McKee Foods

McKee Foods Corporation is a privately held and family-owned American snack food and granola manufacturer headquartered in Collegedale, Tennessee.[5] The corporation is the maker of Drake's Cakes, Fieldstone Bakery snacks and cereal, Little Debbie snacks, and Sunbelt Bakery granola and cereal.[6] The company also formerly operated Heartland Brands.

McKee Foods Corporation
IndustryFood processing
FoundedChattanooga, Tennessee, U.S. (1934 (1934))[1]
FoundersO.D. McKee,[2]
Ruth McKee
HeadquartersCollegedale, Tennessee, U.S.
Key people
Mike McKee, Rusty McKee, Angie McKee, Ellsworth McKee, Jack McKee, Cole Smith, Debbie McKee-Fowler[3]
  • Snacks
  • cereal
  • granola bars
BrandsDrake's Cakes, Fieldstone Bakery, Little Debbie, Sunbelt Bakery
Revenue $836 million (2021)
Number of employees
6,800(As of September 2021)[4]


The company was founded during the Great Depression by Oather "O.D." McKee and Ruth McKee. Oather started out selling cakes from his 1928 Whippet in the Chattanooga area. Wanting to expand, he bought a small bakery, Jack's Cookie Company. The bakery did well for a few years, but O.D. was still looking to expand. His father-in-law, however, did not share his ideas. O.D. decided to sell his business and start over.

The McKees moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, into a new bakery designed by O.D. After some time, they sold the Charlotte plant. They moved back to Chattanooga in the early 1950s when Cecil King, Ruth's brother, was in poor health and needed help. They decided to buy back the bakery, which was renamed McKee Baking Company from King's Bakery in 1962, and run it themselves.

McKee Baking Company moved to Collegedale in 1957. In 1991, McKee Baking Company became McKee Foods Corporation.

Ellsworth McKee, the son of company-founder O.D. McKee, took over, but retired from day-to-day operations in September 2012 and retains the position of company chairman.[4]

It was announced on January 28, 2013, that McKee Foods would pay $27.5 million for Hostess Brands' Drake's brand, which includes Ring Dings, Yodels, and Devil Dogs products.[7] The bankruptcy court approved the purchase on April 9, 2013.[8]

As of 2013, McKee ships more than 900 million cartons of Little Debbie products each year.[9]


Little Debbie

Little Debbie logo, 1985–2013[9]
Little Debbie products
Cosmic Brownie
Nutty Bar
Oatmeal Creme Pie
Swiss Cake Roll
Zebra Cake

Little Debbie products are primarily cookie and cake-based dessert snacks. They come in dozens of varieties, including the top-selling Swiss Cake Rolls, Nutty Bars, Fudge Rounds, Cloud Cakes, Cosmic Brownies, Zebra Cakes, and Oatmeal Creme Pies.[10] Little Debbie products are available in most discount, grocery, and convenience stores, both in boxes and as individually wrapped items.

In 1960, company founders O.D. and Ruth McKee decided to name a product after one of their grandchildren, four-year-old Debbie. Now Debbie McKee-Fowler serves as Executive Vice-President and serves on the McKee Foods Board of Directors.[11] The original image of Debbie used on packaging and advertising, which began on August 23, 1960, was based on a black-and-white photo. Full-color portraits of Little Debbie started later in 1960. Artist Pearl Mann of Atlanta created the original color artwork. Following instructions, she made the little girl look older, around 8 or 9.[12][13][14] Minor changes were made to the logo in 1985 and again in 2013.[9]

The Little Debbie brand has sponsored NASCAR teams since the 1990s,[13] most notably the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from 2006 to 2008.[14][15] The brand switched to the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team in the 2009 season, after sponsoring both teams in 2008.[15] From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, known as the Sabbath, the Little Debbie logos are covered or removed, and the crew wears non-Little Debbie attire as a condition of sponsorship because McKee Foods was founded and is run by owners who are Seventh-day Adventists.[13][16]

As of late 2022, the cakes will not be sold in US Department of Defense Defense Commissary Agency and Navy Exchange commissaries. McKee has said[17] that the regulatory standards required of McKee Foods are too costly to continue supplying the commissaries.


Drake's is a baking company in Wayne, New Jersey. Originally an independent company, Hostess owned Drake's from 1998 to 2012;[18] McKee Foods acquired Drake's line when Hostess liquidated in bankruptcy in 2012. The Drake's brand distributes snack cakes such as Ring Dings, Yodels, Devil Dogs, Yankee Doodles, Sunny Doodles, Funny Bones, and coffee cake. Their mascot is Webster, a smiling drake (a male duck) holding a spoon and wearing a chef's hat and neckerchief.

