One of the things I like so much about Walmart and the other big box food retailers is the free samples they give out on weekends. Part of it is because I don’t add them in my calorie count for the day unless i’ve made three stops by the sample vendor for some especially good sample. Part of it is because I get to try something new and different that I wouldn’t usually buy. That’s how they are supposed to work, right? Here is a free sample of some new food. Now you tried it, do you want to buy it? In the more savvy stores like BJ’s the product that’s being given out is sampled right next to a display that has them all ready to be picked up and put in the cart.
Then I came across one that made me a bit sad. It was a brand extension, for Twinkies. Deep Fried Twinkies to be exact. Apparently I’m not the only person who’s surprised enough to write about the product as it’s become national news. Designed in conjunction with and now available only at Walmart! The questions came to my mind immediately: Why would you push to replace deep fried twinkies? I get the band extension part. We have mini-M&M’s for ice cream toppings, we have smuckers brand grape jelly in uncrustables. We also have about 65,000 type of Oreo’s. But to my mind, nobody has developed a cult following around mini banana-split flavored oreo’s.
Deep fried twinkies are not about frozen packages, they are an event. The deep fried twinkie and it’s ilk are like super treats. It’s a sweet on steroids. Like Christmas, a Presidential Election, and the Olympics they are only accessible at certain times and places. In the case of these deep fried bits of heaven, they are generally only available at state fairs. I can’t help but think why destroy the market? Why make something so special, just plain unspecial. Why take a cult, a tribe, and alienate them… it makes no sense to me.
I’m not a socialist. If I was, I’d say why does that big corporate greed need to take away the little something that Mom and Pop’s across the world use to earn their extra cash money from? Why steal from so many food vendors who are set up as ways to support institutions like the Rotary? Then I would scream they are going to eventually kill off the state fairs! Don’t accept this line of thinking? How many mom’s will tell their begging child: “We can get a whole box of them at walmart for what they are charging here for just one!”? And even though the ones at the fair usually taste better by a factor of 10, the displacement with a ‘good enough’ product will happen. But i’m not a socialist and this won’t happen. Well the screaming child and mom comment will definitely happen. I have that type of conversation with my own children three times a minute when we are in stores. The reality here is that state fairs aren’t going anywhere and the mom and pop’s are creative enough to figure something else out to clog our arteries on special occasions. But that doesn’t change the point: Fried Twinkies at Walmart are a bad idea.
Seth Godin is always talking about the Tribe. About the people who evangelize your product. How you have to nurture that group. Hormel got it. The now defunct but longrunning Spamarama festival has created thousands of clones across the nation. There are still festivals and a great community of spam evangelists and recipe creators. Hormel doesn’t need to do a thing but help them along and make sure that plain ‘ole Spam is located on the shelves at Walmart. There is no Spam Reuben Roll-Ups on the shelf, just spam.
I wanted to title this post “Deep Fried Greed”, but it’s not greed here. There is a component of it, but I think it’s simply a classic case of big business group-think. They didn’t think big picture and the corporate demand for expansion and growth got in the way of actually thinking about better ways to grow. I wonder what would have cost less? The design, marketing, production, and distribution of Deep Fried Twinkies or maybe an Annual Twinkie cookoff and festival in Walmart parking lots across the nation? I wonder which one would become self-sustaining? Which one of these two options would be more fun for the professionals who are putting it together? The jury is out and this is just a blog post, not a thesis for an MBA.
I do know one thing. The North Carolina State Fair starts in a few weeks. I usually skip it because 1) it’s insanely crowded, and 2) I’m overly tempted by the sweets and that doesn’t help me keep my calories in check. I think I may make the rare exception this year and go and have a Fried Twinkie in Addition to my old personal favorite Because now I don’t know how long the good stuff is going to be around if this Deep Fried Twinkie thing at Walmart is a hit. There is always a bright side, like I said earlier. even if the granddaddy of deep fried sweets go 100% corporate, I can always count on the Mom and Pop’s to get creative!