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Wondering about the Return and Future of Drake’s

June 11, 2013

So with the anouncement that McKee Baking Company (maker of Little Debbie) would be picking up Drake’s, they soon set up a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Drakes which started off stating:

We are very busy at McKee Foods working to bring your favorite Drake’s products back exactly how you remember them.

To many people’s questions: “Our plans have not yet been announced, but stay tuned!”

So they make routine posts for fans to comment on, and share old photos and even videos of ads, and even a $5000 sweepstakes framed around them needing to find the missing duck mascot in order to get the cakes back out there.

This could be the best thing to happen to Drake’s, or it’s death!

Andrew Lederer “Drake’s Cakes: I Am That Yankee Doodle Boy”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-j-lederer/drakes-cakes-i-am-that-ya_b_2891399.html on the article’s blog asked why I thought ownership by Little Debbie would be just as “head-to-head thwarting” than ownership by Hostess.

I guess it is, to some extent, but not nearly as long of a competition. Drake’s was strictly northeast (except for Florida), and Little Debbie was the South, and didn’t come to the northeast (at least not NYC, where Drake’s was centered) until ’85. They did sort of fill in for each other, and when I discovered Little Debbie for the first time in VA the year before that, I did kind of think of it as being like the Drake’s of the South. (For one thing, it being the only kosher line back then).

So it seems Drake’s and Little Debbie could go together well, potentially making great partners (with the unique tasting products). I’ve thought that for a long time, before there was any thought there would be a Hostess/Drake’s conglomerate, and that it would fall, and Drake’s would be picked up by McKee.

But then it seems this purchase, of a small regional brand by a larger national one, puts it in a vulnerable position. It is expendable.

Hostess is being bought by a company that owns several different kinds of product lines (most notably, Pabst beer). So Hostess will now be its representative in the bakery field. The new owners have simply to hire new people at the existing bakeries that are not being sold, and production is now be said to resume this summer.

Flowers was a long time baking giant, that didn’t have much of an identity of its own; with most of its cakes being knockoffs of Hostess (Twinkies/”Bingles”; cupcakes, Sno-Balls, etc.), and no consistent brand (tried Beebo for a couple of decades, now going with BlueBird, and don’t forget all the third party labels over the years).
So Tastykake, with it’s own large selection of unique products, can naturally be promoted (and spread) as the new Flowers flagship, motivating that company to use it to expand into new areas.

Little Debbie is almost strictly cakes (plus the Sunbelt snacks), which are also pretty unique, and has already spread nationally, so it doesn’t need Drake’s. It could at any time decide they are unprofitable and discontinue them. This is pretty much what Hostess did in Florida for a time (’05, when I was down there for a couple of days, and swung by the Merita thrift shop), though it was also making some headway spreading them in spots elsewhere around the country.

It (to me), is sort of an eerie parallel to the fates of Hanna-Barbera vs Filmation. Hanna Barbera had a lot of its own property, and was eventually picked up by media giant Turner, who filled its cable networks with the old cartoons, and this was later picked up by Warner Brothers, who added it to its own family. The studio itself was eventually integrated into the new Cartoon Network and WB Animation studios, and its franchises (especially Scooby) live on.

Filmation fell into the hands of a big global cosmetic company which only wanted the already produced property, and promptly shut it down (even while a new season of programs was in production). I kept thinking to myself, why couldn’t they get a better buyer, like HB? (Recently getting the producer’s biography, I read that he did try to buy it back himself, but couldn’t).

It’s like in both cases, the leading #1 brand gets the better deal, and the unique, yet less popular, and struggling #2 man is left more vulnerable.

