Monday, August 20, 2018

Nostalgia Bomb! - Hostess Potato Chips

What were they?
Hostess Potato Chips (no affiliation to the Hostess pastry brand) was the premiere potato chip in Canada, first opening its doors in Ontario in 1935. They started with what would later be known as the Regular flavour, early on branched out to include Salt & Vinegar and BBQ, and later introduced Ketchup, Sour Cream & Onion, Dill Pickle, Roast Chicken, and even a Pizza flavour!

The last known line-up of Hostess Potato Chips

When were they available?

They were available from their inital release in 1935 up until 1996 when the Hostess brand, previously purchased by Frito Lay brand giant PepsiCo, was re-branded as Lay's Potato Chips.

What about today?
Some smaller grocery stores in Ontario, where the Hostess plant is located, continued to receive stock up until the 2010s. Today the only Hostess snack that is readily available are Hostess Hickory Sticks, which still seem to have a strong presence in the snack aisle.

Hickory Sticks are still a popular Hostess brand to this day.

Why do I remember them?
They were the best potato chips on the market! They held their place as Canada's #1 potato chip for as long as they did because they kept things simple and they produced a quality product.

Sure, like all massive brands they dipped their toes in some weird products. In the 1970s Hostess attempted a fruit-flavoured potato chip wing, which crashed and burned very quickly, but their strong main line-up of salty potato chip flavours couldn't be beat right up until they were re-branded in 1996.

What brought them down then? The introduction of higher quality brands, like Miss Vickie's kettle chips. Very quickly the more basic Hostess brand started seeing a drop in sales down to as little as 10% of the market.

It was decided that they would re-brand as Lay's and a huge marketing campaign accompanied the changeover. Mark Messier (famed centre for the Edmonton Oilers) would become the spokesperson for the brand with the slogan, "I bet you can't eat just one!" Why was all this so necessary? Lay's had been in Canada for years under the American brand and it was considered sub-par to Hostess chips. Canada was mind-washed of this and Lay's became the dominate brand almost overnight.

I can't write an article about Hostess potato chips and forget The Munchies! These cute little mascots fit right in during the 80s when everyone was sliding their commercials between cartoons on Saturday mornings. There were three Munchies, yellow, orange, and red. They were sort of like the Keebler Elves of chips.

The Hostess Munchies appearing on a button from the late-80s/early-90s.
For a short time after Lay's took over Canadian shelves Hostess still trickled in, but after a while the well dried up. My biggest problem with the whole thing was that Hostess BBQ chips were my favourite chip of all time. All of the other flavours got a somewhat similar representation by Lay's - in Dill Pickle's case, Lay's actually had the superior flavour - but the BBQ flavour that Lay's sold was nothing like what I was used to with Hostess.

You see, BBQ in the US - in relation to potato chips, anyway - is a much different beast than it is in Canada. To be fair, the US flavour is a better representation of actual barbecue - it is a sweet flavour, with a little spice. In Canada it basically just means hot and spicy. After a time, Lay's actually responded and came out with a hot BBQ flavour, but it just wasn't the same.

Lay's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Q flavoured potato chips.
BBQ Chip Tangent:
When Lay's was first introduced I switched to Humpty Dumpty, which was the real competitor to Hostess in the 80s and 90s, in my opinion. They had a BBQ flavour that was at least akin to Hostess and over time I learned to love that flavour, as well. Humpty Dumpty would see a similar fate to Hostess, however, being swallowed up by a bigger fish and purchased by Old Dutch. For many years the BBQ flavour that Old Dutch produced was actually titled "Humpty Dumpty BBQ", showing how strong the flavour was, but in the last few years they added cinnamon to it and dropped the "Humpty Dumpty" from the title. As a result, I've stopped buying it. My BBQ flavour of choice now? Walmart Canada's Great Value brand. It's actually really quite good! And at only $0.99 a bag it's hard to beat.

The "Humpty Dumpty" was eventually dropped in Canada, but it may still be available in the US.

What makes the whole thing more frustrating is that eventually the "upscale" potato chip concept would wear off and the market leveled back out. If Hostess had just stuck it out and PepsiCo hadn't re-branded everything to Lay's I think that Hostess would still be on top to this day. Even if you don't believe me that Hostess had the best flavours, Hostess' offerings were at least on par with their competitors.

In this day and age of "nostalgia is king", and especially being owned by PepsiCo - who have brought back Pepsi with real sugar as Pepsi Throwback, had a successful re-relase of Crystal Pepsi in 2016, and are now offering cans branded with their old logos and designs - I have this dream that one day there will be a limited run of Hostess chips in Canada. Even if it were under the Lay's brand, but with the original Hostess flavours, I'd be happy.

But until that day comes, Hostess Potato Chips will still be a blast from my past!

Hope you enjoyed,