Just say the name "Twinkies" and any American today, no matter their age, immediately envisions dual tubes of unnaturally moist yellow cake surrounding dollops of sugary fluff. The artificially-enhanced treat has been on supermarket shelves and in lunchboxes for 85 years, standing as a symbol of modern technology’s triumph over nature, a food manifestation of American success.
But now Hostess, the company that manufactures the snack cake, in addition to many other carbohydrate-laden foods, is closing its doors and taking a decidedly un-American approach to its bankruptcy woes by blaming its own workers for the company’s downfall.
This week, Hostess Brands announced that it asked a federal bankruptcy court for permission to permanently shutter its business, effectively laying off 18,500 employees nationwide. CEO Gregory Rayburn said in a public statement that the manufacturer could not financially sustain its current employee strike.
Hostess has been battling fiscal difficulties for the better part of the last decade. This latest bankruptcy is the company’s second in just eight years. Reuters reports that the snack manufacturer previously escaped liquidation because employee unions agreed to endure major cuts to their wages and benefits. Those employee concessions saved the company $110 million annually. Still, hundreds of union workers lost their jobs in that deal and those remaining saw its executive leadership change hands six times in less than a decade while profitability was never regained.
Recently, when asked to sustain more cuts, one of the employee unions known as the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers (BCTG) refused, citing that executives had “frittered away” the savings made by their first round of cuts. Workers across the country then went on strike, prompting Hostess to publicly blame its lack of profit on "its current cost structure, much of which is determined by union wages and pension costs." But it's worth noting that Hostess previously attributed its fiscal hardship to other factors as well, most notably a sharp decline in sales and rising food costs.
The BCTG union president Frank Hurt explained in a statement, "Our members decided they were not going to take any more abuse from a company they have given so much to for so many years. They decided that they were not going to agree to another round of outrageous wage and benefit cuts and give up their pension only to see yet another management team fail and Wall Street vulture capitalists and 'restructuring specialists' walk away with untold millions of dollars." Indeed, as employees were living on less income, Alternet reports that Hostess executives gave themselves massive raises.
But the demise of the Hostess is about more than the villainy of corporate raiders exploiting workers. It’s about a food monolith that refused to evolve with a newly educated audience, one that has become increasingly disdainful of processed carbs and laboratory-engineered ingredients.
Really, have you read a Twinkies label lately? “High fructose corn syrup” may actually be one of the less troublesome ingredients on its list. And the same goes for Hostess’ other chemically-concocted treats like "Ring Dings" and "Sno Balls."
It seems that while management was picking over the fiscal remains of a once successful company, it lost sight that it not only owed its employees a wage commensurate with their experience and effort, but its customers a product they would be excited to eat. And it seems to have failed on both those counts.
In the meantime, Hostess is poised to begin selling off its assets, which includes its Twinkies brand. That means we could see a reemergence of the cake in coming months from a different manufacturer, one that hopefully reimagines its recipe as something that Americans will be happy to eat.
What, if any, snack treats from Hostess will you miss most? Let us know in the Comments.
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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com