Snack cakes -- Twinkies, Hostess cupcakes, Ho-Hos, and the like -- are the ultimate junk food that offer very little in terms of nutrition but are packed full of Americana and nostalgia for many US consumers who still purchase these products on impulse.
This was the case for Jenny Heman, founder and CEO of Honeycut Kitchen, who is passionate about nutrition and as a bodybuilder can track her daily macro nutrients in her sleep. While not competing in and training for bodybuilding competitions, Heman found herself grabbing these highly-processed snacks cakes on a cross-country road trip at several Walmart stores.
"What was so inspirational to me about that industry was the nostalgia," Heman told FoodNavigator-USA.
She admits that while eating snack cakes on the road didn't leave her feeling that great, it did give her a 'light bulb' moment that there ought to be another option for fitness advocates that wasn't a protein bar that supposedly tastes like 'molten chocolate lava cake' or 'cookies & cream'.
"We want to offer a format that actually feels like an indulgence," Heman said.
Indulgence and fitness
For many bodybuilders in the middle of training, cake is pretty much off-limits. Most of these serious athletes adopt a very strict, often repetitive, diet plan, according to Heman.
"What most people in this category are doing is they enter these cycles where they’re just eating chicken and broccoli, chicken and broccoli...then you hit this wall," she said. "Your psyche gets pulled too thin ... and it's also kind of scary to eat the same thing over and over again," she said.
Honeycut Kitchen snack cakes come in classic cake flavors including carrot cake and dark chocolate cake with a whip center. The base ingredients of the cakes include organic honey, whey protein, erythritol, almond flour, organic organic coconut oil, vegetable glycerin, egg white, sunflower lecithin, vanilla extract, xanthan gum, baking soda, cream of tartar, and pink Himalayan salt.
Each package, which holds two small cakes, contains 190 calories, 12g of protein, and 13g of net carbs.
"Our macros are really similar to a lot of the protein bars that are on the market today," said Heman.
While Honeycut Kitchen snack cakes technically fit into a number of dietary lifestyles (e.g. high protein, gluten-free, and keto-friendly), Heman is careful not to market the product too strictly or take a specific dietary stance.
"What we’re trying to do is be the least common denominator for all these dietary protocols," she explained."What I’m really trying to do is create a regular item that people can feel good about adding into their diet."
Heman added that the brand is constantly making improvements to its snack cake recipe and that it has not settled on one magic formula just yet.
"I don’t think we’re stopping here at all, there are a lot of improvements we can make on our recipe," she said. One area the brand is trying to improve upon is extending its shelf life. Currently, the snack cakes are merchandized refrigerated where they have a shelf life of up to two months.
"It's hard to get a long shelf life when you don’t use any artificial preservatives. We are basically enlisting every single modern technology that we can to extend shelf life, only for the purpose of distribution," Heman said.
In order for Honeycut Kitchen to succeed in its target market, the company is trying to evoke a feeling of nostalgia in its better-for-you snack cakes. When done right, nostalgia can be a powerful marketing tool that offers consumers a familiar connection the past, often when times seemed simpler, according to global content marketing firm EnVeritas Group.
"What I’m really trying to take from those ancient players is nostalgia, like a trusted Americana brand. I am not copying the shape by any means and I’m not trying to copy the flavors or the name. The feeling is what I’m really trying to bring from those snack cakes," Heman said.
"I think the two [cakes] per pack helps the customer understand what we’re going for."
Identifying with her own consumer market, Jenny is targeting the fitness-forward crowd focused on entering select gyms and fitness centers where there are minimal product offerings but a highly engaged clientele seeking niche, nutritious products that can fuel their workouts and training.
"I’m trying to keep the conversation very close with the consumer and gets tons of feedback from our ideal customer," she said.
From there she plans to enter grocery stores and the natural channel. A less obvious choice are c-stores, but Jenny believes this can be high traffic area for Honeycut Kitchen snack cakes where impulse buys are the norm.
"I don’t know a lot of startups in the space who went to convenience from the jump, but I definitely think it’s worth experimenting in," she said.