Likewise, in network TV, you had a “Big Three” for decades, and then a fourth, fifth and sixth network finally start up. The fourth one, which had a decade jump on the others, manages to gain ground with popular new shows, and eventually even snag NFL games away from one of the big three. This basically propels it into “big” status like the other three.
The other two struggle for awhile (being slow to gain affiliates), until one of the big networks finally buys the sixth, and eventually enters a deal merging it with the fifth, now remaining as its co-owner. The sixth place is now filled by a spinoff network of the fourth network, by now big enough to own a second network.
So now, you still have a fifth and sixth network, but they have lost their own identities and will never grow big, because the parent networks will keep all the higher rating shows for themselves! They’re just dumping grounds for lesser shows designed for a less important market (younger people, I believe). And again, at any time, the parents could conceivably decide they are unprofitable and shut them down.

As it is, Little Debbie only plans to distribute Drake’s in the original core market, of the northeast. All of the places Hostess had expanded it to will apparently be left out, at least for now. I don’t even think Florida, where kosher consumers brought it to decades ago, will be included. The sweepstakes was only open to the 11 states from PA/MD to Maine. (Not even DC or VA, whose northern part was where its old distribution reached, and they will now be baked there).
People from all around the country (where they had expanded) are asking for them! People in other places who remembered them from the northeast, also are asking for them. With Little Debbie cake racks already set up nationally, it shouldn’t be hard to add a few Drake’s to them.

Also of note, is product parallels between the two companies. Little Debbie already has its own version of three key Drake’s products: the Swiss Rolls (Yodels), the newer Cocoa Cremes (Ring Dings), and Devil Cremes (Devil Dogs. From my travels, they seemed to only be in the northeast, to go up against Devil Dogs).

The swiss rolls seemed to have been there all along. They have their own distinctive super-sweet taste, and the non-glossy icing that usually flakes off of the cake, often becoming stuck to the wrapper when it’s hot. They are NOTHING like Yodels, aside from the shape. (Yodel icing is more glossy, and the cake has a more rich, solid taste, but not as “heavy” as Hostess and other brands’ devil’s food. That’s what made Drake’s so distinctive).

The Devil Cremes seem to have evolved from the old Devil Twins. Similar LD “super sweet” taste, and even drier. Again, nothing like Devil Dogs, except for the look (and they were actually a bit flatter as well, though the pictures on the boxes now make them look identical to the slightly fluffier Devil Dogs).

The tastes of both pairs of cakes are so unique and different from each other, I like both, and would not want to see any of them be replaced by the other.

The Cocoa Cremes taste more like Hostess Ding Dongs than Ring Dings. (They do not even taste like LD’s swiss rolls, even though it is the same devil’s food-creme-icing makeup. The icing is also more like Ding Dongs). Nothing unique or historical about them at all; they could just replace those with Ring Dings, as far as I’m concerned.

The first concern to Drakes’ fans, naturally, is them simply packaging these same products as Drake’s. The FB page assures us McKee have “the classic Drake’s recipes and have no plans to change them”. (And also addressing the kosher approval, which some asked about. Little Debbies around here have kosher symbols on them, so this should be no problem at all).

The one other thing I wish they would buy would be the Wayne, NJ bakery, which would be good to not possibly stretch the capacity of the northern Virginia bakery McKee plans to move the operation to; but also, as I learned with Twinkies years ago, the water in different places can make the products taste different. (Back when Twinkies still had their old grainy sugary taste up here in NY, the ones in VA tasted totally bland, and I was told it was the water. Someone in Florida mentioned the Ring Dings down there, probably by then being made at the NC Hostess plant, having the creme taste and freeze totally different than the ones he grew up with up north).
It’s probably moving everything from there to Virginia that is taking it so long to get production started again. (I’ve heard December).

Hostess will get its bakeries back, and Tastykake will keep its bakery, but basically, Drake’s is being uprooted to new and foreign territory as far as production (but not covering any new ground as far as distribution!)
I just hope this works out!

I wonder whether Drake’s will be completely integrated with Little Debbie sales in the northeast, or be separate compliments to each other (like Tastykake under new owner Flowers, though still carrying some of its products like the red velvet cupcakes and Dreamies, which are the third party Bingles or fake Twinkies, shared by the Mrs Freshley label).

