Hostess: Dead by Murder, Suicide, or Natural Causes? Uh ... Yes?
In this week's cover story, we examine the demise of Irving-based Hostess, purveyor of Wonder Bread, Ho Hos, Twinkies and Ding Dongs -- basically all the stuff you should never put in your body. These days, pretty much everything is political, even the fate of snack food.
Can blame for the company's ongoing liquidation following nearly a year in Chapter 11 proceedings be placed at the feet of the unions, which some say are grand, burdensome anachronisms in a contemporary marketplace? Others pin it on Wall Street. Like all the other companies that have been Bain Capital-ed by private equity barons, they say, Hostess got ransacked, and no wonder it went under. Look at all that debt. The company was completely upside-down!
Over the course of my reporting, however, I reached a different conclusion. There's nuance (shocker!) in the tale of the Twinkie's last, rattling gasps. Rest easy, everybody. There's plenty of blame to go around! Oh, and you probably won't be without you cream-filled sponge cake for long, if you actually eat that stuff. Like Jesus, Twinkie will almost assuredly rise from death.
In the meantime, take a look at this brief history of its storied life:
Twinkie: This Was Your Life
1849: Robert Boyd Ward establishes the Ward Baking Co. in New York City.
1925: Ward Baking is renamed Continental Baking Co. That same year, it acquires Taggart Baking Co., maker of Wonder Bread, to become the largest baker in the United States.
1930: Continental Regional Vice President James Alexander Dewar invents the Twinkie, though it wasn't the snack cake we know today. It has a banana-cream filling. The same year, Interstate Bakeries Corp. is formed out of the merger of a handful of Western bakeries, baking the popular Butternut bread.
World War II: Banana rationing forces Continental to switch that fruit-cream filling with vanilla. So is born the modern Twinkie.
1940s: Twinkies, then made of eggs and milk, spoil quickly. Polysorbate 60, a petroleum-based compound, gives the snack added longevity.
1950s: "Twinkie the Kid," the cowboy hat-wearing, lasso-wielding snack cake, makes his debut on The Howdy Doody Show, assuring parents he is both "nutritional" and an excellent source of protein.
1967: Ding Dongs and Ho Hos enter the junk-food vanguard.
1979: Dan White murders San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk. His defense: He was deeply depressed. So depressed, in fact, that he ate Twinkies gluttonously. The defense will forever be known, derisively, as "the Twinkie Defense."
1986: Minneapolis City Council candidate George Belair serves his prospective constituents Twinkies. Then he gets slapped with a bribery indictment. It doesn't stick, but the moniker "TwinkieGate" does.
1995: President William Jefferson Clinton places a Twinkie into a time capsule. It'll be opened in the year 2100. Contrary to the urban myth, the Twinkie will not be edible. Also in 1995, Interstate Bakeries buys Continental Baking along with its Hostess and Wonder lines.
2004: Interstate Bakeries files for bankruptcy. Despite having robust revenues, it is operating in the red, bloated by an overcapacity of bakeries and expensive union contracts.
2009: Following the longest and one of the largest bankruptcies in U.S. history, Interstate emerges as Hostess in the middle of the Great Recession, due in no small part to an injection of cash and some serious concessions from the unions.
2011: After a few lackluster years (to put it mildly) Hostess management comes to the unions again, seeking concessions. The rank and file won't hear of it.
2012: Hostess files for bankruptcy January 11. On October 3 the judge allows the company to toss the bakers union's collective bargaining agreement, but not the Teamsters'. On November 9, the bakers go on strike. A week later, Hostess is finished.