Midday Report: Grupo Bimbo Reportedly Planning Twinkie Knockoff

Twinkie knock-off You've seen copies of luxury bags and watches, but how about knockoff Twinkies?

If you can't join 'em, beat 'em. That's a 180 degree turn on a common phrase, and it may be the strategy for the nation's largest bakery. The New York Post reports that Grupo Bimbo, which lost out on the bidding for the Twinkie brand, may be planning to bake up an imitation of the iconic product.

It reportedly wants to get its version on shelves before the real Twinkies return to the market later this year. The Post reports that Bimbo's new line could also include a Hostess-like cupcake.

Hostess, of course, shut down its bakeries last November, declaring bankruptcy in a wage dispute with its workers. At the time, Grupo Bimbo was considered the favorite to buy the key assets, including Twinkies.

But Hostess sold off pieces of its business to several other firms. The Twinkies brand was sold to a pair of investment firms, which also bought Ding Dongs, HoHos and other brands. McKee Foods acquired the Drake's cakes line, which includes Devil Dogs and Yodels. McKee already makes Little Debbie snack cakes. And Flowers Foods (FLO) acquired Wonder Bread.

As for Grupo Bimbo's plan to make a Twinkies twin, it needs the cooperation of Teamster union locals that will deliver the new product.

The Post says a number of Teamsters locals in the Midwest have approved the deal offered by Bimbo, but that some drivers in New York are worried that they will get lower commissions on the product than on other lines they carry. They deliver Bimbo's other brands, including Thomas' English Muffins, Entenmann's and Stroehmann. Bimbo also owns the fresh baked unit of Sara Lee.

Bimbo is interested in a knockoff Twinkie because the little cakes have such a strong following. When it looked like Twinkies might be lost forever, fans began scooping them up on eBay and Craigslist, willing to pay huge premiums.

The Twinkie war is on.

–Produced by Drew Trachtenberg

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Midday Report: Grupo Bimbo Reportedly Planning Twinkie Knockoff

Eating ice cream shaped like poop while sitting on a toilet bowl in public - disgusting? Apparently not in Taiwan, where a chain of bathroom-themed restaurants called the Modern Toilet is big business.

The Modern Toilet restaurant was founded in 2004 by former banker Wang Zi-Wei after he saw success selling chocolate ice cream in containers shaped like squat toilets. Since then, the restaurant has expanded to 12 locations in Taiwan, along with one restaurant in Hong Kong.

The eatery's "out-there" design includes toilets seats as chairs, bathroom sinks covered with glass top as tables and toilet roll dispensers hanging on the wall. Drinks come in urinal shaped containers and meals are served in dishes resembling bathtubs.

The restaurant chain is a key attraction in Taiwan. It has a three and half star rating from travel website TripAdvisor, and was recently featured on the lifestyle TV channel TLC in a show titled the "World's Weirdest Restaurants." Taiwan is also home to other wacky restaurants like those inspired by hospitals and jailhouses.

Photo: Solana, Flickr.com

Messing around with nature has led to what's being called one of Japan's greatest innovations - square watermelons.

Farmers in the southern Japanese region of Zentsuji started growing watermelons in glass boxes letting them naturally take the cubic shape of the boxes. Square watermelons as opposed to oval ones are easier to store in refrigerators. While news of the square watermelons started spreading in 2001, Japanese farmers have reportedly been growing these square melons for more than 30 years. Hugely popular in the country, the watermelons sell anywhere from $150 to $250 a piece. Regular round watermelons sell for about $30.

A fruit producer from Panama, called Panama Fruit Producer, caught on to the fad and has been growing and exporting these square watermelons to the U.S. and parts of Europe since 2010. They retail for a whopping $75 each.
Air quality has gotten so bad in China that one entrepreneur is cashing in on the smog selling cans of fresh air.

Chinese multi-millionaire Chen Guangbiao, who made his fortune in the recycling business, handed out (pictured) soda pop-sized cans of air, reportedly collected from remote and pristine regions of China like Xingjian in the north-west. The air was distributed in January when residents of Beijing were choking on toxic smog. According to Chen, he sold eight million of these cans priced at 5 yuan (50 cents) each in the last 10 days of January when air quality was exceptionally poor.

The canned air comes in a variety of flavors like "pristine Tibet," and "revolutionary Yan'an," the Communist Party's early base. It was introduced in mid-2012 but gained popularity this year, according to local media reports. Chen has said he donates the proceeds from the sales to the poorer regions of China.

One of the most expensive coffees in the world, Kopi Luwak, is derived from - believe it or not - the poop of a toddy cat.

Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee refers to the beans of coffee berries that are eaten by the Asian Palm Civet, the long bodied mammal who inhabits the jungles of South and Southeast Asia. After the beans ferment in the animal's stomach, they are gathered from the civet's droppings and cleaned and roasted.

The coffee originated in the 1800s in the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, and is still big business in the country with coffee producing plantations across the islands. Its harvesting, however, has now also spread to other parts of Asia like Vietnam and the Philippines and even to Peru - the world's biggest producer and exporter of organic coffee - where beans are roasted from the dung of a raccoon like animal called the coati.

Coffee connoisseurs are willing to pay anywhere from $20 to $65 for a cup of the civet coffee and on Amazon.com the price of the beans range from $40 for 100 grams to nearly $350 for one kilogram. But before shelling out a premium for the drink, consumers should be aware that there is a growing market of fake civet beans. In Vietnam, nearly every vendor in the country's highlands coffee-growing region claims to sell civet coffee for a cheaper price, according to media reports.

Four Hong Kongers decided to have some fun and created a website called 9gag.com that allows users to upload funny pictures and videos which you can rate and comment on.

The website launched in 2008 has since gained a huge following if you go by its record on Facebook and Twitter - it has crossed five million monthly Facebook "shares" and has more than 1.5 million followers on Twitter. The website is one of the world's largest and fastest growing humor websites - seeing 70 million unique visitors and more than one billion page views per month, according to 9gag. The U.S. is the website's largest market, accounting for 12 percent of total traffic, according to 9gag.

In July last year, the firm announced that it had secured $2.8 million in funding to increase staff and expand internationally. The company also launched a new mobile app for its widely popular content on Apple's iOS and Android platforms in July.
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