MOST companies looking for inspiration would hesitate to pick a product made by an American giant in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
But Honey Bun was so impressed with Twinkies -- whose maker, Hostess Brands, sought protection from creditors in January -- that it has launched a similar Jamaican treat called a Goldie.
The new snack, a light sponge cake injected with vanilla cream, was rolled out this week after a year of trials in which customers tasted some 50 recipe variations for flavour, texture, "mouth feel" and look.
Goldies are "dramatically different" from the US product, which is not sold in Jamaica, said Krystal Chong, Honey Bun's chief marketing officer.
The cake is bigger, softer and lighter and the vanilla filling is more "marshmallowy" and "ice creamy", Chong said.
Most importantly, they are freshly baked and delivered to retailers daily.
Twinkies have a reputation for longevity, although a Hostess executive told The New York Times in 2000 that the snacks typically sit on store shelves for just seven to 10 days.
Sales of the American snack fell by two per cent last year to 36 million as customers moved to healthier foods, Hostess said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
James Dewar of the Continental Baking Company in Illinois invented Twinkies in 1930, using banana cream filling. The switch to vanilla was made during the Second World War due to a shortage of the fruit.
While Dewar chose the name "Twinkies" after seeing a billboard for "Twinkle Toe Shoes", Honey Bun chose "Goldie" to reflect its pride in Jamaica's Golden Jubilee and the golden success of the country's athletes at the London Olympics.
Honey Bun is the dominant player in the Jamaican "individually wrapped baked snack" market, and its products are sold in more than 1,000 outlets islandwide, including gas stations and 250 school canteens.
"Kids are a big part of our market," said Chong. "They love us."
Initially, the company plans to bake 100,000 of the snacks a week.
Goldies not only meet the tastes of children and young adults, but the price point, $40, is affordable for them.
To make the snacks at that price, though, the company had to fully automate production, importing over US$200,000 ($17.7 million) in equipment from the US and Britain, some of it custom designed.
The machinery mixes the batter, drops it gently, and precisely, into the trays, bakes it, injects the cream, individually wraps the finished snacks and packs them into a box of 18.
The equipment could also be used for other products in the future.
And the Goldies could eventually, perhaps as early as a year from now, be exported to other Caribbean islands.
Honey Bun is also in the midst of reorganising its distribution network, having taken half its 20 or so routes in-house in the past eight months.
It is testing a hand-held computer that delivery drivers can use to check the inventory in each store, providing information that will be used to estimate the size of the next day's resupply.
The system, which is expected to cost around US$110,000, will be rolled out completely to the in-house drivers by the first quarter of next year and should be in the hands of contractors by September next year.
Honey Bun, founded in 1982, was listed on the Junior Market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange last June and reported an annual net profit of $27 million earlier this year.
The company is led by founders Herbert Chong, the chairman, and Michelle Chong, its chief executive officer.