Twisties were one of the first “extruded snack foods”. The brand was originally developed by Melbourne businessman Isador Magid who imported the machinery from the USA. He had some problems with the machinery and, at one point, enlisted the aid of the CSIRO to get production underway.
The first extruded snack foods were developed in the USA in the early 1930s, reportedly as an accidental by-product of animal feed production. Adams Korn Kurls were essentially puffed corn with cheese flavouring. The most popular American brand, Cheetos, was developed in 1948.
Isador Magid clearly saw the potential to market a similar product in Australia. Magid had been part of a family business importing goats’ hair from China, moving into making popcorn in partnership with his father and friends. He achieved some success with Twisties, before selling the business to focus on property development.
In 1955, Magid sold the Twisties brand to two of the Lea brothers from the confectionery firm Darrell Lea. With national distribution, sales became substantial and export markets were developed in a number of overseas countries including Japan, Malaya, Mauritius and the Pacific Islands. The brand was widely promoted on television.
In 1963 the Melbourne-based General Foods Corporation Holdings Ltd was listed on the Stock Exchange. Among its directors were the Lea brothers. They resigned as directors the following year when British Tobacco (Australia), through its subsidiary Associated Products and Distribution Pty Ltd acquired a majority share. The Australian Women’s Weekly (which at that point had an investment column) advised in 1963:
While on the subject of convenience foods, I thought some of you might be interested in a small one called General Foods Corporation Holdings Ltd. This is a new company but you have probably all eaten “Twisties” which is one of their main products…The directors’ main concern is “the manufacture and distribution of food items so prepared as to bring to consumers the benefits of convenience, high quality, and ease of preparation.” Much attention is paid to a high standard of packaging, and modern equipment has been installed to provide greater efficiency.
The changes of ownership are difficult to track. In the 1970s British Tobacco (Australia) was renamed Amatil. Amatil’s snack foods division (which included Twisties as one of the brands under the Smith’s Snack Food banner) was eventually re-christened CCA Snackfoods and in 1992 was sold to the British company United Biscuits. In August 1998 Pepsico, though its subsidiary Frito-Lay, acquired all the Smith’s brands, including Twisties.
The first Twisties flavour was cheese, with a chicken variant later added. The current cheese version contains: Cereals (Corn, Rice), Vegetable Oil, Whey Powder (Milk), Cheese Powder (Barley, Milk), Flavour Enhancers (621, 635), Salt, Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein, Flavour, Yeast Extract, Mineral Salt (Potassium Chloride), Cream Powder (Milk), Milk Powder, Natural Colours (Paprika Extract, Carotene), Food Acid (Lactic Acid). So not a health food.
Dozens of different flavours and several formats have come and gone, many featuring different variants of cheese, chilli and barbecue. Perhaps the oddest was the variety released in 2012 that turned your tongue blue. Sold in Australia with the line “Life’s pretty straight without Twisties”, they remain one of Australia’s most popular salty snacks.