If separate, I’d love to see some of the Little Debbie products added to the Drake’s brand.

So you would have the core Drake’s products:
Devil Dogs
Funny Bones
Yankee Doodles
Sunny Doodles
Ring Dings
Yodels
Coffee Cake Jr
Fruit Pies

Then, you could add:

•Banana Twins
•Zebra Cakes (two smaller ones in a pack like in the family pack boxes. So it would in a way be sort of like vanilla Ring Dings).
•Boston Creme Rolls
•Banana Pudding Rolls
•Apple Danish
•Cloud Cakes (consider banana, strawberry, chocolate creme versions like old Drake’s “Shortcakes”)
•Apple Delights
Perhaps some of the other cookies
Perhaps also Fancy Cakes, Frosted Fudge Cakes
Donuts (individual packs, family pack boxes, not bags)

To differentiate products between both brands:
•Devil Cremes – Change back into Devil Twins to avoid confusion with Devil Dogs
•Swiss Rolls – Change into other other size “rolls” to avoid confusion with Yodels
•Cocoa Cremes – Replace with Ring Dings or change shape

The idea would create more balance in Drake’s, since they are heavy on the chocolate side.

Another old Drake’s product I’d love to see come back is the Swiss Roll, which to them was different from the one LD calls “swiss roll” (which again is more like a Yodel). It was one large roll with a lot of creme, but without any frosting. (At times, there were two smaller ones). So there would be a conflict in names with that one.

For now, according to the products they are showing on the images on the page, and asking which is our favorite, and which we will get first when they come back, it looks like it will only be Devil Dogs, Yodels, Ring Dings and Coffee Cakes (and it’s the 8 or 10 pack boxes they are showing. Didn’t think about whether they will only be boxes or individual packs or not).

In a post on the FB page asking for our fond memories of Drake’s:

Swiss Rolls
Shortcakes, which tasted like Sunny Doodles. Particularly strawberry and banana creme.
Devil Dogs and Yankee Doodles when they weren’t freshly baked. Nothing else like that cool, smooth chocolate taste/texture.

Not really a “fond” memory, but looking for Drakes all over Norfolk, during college, not realizing they were not national. However, this was when I first discovered Little Debbie (right before it came up north), and it too was a nice unique set of cakes.
But the fond part of that was waiting until I got back home, and then going to the nearest bodega and filling up a little brown paper bag with all my favorites; usually one of each: Devil Dogs, Yankee and Sunny Doodles, Yodels, swiss rolls and banana and strawberry shortcakes.
On the way home for that Thanksgiving break, getting off the plane (first time flying, too), and finding the bus to the subway (The old Victor Moore Arcade in Jackson Heights), and grabbing the first bunch of Drakes in a newsstand there. (Then playing Do Run Run and probably also Jr Pacman in the game arcade heading down to the subway).

To answer today’s post, when they do come back, I had already planned: Devil Dogs and Yodels (and was assuming Yankee and Sunny Doodles would be there as well). I’ll be breaking my practical wheat and sugar fast, but of course I’ll have to try the new ones when they come back! (To see if they’re making good on restoring them “as we remember them”. Plan to try the new Twinkies and perhaps Suzy Q’s and maybe cupcakes, when they return).

I today shot and posted a couple of my old artifacts:

Here’s a rarity. A Pound Cake box from the mid-80’s. I had thought that perhaps they were trying to compete with Entenmann’s and others with the fancy script logo, but considering Drake’s began with a pound cake, perhaps this is the original one!

Also, in digging this out, I forgot about Borden’s letter code, where Drake’s was “G” (you can barely make this out in the address), and IIRC, Wise chips was “R”.