Fieldstone Bakery

Products sold under the Fieldstone Bakery brand include whole grain snacks, granola, pastries, and cookies.[19]

Sunbelt Bakery

Sunbelt logo, 2002–2009

Sunbelt Bakery products include a variety of granola bars, fruit snacks, and cereals.[20][21]

Heartland Brands

The company previously sold granola cereals and pie crusts under the Heartland brand.[22] McKee acquired the brand, which dated to 1968, in 1998.[23] The brand was in use until at least 2018.[24]



  1. "Company History". Retrieved 2020-08-26.
  2. "McKee Foods Corporation - About our Company". Archived from the original on 2012-11-20. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  3. "Who We Are".
  4. Smith, Ellis (September 15, 2012). "Little Debbie's Dad to sell Ooltewah mansion". Chattanooga Times Free Press. Retrieved 2013-05-13. Today, his privately held company employs some 5,800 workers, producing more than 160 types of snacks for the North America market. McKee is semi-retired now, serving as company chairman.
  5. "Corporate Fact Sheet Archived 2012-11-20 at the Wayback Machine." McKee Foods. Retrieved on November 17, 2012. "Street address: 10260 McKee Road Collegedale, TN 37315"
  6. Biggs, Jennifer (March 25, 2018). "What 'Pick Tennessee' really means". The Tennessean. Nashville, Tennessee. p. D1. Retrieved June 26, 2022 via
  7. "Stock Market & Financial Investment News". The fly on the Wall. Archived from the original on 2013-10-16. Retrieved 2019-09-08.
  8. David Flessner, "McKee completes purchase of Drake's Cakes from bankrupt Hostess", "Chattanooga Times Free Press, April 9, 2013
  9. "The Little Debbie Logo Gets a Makeover, Its First Since 1985". PR Newswire. May 8, 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-13. Here are some of the changes that have been made to the Little Debbie logo:

    * Little Debbie's auburn hair is darker and has fewer curls.
    * She's wearing a more updated plaid shirt with a rounded "Peter Pan collar". (She wore a lace-embroidered pointed collar before.)
    * She's still wearing the straw hat, but the hat string–which is called a "stampede string"–was removed.
    * The red ribbon, with the name Little Debbie on it, also now has a more contemporary style.
  10. "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  11. "Debbie McKee-Fowler, Mckee Foods Corp: Profile and Biography". Bloomberg News.
  12. "Our Brands: Little Debbie". McKee Foods. Archived from the original on 2013-08-13.
  13. Gary Land (23 October 2014). Historical Dictionary of the Seventh-Day Adventists. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 214–215. ISBN 978-1-4422-4188-6.
  14. Wood Brothers/JTG Racing (November 19, 2005). "Wood Brothers/JTG Racing press conference". Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  15. JTG Daugherty Racing (September 25, 2008). "Kansas: JTG Racing, Ambrose preview". Kansas City, Kansas. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  16. "Jayski's NASCAR Silly Season Site - Sprint Cup Team News and Links - #47". Archived from the original on 8 October 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2010. Little Debbie sponsorship note: The #47 team primary sponsor, Little Debbie snacks, is run by Seventh Day Adventists. From sundown Friday till sundown Saturday, the team has to cover all Little Debbie logos on the hauler, wear non-Little Debbie attire, and remove all Little Debbie decal from the race car. (Autoweek, 3-16-2006)
  17. Goodbye, Little Debbie: Snack cakes to gradually disappear from commissary shelves, Kelly Agee, Stars and Stripes, 2022-09-02, accessed 2022-09-14
  18. Drake’s. "Drake's Introduces Alpine Yodels". Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  19. "All Products". Retrieved June 26, 2022.
  20. "Granola Bars Market 2021, Scope and Price Analysis of Top Manufacturers Profiles Sunbelt Bakery, Mars, General Mills, Quaker, Nature's Path". The Manomet Current. Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  21. "UPDATE: IRONMAN triathlon expected to reel in thousands to downtown Chattanooga". Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  22. "Heartland Brands". Retrieved June 26, 2022.
  23. "Heartland History". Archived from the original on July 7, 2012 via Wayback Machine.
  24. "Heartland Cereal (advert)". The Kansas City Star. March 28, 2018. p. PC5. Retrieved June 26, 2022 via
  • McKee Foods website
  • Little Debbie Snacks website
  • Sunbelt Bakery website
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