Twinkie the Kid Rides Into the Sunset

I was just about to start my lunch when my very good friend, the Dread Lord of Bakery, pinged me with a woeful lament about the end of the Twinkie. Naturally curious, I asked why he was mourning the snack cake that would outlive us all, and he told me.

Hostess is filing for bankruptcy and shutting down.

Apparently the making and distribution of snack cakes cannot even be free of partisan wrangling, with those on the left cheering this as a union victory, the loss of the company being the result of mismanagement. Those on the right point to the danger of unions which have cost the jobs of 18,000-some workers. I suspect that it’s not nearly so simple as either of those interpretations (don’t get used to me taking the middle road), and what it came down to was a company on the brink of failure that needed its employees to work for far less than they could possibly live on. The union negotiations were just delaying the inevitable and employees who are laid off are in no worse shape than they would have been if they were working for wages that couldn’t sustain them, if not better shape.

For once, though, I’m less interested in the left/right narrative battle than I am in the inside baseball of what this could mean. The DLoB and I sort of teased this out and, while neither of us are economists, he has his finger on the pulse of the food industry and I…well, I read a whole lot. People with more informed opinions are encouraged to comment.

Our thought is that this is going to lead to a short period of turmoil as demand suddenly drops for the products necessary to run an operation like Hostess. They’ll take a year to wind down, but it’ll still be a pretty weird next few months just from the news and that they’re canceling orders already. However, I don’t think Wonder Bread will suddenly disappear off of shelves, and most likely other companies will swoop in and start buying the brands piecemeal. Part of why I’m not too concerned for the laid off workers is that I suspect that in a lot of cases the new companies, rather than trying to start up operations someplace else, will take the already-outfitted factories and hire the already-trained employees. Not all of them, but I suspect a significant portion.

What I would like to see, though, is rather than this forcing the food industry to close ranks and gobble up what’s left of Hostess so we end up with bigger, more bloated corporate entities with even less competition, that this allows some smaller operations to rise to fill that niche. This could not only introduce us to new foods, but also continue the shift toward healthier consumables that has been evident for the past decade or so.

The Dread Lord of Bakery thinks we might also see a rise in the viability of local bakeries. If prices rise, which they likely will, on grocery store snack cakes, people may be more willing to eat the better, healthier, and all around more awesome selections at their local establishments. If the big operations take time to roll out their “Hostess” cakes, the vacuum left by the makers of HoHos might be filled instead by corner stores. It’s a long shot, but I’m a bit of a dreamer and think this would be better for us overall.

No, we’re not going to see these products disappear, but the prices may fluctuate and the formulas may change. Either way, now might be an excellent time to Google for your local bakery and give them some business. Even those things we’re used to may change, but sometimes it takes news like this to cause us to re-examine our habits and ask whether there may not be better options.

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