Twinkies at Holiday Dinner Make Sense ... If You're Marshmello

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Hostess Brands, which saw its comeback buoyed by people's nostalgic cravings for Twinkies, now has a faceless DJ to thank for its latest signal boost.

Twinkies are getting a fresh dose of recognition thanks to Marshmello, who wears a marshmallow-like helmet and apparently really enjoys the snack cakes, including them in videos seen by millions of followers. Marshmello, an electronic dance music DJ and producer whose real moniker remains as secret as his face, included Twinkies in two recent videos, "Find Me" and "Blocks." The latest video, "Take It Back," hit YouTube Monday, and includes Twinkies and two other Hostess products, cupcakes and pink Sno Balls, being served at a holiday dinner (around the 1:52 mark).

The integration is part of the push being overseen by Burke Raine, who joined Hostess as chief marketing officer in March 2016 to help contemporize its brand with a focus on more engaging social media, public relations and strategic partnerships.

Hostess no longer advertises in traditional media such as TV, radio or print. It's relying more on areas such as social media, and, like many other brands, is targeting millennials.

"If it looks forced, I think millennial consumers, in particular, feel like they're being sold, and millennials don't want to be sold to," says Raine.

Expect, instead, to see shareable content like a recent Instagram post about fictitious Chocolate Cake Twinkies wine, for example.

Wine not? #ChocolateCakeTwinkies

A post shared by Hostess Snacks (@hostess_snacks) on

As Raine notes, millennials are increasingly becoming parents. As they do, they buy more groceries. And Hostess wants to be on their shopping lists. So Raine and his team are working on more and more relationships, ideally, with brands and influencers millennials already have an affinity for.

"I had heard of Marshmello," the 38-year-old CMO says, admitting that it was really the response from teenagers and 20-somethings whose parents work at Hostess "is when we got super excited about it."

Marshmello's following with younger people was, of course, part of the appeal. And other genres are attractive for the brand. Hostess also promoted its products in a deal with Sony Music, Spotify and country music star Brad Paisley this year, and for next summer it's planning for a partnership with Rascal Flatts, Raines says.

"It's very much a scrappy, efficient approach that requires less dollars but more man hours, more thinking, more creativity for certain," Raines says of the nontraditional approach for the brands, which are already well known. "Driving additional brand recognition isn't as helpful for us as driving that cultural relevancy."

This year, Hostess is seeing double-digit sales growth for Twinkies, a surge unheard of for many packaged food brands, and confirmation that what people say ("I want to eat healthy") and what they do (buy snack foods) don't always match up.

Some of the growth has come from new flavors, such as a chocolate peanut butter versions of Twinkie and HoHos, and white fudge Ding Dongs.

"We have an innovation mantra that for a millennial, variety is the routine," says Raine.

Retail sales of Twinkies rose 10.9 percent over the latest 12 weeks and 10.2 percent over the latest 52 weeks, according to data provided by Hostess.

Still, third-quarter revenue fell 2 percent to $192.3 million due in part to some production and shipping challenges and discontinued items. The company's stock price, meanwhile, is around $14, up just modestly year-to-date after rising above $17 in April. Hostess trades under the ticker symbol "TWNK" in honor of Twinkies.

Hostess works with agencies including Tattoo Projects in Charlotte on social media and LAK PR on public relations.

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