Hostess shutting down, costing 18,500 jobs

Maker of iconic Twinkies, Wonder Bread will put brands up for sale

Hostess Brands on Friday sought bankruptcy court approval to shut down and sell its assets, including its iconic brands such as Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and Wonder Bread — a move that will cost 18,500 jobs nationwide, including 867 in Ohio, according to a company spokeswoman.

The company suspended operations at all 33 of its bakeries, including one in Cincinnati, saying that striking union workers across the country crippled its ability to maintain production.

Hostess/Wonder Bread retail stores will remain open for several days in order to sell already-baked products, the company said. The liquidation also will mean the closure of 565 distribution centers, about 5,500 delivery routes and 570 bakery outlet stores throughout the U.S.

In the Dayton area, The Wonder Hostess Bakery Outlet at 1306 Brandt Pike in Riverside and a depot-distribution center that Hostess leased at 7980 Center Point 70 Blvd. in Huber Heights will be affected. A Hostess spokeswoman said she did not know the number of employees who will be impacted at each site.

The mood at the Brandt Pike retail bakery outlet was somber Friday afternoon. Employees and customers shared hugs and promises to stay in touch via Facebook, and the conversation among workers turned to filing for unemployment benefits.

Employees, who said they had been told not to grant interviews to reporters, told customers the store was supposed to stay open through Wednesday or until supplies ran out. But customers had scooped up all of the most recognizable brand snacks such as Twinkies by 3 p.m. Friday.

That was a disappointment to Rachel Vanwey of Huber Heights, who arrived at the Riverside bakery outlet with two family members after she heard the news of the company’s demise.

“We came here to get some Twinkies,” Vanwey said — some to eat, and perhaps some to save. She said she and her family are “very upset” over the closing, and she blamed the striking union for the company’s decision.

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A spokesman for Meijer stores said customers were “scooping up” Hostess snack cakes at its Kettering store Friday, which was sold out of some Hostess products by mid-afternoon. “People did some bulk buying,” a store spokesman said.

Hostess CEO Greg Rayburn said in an interview that there was no buyer waiting in the wings to rescue the company, according to the Associated Press. But without giving details, he said that there has been interest in some of its 30 brands, which also include Dolly Madison and Nature’s Pride snacks. Experts agreed that it was likely the biggest brands would survive.

Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, filed for Chapter 11 protection in January, its second trip through bankruptcy court in less than three years. Unlike many of its competitors, Hostess had been saddled with high pension, wage and medical costs related to its unionized workforce, according to the AP. The company also faced intensifying competition from larger companies such as Mondelez International, which makes Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Nabisco.

The move to liquidate comes after a long battle with its unions. Thousands of members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union went on strike last week after rejecting a contract offer that slashed wages and benefits. The bakers union represents about 30 percent of the company’s workforce. A representative for the bakers union did not immediately return a call from the AP seeking comment Friday.

Although many workers decided to cross picket lines this week, Hostess said it wasn’t enough to keep operations at normal levels; three plants were closed earlier this week. Rayburn said Hostess was already operating on thin margins and that the strike was a final blow.

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