Forgot that they once did have pudding pies, let alone these being in my collection. (I had been saying it would be nice for the revived Drake’s to inherit the chocolate pie from Little Debbie, since I didn’t remember them ever having their own pudding, like Hostess and the others. Don’t see how I could forget the banana, even; one of my favorite sweets flavors).
The logo is the last one before the final/current one, and was from the late 80’s/early 90’s.

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16 Comments
  1. OK, all the news this week focused on Hostess finally setting a definite date: July 15. Meanwhile, Drake’s seemed to be only busy encouraging people to make videos of themselves sharing their memories in order to win a Drake’s t-shirt (I probably would have, but am camera shy), and still, to “help them find the mascot”.

    But upon doing a search, I found this bit of almost skipped over news:

    http://bigstory.ap.org/article/new-owner-drakes-cakes-also-returning-soon

    And finally, also a release forecast: “late summer/early fall.” Not as late as I had heard, but still giving Hostess a lead.
    Also:
    “The company says it will start with a selection of Drake’s products and see whether to bring back more products after that. It did not say which products it will roll out first or whether all Drake’s cakes would eventually return to shelves.
    [Citing Devil Dogs/Cremes and Yodels/swiss rolls] McKee says it isn’t necessarily phasing out products that seem similar to each other.
    ‘Similar is just that — similar, not the same,’ McKee spokesman Mike Gloekler wrote in an email.”

    Then, I also happen by http://www.drakescakesonline.com and see: “These items are Ring Dings, Coffee Cakes, Yodels and yes Devil Dogs. [which is what figured] They will be available late September Early October to be delivered to your door.” (This is the delivery site, so those might be the dates they will be available for delivery).
    It mentions them still being kosher, and that Funny Bones will be made somewhere else so there will be no cross contamination of peanuts to the other Drakes Cakes. (Showing that these may come back too).


    When you hear the word “Drake” these days, it’s usually a rapper. Well now I find, that he has capitalized off of his namesake:

  2. Forgot to give my update on Twinkies. Despite all the hoopla over the announced date “7.15.13”, posted on a billboard over Times Square like an upcoming movie release, and the slogan “Sweetest Comeback in History”, it would be nearly two weeks before I would find Twinkies. After checking out several stores in the area, there were none anywhere. Figuring they might be in “big box” stores, I found some leftover Donettes in one Target, but everything else was sold out. Finally, earlier this week, I manage to find Twinkies at the Gristedes on Roosevelt Island (And the Duane Reade there had chocolate cupcakes. These are all family packs, BTW).

    As others reported, they were smaller, and a bit more chewy. Overall, I would say like the Canadian Twinkies I snatched up from a Niagara Falls area store right before reentering the US on my Chicago trip nine years ago.

    Meanwhile, Drake’s,on its Facebook page finally promised “Late September”, but by now, many posters are saying “enough with the games; just get them out”.

  3. Now, we’re narrowing it down to a particular week: http://www.boston.com/business/news/2013/08/05/drake-cakes-return-next-month/Ngrkn7rPXdUtFAf39iUKnI/story.html

    Highlights of this story: “The company is still deciding whether to bring back Funny Bones.” So it seems that’s the only other one they’re even considering now, and that’s up in the air. Apparently no thought is being made of Yankee and Sunny Doodles (wonder why. They’re just as unique and iconic as Devil Dogs and even more unique than the much copied Yodels and Ring dings).

    “marketing…won’t be on the same level as for Twinkies. The new owners of Twinkies had put up a billboard in New York’s Times Square to trumpet the return of its Hostess treats, and a truck traveled around handing out free samples of the spongy yellow cakes.” [didn’t know about this one!] ‘‘Our Drake’s rollout will not be as splashy as the Hostess return,’’

    Still no word on what actual distribution in stores will be like.

    Meanwhile, my wife reports today finally seeing Hostess in the big supermarket in the neighborhood. (Now nearly a month after the big “comeback”).

