Debbie may be little, but the joy that she has brought to the lives of kids and sweet-loving adults everywhere has been bigger than one can put into words. From Oatmeal Cream Pies to Swiss Rolls, and so much more, the mere sight of one of those individually wrapped wonders can bring a smile to the face of even the grumpiest of folks. However, while we all know what those treats taste like, there is a lot that people don’t know. But, as Agent Fox Mulder always knew – the truth is out there. So, come with us as we unwrap the sweet – and the not so sweet – top 10 untold truths of Little Debbie.
10. Yes, There Really is a Little Debbie
While many brands use people’s names and images as their logo, most of them are made up and not actually based on any real person. However, that isn’t the case with Little Debbie. The company began with one little bakery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. O.D. McKee and his wife bought the place in the middle of the Great Depression and began selling small cakes at cheap prices. The business kept expanding over the next couple decades and in 1960 they were ready to go into mass production. But they needed a name for their cakes. Without telling her parents, O.D. decided to name them after his granddaughter Debbie – and thus the brand became known as Little Debbie. And that cute photo that has become the iconic logo for the brand – that is actually a photo of Debbie – the photo that inspired her grandfather. Although her parents weren’t thrilled when they found out (they didn’t find out until the first packages made their way out of the factory), everything seems to have worked out quite well. In fact, Debbie herself is an executive vice president and serves on the board of directors for the company of which, her much younger face, is still the logo.
9. Swiss Rolls Weren’t An Original Idea
We hate to burst your bubble, but Little Debbie didn’t invent the swiss roll. In 1962 O.D. McKee was on the hunt for the next big thing while checking out a trade show in Europe. The swiss roll is actually a mini version of a cake called a roulade – you’ve probably seen these large, delicious, rolled cakes on any number of baking competition television shows from the Food Network to the Great British Bake Off. Well, these smaller versions of the yummy cake were being produced in a number of the bakeries O.D. visited. Well, McKee knew a good idea when he saw it and upon his return Stateside he wasted no time in getting production lines up and running on his version of the swiss roll. A year later, in 1963, Swiss Rolls became a part of the Little Debbie brand. If these rolled cakes are your favorites, you definitely aren’t alone. McKee went looking for the “next big thing” and he sure did find it. To this day the Swiss Roll is one of the top three best-selling items in the entire Little Debbie collection. And did you know that there are multiple ways to eat them? Sure, you could just open the package and eat them. But some people like to peel them open and lick off the filling, while others prefer to freeze them before chowing down.
8. They Are King of the Hill
Little Debbie isn’t the only snack cake company out there, but they might be the most recognizable and are without a doubt, the most profitable. They’ve always believed in selling their cakes at low prices and selling lots of them. And that is exactly what they have been doing for the last more than a half century. The price of their cakes at retail are close to half of what their competitors are charging and that price point – along with the total deliciousness of their cakes – have led to lots and lots and lots and lots of sales. In fact, back in 2016 the McKee Food corp recorded sales of more than $800 Million dollars. That sure is a lot of Oatmeal Cream Pies, Swiss Rolls and Nutty Buddies. And that success was evident from the beginning. Back in August of 1960 when the company went into mass production and launched their Little Debbie products into grocery stores, they sold over 14 million cakes in just the first 10 months. Their biggest competitor in the space these days is Hostess, and that $800 Million Little Debbie made is almost $150 Million more in sales than Hostess recorded that same year. There’s nothing “little” about that! In fact, in a 2014 Forbes magazine article ranking the richest families in America, the McKee family came in at 147 on the list with a net worth of $1.4 billion!
7. Seventh Day Adventist Beliefs
Little Debbie founders O.D and Ruth McKee were Seventh-day Adventists and part of that religious philosophy can be found in how the company is run – even to this day. The Seventh-day Adventist church is a Protestant Christian denomination and one of the core tenants is the observance of Saturday (the 7th day of the week) as the Sabbath. And this is something that has traditionally been observed by the company as a whole as well. In their company policy it is referred to as “Friday night and saturday activities.” Not only do they close from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, but it also applies to any promotional partnerships they may have. Little Debbie does have a promo agreement with NASCAR, but they have the Sabbath written into any promotional contract. And in the case of NASCAR that means that all Little Debbie logos must be removed or covered during the Sabbath. And the crew of any sponsored cars must wear non-Little Debbie attire during that time as well. The company is also more than happy to sponsor events and charities (particularly ones that benefit children) but not if they take place on the Sabbath.
6. Little Debbie Has a Good Sense of Humor
Not all companies can laugh at themselves, but it looks like Little Debbie can. Back in 2015 Will Ferrell went on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon dressed up like the Little Debbie logo in a blue dress, with a red, curly wig and that famous straw hat. He even brought out a straw basket with an assortment of Little Debbie cakes in it. He made a joke about being the new face of Little Debbie and also told Fallon that he only disciplines his children when dressed up this way. “If I come around the corner dressed like this… oh, they know they did something wrong.” It was a funny bit that had the crowd and Fallon cracking up (but then again, when doesn’t Jimmy Fallon crack up at his guests jokes). Now, some companies would be all up tight about the bit and concerned about their image and how this joke affects the legacy they have crafted, blah, blah, blah. But not Little Debbie. They took it all in stride and even had a little fun with it themselves. Following the airing of the show, the PR folks over at Little Debbie put out a statement saying, “In our opinion, Will Ferrell did justice to the cowgirl hat and the blue and white dress that are hallmarks of Little Debbie. We appreciate his enthusiasm in playing the part.” Who knows? If their ever looking for a new fresh face to put on the box….???
