Thursday, November 22, 2012

Who Killed Hostess Brands and Twinkies?

Helaine Olen

I’m sure you have, by now, heard the news. Hostess Brands, the company that gave us such remembered childhood treats as Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Devil Dogs and other baked foodstuffs that have fallen into disfavor in our more gourmand age, announced today that it would be closing for business, effective immediately.

More than a few observers say they know who to blame for the demise of the iconic company: the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International union, which represents thousands of striking Hostess Brand workers who have refused to accept a new contract that would do everything from slash their salaries to their retirement benefits.

Hostess has been sold at least three times since the 1980s, racking up debt and shedding profitable assets along the way with each successive merger. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and again in 2011. Little thought was given to the line of products, which, frankly, began to seem a bit dated in the age of the gourmet cupcake. (100 calorie Twinkie Bites? When was the last time you entered Magnolia Bakery and asked about the calorie count?)

As if all this were not enough, Hostess Brands’ management gave themselves several raises, all the while complaining that the workers who actually produced the products that made the firm what money it did earn were grossly overpaid relative to the company’s increasingly dismal financial position.

So now an estimated 18,500 workers will join the nation’s unemployment rolls. But while Hostess Brands might soon become a forgotten name from the past, it’s unlikely such a fate awaits such signature products as Twinkies. Company executives have already asked for bankruptcy court permission to begin the process of selling off their famed product lines to other companies.

Finally, a personal note: A few years ago, my husband picked our children up from a playdate at a home where, he said, it seemed like more food was banned than allowed, there was no television, and it was all too politically correct in the way all too many middle class childhoods are today. My husband’s response? Before bringing the boys home, he stopped in at a local grocery and introduced our ecstatic children to fine products of Hostess Brands. “Yodels,” he told me, “never tasted so good.”

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