  4. grace kelly permalink

    please do not give up on “Yankee Doodle Cup cakes” The best taste ever I would like to see them in Publix in Ft Myers, fl

    • It’s up to McKee, and I agree, Yankee Doodles were just as unique as Devil Dogs (with the paper baking cups, they had a homemade air about them), and were so different than everyone else’s imitation Hostess cupcakes, with the frosting and white swirl. I’d rather see those back then Ring Dings or coffee cakes. But it seems they are starting with what they think is the most popular (coffee cakes because of Seinfeld, Ring Dings because Ding Dongs copied them, and I think they and/or Yodels were what Rosie liked).

      I hope they expand back to Florida (and all the other places they were expanding to) as well, but for now, it’s only the original northeast states.

      Now, it’s about a couple weeks away, so we’ll see what happens..

  5. A few days in advance, official return statements:

    http://www.foodandbeveragepeople.com/cm/news/mckee_putting_drakes_cakes_back_on_shelves_september_23

    http://www.drakescake.com/downloads/20130917_Drakes_Launch_Release.pdf

    I see on the new Drake’s site http://www.drakescake.com/www/cakes that Little Debbie’s muffins (regular and mini) and three of the pastries (honey bun, cheese danish and cherry cheese) have been added to the Drake’s line! In addition to “Zoinks” (which would be Cloud Cakes, but under the name Drake’s used in the 80’s. I think they should have just stuck with “Cloud Cakes”).

    People in the Facebook comments are really clamoring for Funny Bones. The second link says “it appears McKee is making decisions for sustainable good business”. Always wonder how they determine that. Just run data through a program, and go with whatever it “recommends”?

    Still won’t even know where to look for them come Monday. Whether on Little Debbie shelves/racks, or whether Drake’s will get its own space back. And whether they will be boxes only, or individual packs. (The site includes convenience stores, so I’m hoping it won’t just be the boxes).

  6. MJS permalink

    Drake’s had a Twinkies knock-off called Creme Fingers back in the ’70s. “Creme Fingers… A Brand New Cake From Drake”. I am in Georgia these days, but will get my mitts on Funny Bones when they return. Yodels and and Ring Dings have it all over Ho-Hos and Ding Dongs/Big Wheels/King Dons.
    Question: Does anyone remember that what are now Ring Dings were once known as “Ring Ding Jr.s”? I remember the silver foil wrapper, and the commercial with the whiny kid saying, “I wanna Ring Ding Juniorrrrrr!” It makes me wonder if there were an earlier Ring Ding (Sr.) now long forgotten, like the 1960 Dodge Dart.

    • What I remember in terms of Drakes’ fake Twinkies were called “Shortcakes”, but I remember strawberry first (hence, the name), and from there they added banana, chocolate and vanilla (plain. Now, only Twinkies is doing those flavors, and they aren’t nearly as tasty!) So I guess “Creme Fingers” was what the plain ones were before the strawberry “Shortcakes”? I remember some fake Twinkies called “Creme Fingers”, but I assumed it was the Flowers (i.e. now known as “Bingles” or “Dreamies”), which came under many different brands. I know there was the Lady Linda, which followed most other labels in calling them “Goldfingers”.

      And there was a Ring Ding Sr. If you go on snack discussion pages, or the FB page, you will occasionally see someone mention them, and my father once told me about them as well. (When talking about how scaled down everything is today. And the chocolate was much better as well).

      For now, let’s just hope they keep bringing back the basics. And to expand beyond the original core area, if you want to see any of them down there!

      • MJS permalink

        PROOF of Creme Fingers!
        Great Drake’s Commercial at 6:40 on this YouTube video:
        https://www.youtube.com/embed/3xSKunR-40A?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent
        Note also the Ring Dings were still Junior on the package, though the announcer just called them Ring Dings.
        I just had the new Hostess Ding Dongs (King Dons/Big Wheels) for the first time after the Reboot. VERY disappointing. I believe the chocolate frosting is thinner. The cake itself is MUCH smaller. The thing kind of fell apart in my hand.

