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Published: Friday, 11/23/2012

Troubled treats

Hostess Brands has been in trouble for years. As Interstate Bakeries, the company sought bankruptcy protection in 2004. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, but only after it closed nine bakeries and 300 outlet stores.

Hostess declared bankruptcy again in January, 2012. It blames unions that represent many Hostess workers for the company’s financial problems, especially pension and medical costs for retired employees.

Union leaders say the problem is bad leadership, and point to huge raises given to top executives at the same time that the company complained that its workers were overpaid.

If the company shuts down, more than 18,000 people will lose their jobs. Among them are workers at Hostess bakeries in Northwood and Defiance, as well as at outlet stores in Toledo and Northwood.

Most snack-cake lovers appreciate the impact of losing that many jobs. But they don’t want to lose their Twinkies, cupcakes, Ding Dongs, and Sno Balls.

Hostess Cupcakes have been around for more than 90 years. Twinkies were invented in 1930. The brands became part of Interstate Brands in 1995, before the downhill slide began and the company changed its name to take advantage of the nostalgia value of the Hostess name.

The heavily processed cakes aren’t part of a healthy diet, but they’re not evil. Their portion sizes haven’t changed in decades, so they might even be better for you than gigantic double-chocolate muffins or Danish pastries the size of dinner plates.

But eating a snack cake isn’t about health. It’s about guilty pleasure, spongy cake, icing squiggles, and marshmallow frosting.

Need proof? Scores of Toledo-area consumers stocked up on their favorite confections after Hostess announced it would liquidate. Others filled their freezers with Wonder Bread, cookies, and doughnuts.

It’s also about memory. As they stripped store shelves, many shoppers said they remembered the cream-filled cakes as a childhood treat or a lunch-box staple.

Experts say potential buyers have expressed interest in Hostess’ better-known brands. After last-minute mediation talks ordered by a bankruptcy judge failed this week, new ownership may be the only way to save most of the bakery jobs and the iconic snacks.



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