Requiem for a Snack Cake?
I approach the story of the demise of Hostess Brands with some trepidation because I am just not a fan of their foodstuffs. It’s not the food I was raised on. It’s not that I never ate Twinkies or Wonder Bread—I’ve eaten them. But I come from the land of TastyKake and Amoroso rolls. A Twinkie is like nothing compared to even a Butterscotch Krimpet. Please! Can Wonder Bread contain the glory that is a cheesesteak or a meatball sub?
No. These just aren’t the foods of my youth, and although I understand the nostalgia other people may have for them, their feeling of loss is not mine. And these days, unless I have the opportunity to eat some freaking great pizza, I’m not all that that hot on gluten, anyway. Or, for that matter, mass-produced baked goods that contain petroleum products. But leaving aside my developing consciousness about factory foods, how they are made possible by factory farming, and how we’ve come to accept highly refined chemical products as ingredients in our foods with little regard to how it impacts our bodies (whew, am I a freaking killjoy, or what?), the story of the supposed death of Twinkie the Kid is probably premature and more a story about (cake) makers and (money) takers.
If you were to ask the owners of Hostess Brands, they would have you believe that the union (read: the people who make the bread, cakes, etc.) are to blame for the demise of the company, due to a strike that impaired the company’s profitability*. The actual story is a bit more complex than that—and a good take on it is found at Forbes:
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 calorieTwinkie Bites? When was the last time you enteredMagnolia 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.
In other words, while the employees were in the business of making the products (and they actually did make compensation concessions in previous rounds), the management took. They rewarded themselves for failure. And in the long run, the employees are the ones out of a job.
And yet the brand names or properties of “Twinkies” or “Wonder Bread” still have saleable value. Other companies will compete for the rights to make those products, and they probably will be manufactured outside of the United States and shipped all over the world. And for some reason, they will sell. People will buy them. As if nothing had happened.
Lesson: employees are disposable, managers should be paid regardless of performance, and Twinkies are immortal (even if their indefinite shelf life is an urban legend).
Is that the way it should be? Meh. It is the way it is. I’m ready for “Occupy Cake”. Make your own Twinkies and Wonder-like bread at home, if that’s what you like. Or patronize your local bakeries. (Or even discover the gustatory wonders of your local loam; motto “Locavore, locavore, locavore”—Washington apples like a baby’s head. Cranberry preserves on cheese from a dairy farm near you. Honey complete with comb in a clean little jar from your nearest co-op. Figs from your own tree, crepes from eggs whose chickens you have personally met.)
I know that isn’t a possibility for everybody owing to availability and price issues. But it would be neat if the business model Hostess followed was eaten out of house and home.
*NB: A strike actually is supposed to impair the profitability of a company, to smack the management over the head with the realization of who actually does the heavy lifting around here. This smack came too late for Hostess. Just a thing to chew over.
(X-posted at Strangely Blogged.)