      • GREAT FIND! That has to be c1980 [edit: I just now see it says “1979-80”], as I always remembered that ch2 News theme! (In fact, was just thinking of it the other day for some reason!) I know many Drake’s store racks had that slogan “Freshness You Can Taste” for many years afterward, but I didn’t remember it from a commercial. I do remember a few of the jingles that game out right after this (like “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandee…”. Now, if they can only get them back out, now that they finally brought the Funny Bones back! Also, “…Drake’s break; For goodness sakes, it takes Drake’s”, which was on newer stands).

        Trying to think if I remember those Drake’s boxes (like with the yellow in it). Back in those days, I never looked at family packs (and my mother almost never bought them); I only got the individual packs. And I didn’t really even pay attention to which cake was which brand yet.
        The Creme Fingers logo may be familiar, but again, I’m not sure. That Pepsi commercial and design that came on right before it is vaguely familiar, however!

        And yes, those Ding Dongs taste now like Little Debbie, but without even their unique tastiness; just super sweet. Nothing at all like Ring Dings!

      • MJS permalink

        “That Pepsi commercial and design that came on right before it is vaguely familiar, however!”

        That commercial was from the second iteration of Pepsi Light. The first version was half-sugar/half-saccharrin. It was aimed at those who were not “diet fanatics”. “We put a little lemony taste in and took out half the calories”. I imagine that the lemony taste was an effective way to mask the nasty saccharrin taste found in the diet colas of the time. I drank the product. It was okay. It failed. The second iteration (the one in the commercial) was the one calorie version, which WAS aimed at diet fanatics, using Cheryl Ladd clones.

        BTW, did Drake’s ever have a blueberry or berry fruit pie? I only remember the apple and cherry. I used to like the Hostess blueberry pies (or sometimes Table Talk, for 29 cents! Dear gone days.) But it appears that Hostess has forgotten them and the Strawberry pie (always was seasonal) as well. They still make the lemon pie. NOBODY except one guy I knows eats those things. The sit on the racks in the convenience stores untouched. The old Hostess thrift stores had huge stock piles, heavily discounted, which were still untouched! Worst of all, I used to spy them in vending machines, holding an innocent French Apple pie sitting behind it hostage, until someone decided to pay real money for the Hostess Lemon Pie. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And they still make the lemon pie.

        Here in Georgia, TastyKake is available. The pies are good.

        “I love Devil Dogs more . . . than . . . Marsha!”

      • Drake’s did have bluberry pie sometimes (http://www.shopwell.com/drakes-fruit-pies-blueberry/desserts/p/4126125126), and they also used to have lemon a lot.

        Tastykake got lucky, as they were bought by southern giant Flowers. In the 80’s, they stopped at VA. Drake’s always seems to get picked up by these companies that aren’t that interested in expanding them (though Hostess/IBC seemed to be slowly spreading them all over before they went under. They would probably have done better to be picked up by Orograin, and I wonder why that company wasn’t interested).

        I never liked any of those diet sodas, but this past year’s Coke Life was good (it seems to be gone by now). It used real sugar with stevia.

  7. MOVED: https://erictb.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/drakes-finally-returns/#comment-3250
    (Forgot I had the separate thread for when the brand and products started returning).

    • MJS permalink

      While I love Funny Bones most, I grew to appreciate Yankee Doodles in my adulthood. I used to have a daily Sunny Doodle with cheap vending machine coffee, a great combination. Any hope for the Sunny Doodle?

      • Don’t know. Hope both they and Yankee Doodles come back, as they were also very unique, being the only home-styled cupcakes with the paper baking cups and raised center, and without the universally imitated Hostess frosting and swirl and that same heavier chocolate taste all the others use.
        Something tells me they won’t want to be bothered with the paper cups. (Just like the peanut butter was the excuse for the Funny Bones, even though they made other peanut butter products).

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