Tastykake is piling on the calories Consumers said: "We want more."

Posted: February 16, 2006

The folks who make Tastykakes have something new for a stressed-out world confused by conflicting advice about diet and health:

Butterscotch Krimpets with twice as much icing and 90 more calories.

Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes with twice as much peanut butter and 70 more calories.

The new version of the Krimpet is the first since the flagship product and Philadelphia staple was introduced in 1926. And the Kandy Kake has not been changed since its introduction in 1935. Fans of the originals need not panic; they will not be going away.

The new products are the first in a line called Doublicious, and are expected in stores today, said Vincent Melchiorre, chief marketing officer of Philadelphia's Tasty Baking Co. A "family pack" of the new products will cost 50 cents more than the originals.

The change comes as packaged-food companies are under intense pressure from public-health advocates to cut back on fatty, sugary products. But demand for sweet, indulgent treats is still going strong.

Melchiorre said that Tasty Baking management heard a "good-size outcry" from consumers in focus groups saying " 'we want more.' "

And that is what they are getting: a Krimpet that weighs 38 percent more and has 43 percent more calories and 50 percent more fat.

Besides the bulked-up Peanut Butter Kandy Kake, the line was to include a chocolate cupcake with double the icing. It was delayed because, in family-pack boxes, the top layer of cupcakes was so heavy, it crushed the bottom layer, Melchiorre said.

The Krimpets and Kandy Kakes provided $50 million of Tasty Baking's annual gross sales of about $250 million, the company said.

The even-more-indulgent versions of Tastykakes fit into a food market riven by conflicting trends, food experts said.

Despite all the attention to the importance of healthy eating, "as many food suppliers are moving toward more-indulgent as are moving toward less-indulgent," more healthful products, said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a food industry consulting firm in Chicago.

Goldin said he saw a long-term trend toward healthier eating, but thinks that consumers are "terribly" confused right now by conflicting information.

Meanwhile, most people crave treats, said Diane M. Phillips, an associate professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. "Maybe even today, we have more need to indulge, with the stresses of modern life," she said.

Tasty Baking executives are counting on that as they try to revive the fortunes of the 91-year-old company. Its shares have traded in a narrow range on the Nasdaq market for the last 18 months, and closed yesterday at $7.31. They traded at more than $16 before a steep swoon in 2002.

Since Charles P. Pizzi became chief executive officer of Tasty Baking in October 2002 and brought in new senior management in early 2003, the most visible changes to consumers have been in new products - mostly variations of existing ones - and in prices.

Products introduced during the last three years racked up $37 million in gross sales last year, or about 15 percent of the total, Melchiorre said.

One of those new products aims for the other end of the great diet debate. Sugar-free Sensables - with $6 million in sales in the first nine months of last year - were the most successful of them all, he said. The company expects Sensables sales to top $10 million this year, Melchiorre said.

Boosting prices - long a difficult thing for Tasty Baking - has been another key effort. Last month, the company raised prices on individual snack cakes to $1.19 from 99 cents and on family packs to $3.29 from $2.99.

Melchiorre and some independent sales distributors said the increase had gone over well, with the decline in sales volume in response to the price increase not as great as feared.

Now, the price sensitivity of Tastykake lovers will be tested again: the Doublicious varieties are priced at $3.79.

Contact staff writer Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or hbrubaker@phillynews.com.

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