Hostess To Sell Off Its Brands After 82 Years

Hostess, the iconic brand behind Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ho Hos, says it is going out of business. The company plans to shut down 33 plants and 565 distribution centers as it liquidates. More than 18,000 workers would lose their jobs. Already in bankruptcy, Hostess said a nationwide strike "crippled" the company's operations. The union representing bakery workers blames mismanagement for the company's demise.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. The Twinkie, the snack cake with incredible staying power on the shelf and in the marketplace, may have reached its expiration date. Hostess Brands says it is liquidating, going out of business after 82 years. The company wants to sell off all of its brands. The decision comes one week after a strike.

Hostess says it could not afford the disruption. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports more than 18,000 workers are set to be laid off.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The Twinkie was created in 1930 in Schiller Park, right outside Chicago. Bakery workers who've been on strike for days there are standing outside the Hostess plant drinking coffee and eating baked goods, none of them Hostess products. Valerie Smith(ph) shrugs off accusations that the employees killed the Twinkie.

VALERIE SMITH: It's kind of like saying we're stupid, but I don't think I am. I don't - I don't think I'm stupid for standing up for what I believe in.

CHANG: For months, two unions have been duking it out with Hostess after the company told them concessions had to be made. The Teamsters, which represents the delivery workers, reluctantly accepted a new contract with reduced wages and benefits. But the other union, the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, said no way. So they started a strike.

It became a game of chicken. Hostess first closed three factories and gave the bakers until 5 p.m. yesterday to get back to work. They didn't. So this morning, Hostess started to shut down. Ken Hall(ph) of the Teamsters says the finance people advising the bakers miscalculated at everyone's expense.

KEN HALL: I think they were wrong. And continuing to say that this was some bluff, they were wrong, and I think we found that out this morning.

CHANG: Hostess says it's letting go of employees who have been with the company for decades. Decades ago, it was a very different business. The products seemed so delicious then, not so much anymore.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Howdy partners...

CHANG: Brand strategists like Adam Hamf(ph) says labor isn't to blame for the demise of the Twinkie. The Hostess brand was already in a death spiral. There was no innovation in products or flavors or marketing.

ADAM HAMF: If you were going to sit around and brainstorm a new product today, the last thing you'd come up with is something like Twinkies. You know, there are stories about people pinning a Twinkie to the wall, and it remains fresh for, like, years because there's so much preservatives in it. So you would never invent Twinkies today.

CHANG: Hamf says if he were going to market Twinkies today, he'd deliberately laugh at the nutrition police. Hostess never did that. Hamf would put Twinkies into a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor or make Twinkies-flavored vodka. Why not? There's already a marshmallow-flavored Smirnoff. Maybe a buyer who's interested in taking that on can get in touch with Hostess now. A judge is expected to approve the liquidation as soon as next Monday. Ailsa Chang, NPR News.

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