Hostess moves to liquidate after crippling strike

About 18,500 workers laid off

NEW YORK — Twinkies may not last forever after all.

Hostess Brands Inc., the maker of the spongy snack with a mysterious cream filling, said Friday it would shutter after years of struggling with management turmoil, rising labor costs and the ever-changing tastes of Americans even as its pantry of sugary cakes seemed suspended in time.

Some of Hostess’ beloved brands such as Ding Dongs and Ho Hos likely will be snapped up by buyers and find a second life, but for now the company says its snack cakes should be on shelves for another week or so.

Hostess, whose roster of brands dates as far back as 1888, hadn’t invested heavily in marketing or innovation in recent years as it struggled with debt and management changes.

As larger competitors inundated supermarket shelves with an array of new snacks and variations on popular brands, Hostess cakes seemed caught in a bygone time. The company took small stabs at keeping up with Americans’ movement toward healthier foods, such as the introduction of its 100-calorie packs of cupcakes.

CEO Gregory Rayburn, who was hired as a restructuring expert, said Friday that sales volume was flat to slightly down in recent years. He said the company booked about $2.5 billion in revenue a year, with Twinkies alone generating $68 million so far this year.

Hostess’ problems ran far deeper than changing tastes, however. In January, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time in less than a decade.

Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, said it was saddled with costs related to its unionized workforce. The company had been contributing $100 million a year in pension costs for workers; the new contract offer would’ve slashed that to $25 million a year, in addition to wage cuts and a 17 percent reduction in health benefits.

Management missteps were another problem. Hostess came under fire this spring after it was revealed that nearly a dozen executives received pay hikes of up to 80 percent last year even as the company was struggling.

The shuttering means the loss of about 18,500 jobs. Hostess said employees at its 33 factories were sent home and operations suspended.

Its roughly 500 bakery outlet stores will stay open for several days to sell remaining products.

In a statement, the bakery union said Hostess failed because the six management teams over the past eight years weren’t able to make it profitable — not because workers didn’t make concessions.

“Despite a commitment from the company after the first bankruptcy that the resources derived from the workers’ concessions would be plowed back into the company, this never materialized,” the union said.

Ken Hall, general secretary-treasurer for the Teamsters, said his union members decided to make concessions after hiring consultants who found the company’s financials were in a dire situation. But he said that he believed the company could’ve survived.

“Frankly it’s tragic, particularly at this this time of year with the holidays around the corner,” Hall said, noting that his 6,700 members at Hostess were now out of a job.

Kenneth McGregor, a shipper for Hostess in East Windsor, Conn., arrived at the plant Friday morning and said he was told he was laid off immediately.

In a statement on the company website, CEO Rayburn said there would be “severe limits” on the assistance the company could offer workers because of the bankruptcy. The liquidation hearing will go before a bankruptcy judge Monday afternoon; Rayburn said he’s confident the judge will approve the motion.

“The strike impacted us in terms of cash flow. The plants were operating well below 50 percent capacity and customers were not getting products,” he said. “There’s no other alternative.”

Twinkies maker Hostess Brands says liquidation decision expected Friday

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Sat, 12/03/2016 - 00:51

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