Saturday, November 24, 2012

Too Sweet To Fail

Forget the fiscal cliff. Forget immigration reform. Forget sex scandals which compromise the CIA, closing loopholes in the tax code and Iranian centrifuges spinning their way to a nuclear weapon. All important stuff, to be sure, but we have a real crisis on our hands. When a company, and by extension an industry, is so compromised, so jeopardized, that its failure could cause a domino effect that could threaten our very way of life, the government must use its awesome power to step in and prop it up. Consider Bank of America and Wall Street, General Motors and Detroit. The precedent has been clearly established, and whether you like it or not, all signs point to the simple fact that it works. So tell me why, oh why, is that same government not going to act, and allow us to live in a world without Twinkies?

In case you had your head under a Snoball for the last week, Hostess Brands has thrown in the towel. After going into bankruptcy in January, the baker's union and management have continued their ongoing tussle to find an acceptable solution. Unfortunately, there was simply too much take and not enough give, and so the unthinkable happened. "We simply do not have the financial resources to survive an ongoing national strike," Hostess CEO Greg Rayburn said in a statement. And so effective last week it is shuttering its plants and liquidating the 82-year-old business.

In these tough times, the real human tragedy can't be overlooked. Rayburn, a restructuring professional who became the company's head after its former leader abruptly resigned earlier this year, said that the company will "promptly" lay off most of its 18,500 employees and focus on "selling its assets to the highest bidders," a process that he expects will take about a year. He blamed a host of factors, from years of mismanagement to a lack of capital investment to legacy labor costs for the demise of the company, founded in 1927 as Schulze Baking Company.

But let's be very clear here: we're talking about Twinkies! Devil Dogs! Ding Dongs! And how are we going to build strong and healthy bodies 12 ways without Wonder Bread, that always white, always pillow-soft home for a katrillion peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that making the same on whole wheat or seven-grain or oat and barley is like smearing paste on wallboard, with a similar taste and consistency.

And what's this going to mean for the rest? If we let Hostess go, what's going to happen to the others in our all-important national snack cake industry? If Ho Hos and Suzy Q's can't be saved, what are the prospects for Little Debbie Devil Cremes, or Entenmann's All Butter Pound Cake? My wife, when she goes to the store, will occasionally surprise me with a box of Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, a treat I grew up on near Philadelphia, one for which I would gladly commit a low ranking felony. What about them, huh? I ask you: is a world in which there are no Butterscotch Krimpets a world worth inhabiting? I think not.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. Sure, today you can go to your local Stop&Shop and get a 10-pack of Twinkies for $4.29. But for how much longer? There will be only so many and then, no more. No “we expect a fresh delivery tomorrow morning.” According to Bloomberg, the smart recognize this: on EBay that same 10-pack was fetching $24.99 and four 10-packs are listed for $99.99. And the prices will only go up, you just watch.

And so I implore the government to step in. If necessary, purchase the license to the products and make them a ward of the state. No, I confess I don't relish the idea of some government bureaucrat meddling with the recipe, or subjecting the bakery to a low bidder contest, or having Food and Drug investigate exactly how it is that Drake's Cakes never go stale. But just as people were horrified when the Mitsubishi Estate Company of Japan bought Rockefeller Center, I am losing sleep that Bimbo, the giant Mexican baking conglomerate, might snap up some of Hostess' iconic brands at auction. Would a Yankee Doodle taste the same if made in Guadalajara? Are we willing to take that chance? I, for one, think we have to take action, if not for us, then for our children.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves junk food. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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