5. Ruth McKee Was a Full Partner
One needs to remember that this company was started back during the depression. A time when the roles of women were mostly defined as housewives and homemakers. Which makes the full 100% partnership that Ruth and O.D. McKee had that much more impressive. While O.D. was the dreamer and the salesman, Ruth was the more sensible one. Which is exactly what the company needed. While O.D. would be out selling, Ruth was running the office. She managed the office and the employees. She purchased all the ingredients and she also hired the long-haul truckers that would transport the Little Debbie products all across the country. She would even tell the drivers that, “Every time I see one of our trucks on the road I pray for your safety.” This wasn’t a part time gig either. This was a full time job. So much so that they even hired help to take care of their three kids while she was working – something that was probably not commonplace back in the 1930s. Ruth was just as important to the success of Little Debbie as her husband, O.D. was.
4. Oatmeal Cream Pies are the Little Debbie OG
What’s your favorite Little Debbie snack cake? While the answer to that question varies from person to person, one of the three answers you will hear most often in response to that question is, “Oatmeal Cream Pie.” The Oatmeal Cream Pie is among the three best-selling snack cakes in the entire Little Debbie repertoire. And not only are they one of the best-selling, they are also the original Little Debbie snack cake. The year was 1935 and O.D. McKee was working on his oatmeal cookie recipe in an attempt to make the cookie softer and chewier. When the perfect softness was finally achieved, McKee added some cream filling between two of his now perfectly soft and delicious oatmeal cookies and the Oatmeal Cream Pie was born. At the time you could buy one of these yummy snack cakes for a nickel! Consider that a gallon of gas was about 10 cents, a loaf of bread was about 9 cents and the average cost of a month’s rent for a house was around $26. Obviously, given that this was during the Great Depression, even a nickel wasn’t anything to sneeze at, but it did provide a little sweet happiness to people during a very hard time in the nation’s history.
3. Going to Jail for Little Debbie
Little Debbie snack cakes are very yummy, there is no denying that. But are they worth going to jail for? Well, while most people would answer “no” there have been at least a couple times where some folks felt getting their hands on some Little Debbie cakes – without paying for them – was worth the risk. In 2015 in North Carolina, some snack cake-loving thieves cut through a fence to get to a Little Debbie distribution van. Once through the fence, they proceeded to break into the van and make off with 65 cases of product – including Oatmeal Cream Pies, Honey Buns and Swiss Rolls. Two years later in May of 2017 in Arkansas, a couple of women stole a trailer with over $5000 worth of Little Debbie products inside. Police eventually found the trailer and the two women were arrested. We don’t know why they did it – if they planned to eat all the cakes themselves, try to resell them on the snack cake black market or just wanted to have goodies to hand out to all the kids in the neighborhood at Halloween for the next 5 years! While we obviously appreciate how yummy Little Debbie cakes are and would love to stuff our cupboards with thousands of dollars worth, we also do not condone breaking the law in order to do so. No snack is worth going to jail for!
2. Nutty Bar Name Change
Have you found yourself walking up and down the cookie aisle in your grocery store looking for your favorite Little Debbie snack cake, the Nutty Bar. Pacing back and forth looking at all those boxes of goodies and snacks for that oh so delicious mix of wafers, peanut butter and chocolate. According to Little Dibbie the Nutty Bar is their third best-selling snack cake ever, so you, along with lots of other people, are probably looking – but having no luck. Well, the reason you can’t find it isn’t because they stopped making it, it’s because they changed the name. No longer called the Nutty Bar, this wafer-liscious snack is now called the Nutty Buddy. It’s still the exact same treat, nothing has changed on that front. It just has a new name. Why the name change you ask? Honestly, we have no idea and it seems to be somewhat of a mystery. All we know is that the bar is now a buddy. Little Debbie made no official statement about the name change, they just changed it. The product page on their website is all about the Nutty Buddy, with no mention of it’s previous life as the Nutty Bar – even when they give the history of the product and its dating back to 1964 when it became “one of the first multipack creations by Little Debbie snack company.” This could be a mystery for Scooby and the gang.
1. Snack Cakes in Space
There are over 75 different types of snack cakes under the Little Debbie brand and it isn’t just the names of some of them that are out of this world. Star Crunch and Cosmic Brownies both have space-inspired names, but Little Debbie took that space theme even further back in 2014. It was in that year that they actually sent some Cosmic Brownies into space! The Cosmic Brownie was a new product at the time and as a way to help get it off the ground (pun intended), the company launched a box of the cupcakes and a Little Debbie astronaut bobblehead 18 miles into space. The company partnered with the University of Tennessee Chattanooga to attach the snacks and the bobblehead to a weather balloon – which is how they travelled those 18 miles up up and away into the atmosphere. There were three GoPro cameras on board and a GPS tracker was placed on the balloon with people able to track the flight of the balloon in real time. However, while there was GPS on board, Little Debbie said that they didn’t plan on retrieving the package when it eventually landed. Which meant, anyone who wanted to could track it and go get it, earning themselves a pack of actual space cakes, a cool bobblehead doll, a GPS tracker and three GoPro cameras. We don’t know if anyone eventually retrieved the balloon, if the tech was still intact, or if they ate the cakes or not.