Hostess Brands is hoping Wall Street likes a comeback story. The maker of Twinkies and Ding Dongs debuted as a newly public company Monday, just four years after landing in bankruptcy.
“The sweetest comeback in the history of ever,” says one poster found in Hostess’s presentation to analysts in September. “An icon returns,” proclaims another. Those statements wink at the troubles of the snack maker’s recent past: The company went bankrupt back in 2012 when it found itself loaded with too much debt.
Now Hostess says its brands—which also include Donettes, CupCakes, and Ho Hos—can resonate with today’s consumers by focusing on a trend toward “indulgent snacking.” That runs counter to the fact that Americans are gravitating toward healthier foods and “cleaner” ingredients, a story Hostess Brands can’t sell with its existing portfolio.
No matter—Hostess wants to sell itself as a bet on snacking, touting the pricing premium it carries over rivals Tasty Baking Company and Entenmann’s. The company says it can boost sales by launching completely new snacks and has indicated strategic acquisitions are on the table.
Hostess also wants to expand distribution in the freezer aisle, club store retailers, food service channels, and internationally to boost revenue from $654 million last year to as much as $781 million in 2017.
Investors seem cautiously optimistic. Hostess Brands (TWNK) shares had risen 5.5% to $12.12 in Monday trading.
The stock isn’t going public through a traditional initial public offering. Instead, it’s trading on the Nasdaq under the “TWNK” symbol after a transaction was approved by shareholders of Gores Group, a blank-check company that raised $375 million last year that went toward investing in Hostess. Gores had previously traded on the Nasdaq but filed to convert the listing upon closing the business combination between the two parties.
One Wall Street bank has been early to weigh in. SunTrust Robinson Humphrey initiated coverage on the stock with a “buy” rating and a $15 price target, citing an impressive turnaround by the management team since filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy four years ago. SunTrust analyst William Chappell specifically pointed to market-share potential—Hostess’s slice currently stands at 16%, but the goal is to exceed its pre-bankruptcy level of 22%.
Chappell also noted that while a slew of firms are aiming to tilt their portfolios more toward healthier fare, Hostess Brands’ strategy to not play to that trend could be a competitive advantage. “We believe the enhanced focus by virtually every company on the ‘better-for-you’ segment lowers the risk to TWNK of new competition from larger players,” he wrote, adding that indulgent snack sales remained as strong as ever by posting consistent sales growth in recent years.