buyers have been satisfied and come back for more.

“Our consumers have said they can’t tell the difference,” McLean said.

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Golden Creme Cakes have been such a hit that they have been selling out at some locations. At the Gloucester Market Basket this week, although display shelves were well-stocked with other cakes from the Market Basket line, a fresh supply of Twinkie clones was not expected for another few days.

Boxes of Golden Creme Cakes, the Market Basket version of Hostess Twinkies, on display in the Reading store.

Charlie Mahoney for The Boston Globe

Boxes of Golden Creme Cakes, the Market Basket version of Hostess Twinkies, on display in the Reading store.

But longtime Twinkie fan Daniel Shea of Londonderry, N.H., wasn’t impressed. “Store brands are never as good as the real McCoy,” he wrote in an e-mail, citing what he called the Golden Creme Cakes’ “funny, metallic taste.”

Twinkies (left), Golden Creme Cakes (right). Six cakes and $2 per box.

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Hostess filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2012, hoping to reorganize the company. Eleven months later, however, negotiations with labor unions stalled and the company decided to shut down operations.

That sparked a snack-cake buying frenzy, as eager Twinkie fans quickly stripped supermarket shelves of the cream-filled treats. Since then, Twinkie-deprived snackers have had to hit eBay, where a box of 10 cakes is going for anywhere between $10 and $20, or look for alternatives.

That’s where Market Basket comes in.

The chain’s private-label snack cakes were in the works even before Hostess announced its plans to stop manufacturing, McLean said.

The timing of the release was coincidental. “We had been working on it months prior,” he said. “The week that we introduced the line is the week the Hostess brand shut down their facilities.”

The line consists of eight varieties of snack cake, including Twinkie stand-in Golden Creme Cakes, Ding Dong-esque Devils Food Cremes, and chocolate cupcakes with the same curlicue white frosting as the Hostess version of the treat. Each box sells for $1.50 or $2.

Store-brand foods, once stigmatized as low-quality options for those who couldn’t afford the name brands, have become more popular in recent years, capturing 19.4 percent of the market in the year ending Oct. 1, 2011, according to a report by Nielsen Co. Spending on private-label foods reached $91 billion over the same period.

Other supermarket chains have not yet followed Market Basket’s lead in creating replacements for Hostess products. Shaw’s is using existing suppliers such as Tastykake, Entenmann’s, and Little Debbie to satisfy snack cake demand, said spokesman Steve Sylven. Stop & Shop has also started selling Tastykake products “for customers looking for that Hostess alternative,” spokeswoman Suzi Robinson said.

If Twinkies continue to be unavailable, however, we can expect to see more such store-brand imitators entering the market, said Mike Berger, senior editor at the Griffin Report of Food Marketing in Duxbury.

“Obviously, there’s an audience for it,” he said. “That’s why you had such a furor when it was announced that Hostess was going under.”

Berger doesn’t think it will come to that, however. The major Hostess brands are almost certain to be picked up by another company, he said.

“I do believe that they’re going to come back,” Berger said. “It’s a matter of time.”

Sarah Shemkus can be reached at seshemkus@gmail.com.
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