We Still Love You Twinkies, Just Not Wonder Bread

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I know I shouldn’t be spending so much time thinking about Ding Dongs, but I am.

Some of my greatest childhood memories are of lunchtimes in the school cafeteria; the great joy of finishing my bag of Fritos then carefully unwrapping that scrumptious little silver puck. And it’s this nostalgia that has made me want to understand how an American mainstay like Hostess—a company that's more than 80 years old—is going out of business.

Hostess has cited deep costs associated with union negotiations being the root cause of the company’s November bankruptcy filing.  According to a December 21 Washington Post article, “The company’s demise came after years of management turmoil and turnover, with workers saying the company failed to invest in updating its snack cakes and breads.”

And I think the workers may be (at least partially) right.

Upon initially hearing the news, two words sprung to mind: Colorado and Washington. How in the world could a junk food maker file for bankruptcy the same month two states get flooded with people who consume little else besides Twinkies?

On November 15th, late-night talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel joked, "Colorado and Washington just legalized marijuana. If Hostess can't figure out a way to make money off of that, then maybe they shouldn't be in the snack cake industry.” But that’s just it, they’re not just in the snack cake industry—they’re also in the bread industry.
While we may not yet have evolved to abstain from eating satisfying—yet highly unhealthy—foods like Twinkies (get a closer look at what’s in a Twinkie here) and Ho Hos, we have developed certain standards around the breads we eat. We now understand the nutritional importance of a fiber-rich diet, a diet loaded with whole grains. More importantly, we do try and avoid foods with high fructose corn syrup and piles of preservatives (aka Wonder Bread).

A November 16thChicago Magazine article backs up my suspicions. The piece points out that Hostess was late to jump on the whole grain band wagon, not introducing healthier bread varieties until 2008. Worse yet, the company also tried to give their breads a longer shelf life, slowly loading them with more and more preservatives.

The good news is that we may not have to say “goodbye” to Twinkies forever after all. The company announced on December 21st that it will sell off its individual brands. According to the same Washington Post article, “Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, has said potential buyers include major packaged food companies and national retailers, such as big-box retailers and supermarkets.”

Hostess may have failed at keeping up with changing bread standards and not marketing their sinful snack foods, but I’ll bet the new owners will be ready with a plan to capitalize on our American nostalgia—and the growing number of states full of people with the munchies.

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