Wondering about the Return and Future of Drake’s
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:
Coffee Cake Jr
Then, you could add:
•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
•Cloud Cakes (consider banana, strawberry, chocolate creme versions like old Drake’s “Shortcakes”)
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:
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.