Leaf Brands, which is in the midst of relaunching Hydrox cookies after their absence from shelves for seven years, is generating some free buzz by capitalizing on a fortuitously timed Donald Trump crusade.
In August, Trump told the press that he would never eat an Oreo again because — he said at the time — Oreo's parent, Mondelez International, is closing a plant in Chicago and moving all of its Oreo production to Mexico, eliminating 1,200 jobs in the process.
In truth, that's only partially correct, according to news reports. Mondelez is shutting down nine old production lines in Chicago and replacing their output with four new ones in Mexico in order to cut costs, but the Chicago plant is not being shut down, and the jobs lost will number about 600. Also, Oreos will continue to be made in U.S. plants in Virginia, New Jersey and Oregon.
But the nuances didn't deter Ellia Kassoff, CEO of Newport Beach, Calif.-based Leaf Brands, from inviting Trump to go visit the company's plant in Vernon, Calif. once Hydrox production began there on Sept. 4. In announcing the invitation, Kassoff vowed to keep Hydrox production in the U.S.
The release also noted that Hydrox, launched in 1908, was actually America's first sandwich cookie, but "was quick to find competition in the 'knock-off' brand Oreo." Oreo, which is now of course the world's largest cookie brand, launched in 1912 and rapidly overshadowed Hydrox, which came to be viewed as the "knock-off."
"We want consumers to know that 'The original sandwich cookie' will always be made in the U.S., and Mr. Trump's campaign focuses on growing American jobs, so we decided to
invite him to our plant," Kassoff declared. "We are in no way picking candidates or jumping into politics, but we want to showcase how a company can create a high-quality product at a good price,
without moving operations out of the U.S."
Consumers' perception of whether or not Leaf Brands is jumping into politics remains to be seen, but the company didn't leave it at that.
In the release, Kassoff also stressed that the relaunched Hydrox cookies are being made with the original formula used by the Sunshine Biscuit company, using sugar, non-hydrogenated oils and "high-quality cocoa," whereas "the 'other guys' use high fructose corn syrup and other low-quality ingredients because they're all about increasing margins, even if that means moving to Mexico."
Among the changes made to the Hydrox brand while it was owned by Keebler and Kellogg was the introduction of hydrogenated oils and HFCS, according to Kassoff.
Kellogg stopped making Hydrox in 2002, reintroducing it for a brief time for its 100th anniversary in 2008.
Hydrox's relaunch took more than a year because Leaf Brands not only recreated the original recipe, but used social media to locate fans who had stockpiled the original cookies in their freezers, to have them taste-test the revived treats, Kassoff told Grub Street. However, the company is counting to a large extent on Millennials' fondness for retro products with "simple" ingredients to jumpstart Hydrox, he added.
Leaf Brands, once the fourth-largest candy producer in North America, was restarted by family members in 1996, after the U.S. division was sold to The Hershey Corp. The company has also acquired other out-of-use trademarks to relaunch the products, including Astro Pops and Tart n' Tinys.
The Hydrox cookies are being sold on Amazon and in "many" national and local supermarket and chain stores starting this month, according to the company.