By Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2012
Let’s get a few things clear. Hostess didn’t fail for any of the reasons you’ve been fed. It didn’t fail because Americans demanded more healthful food than its Twinkies and Ho-Hos snack cakes. It didn’t fail because its unions wanted it to die.
It failed because the people that ran it had no idea what they were doing. Every other excuse is just an attempt by the guilty to blame someone else.
Take the notion that Hostess was out of step with America’s healthful-food craze. You’d almost think that Hostess failed because it didn’t convert its product line into one based on green vegetables. Yet you only have to amble down the cookie aisle at your supermarket or stroll past the Cinnabon kiosk at the airport to know that there are still handsome profits to be made from the sale of highly refined sugary garbage.
It’s true that the company had done almost nothing in the last 10 years to modernize or expand its offerings. But as any of the millions of Americans who have succumbed to Twinkie cravings can attest, there has always been something about their greasy denseness and peculiar aftertaste that place them high among the ranks of foodstuffs that can be perfectly satisfying without actually being any good.
Hostess management’s efforts to blame union intransigence for the company’s collapse persisted right through to the Thanksgiving eve press release announcing Hostess’ liquidation, when it cited a nationwide strike by bakery workers that “crippled its operations.”
That overlooks the years of union givebacks and management bad faith. Example: Just before declaring bankruptcy for the second time in eight years Jan. 11, Hostess trebled the compensation of then-Chief Executive Brian Driscoll and raised other executives’ pay up to twofold.At the same time, the company was demanding lower wages from workers and stiffing employee pension funds of $8 million a month in payment obligations.
Hostess management hasn’t been able entirely to erase the paper trail pointing to its own derelictions. Consider a 163-page affidavit filed as part of the second bankruptcy petition.
There Driscoll outlined a “Turnaround Plan” to get the firm back on its feet. The steps included closing outmoded plants and improving the efficiency of those that remain; upgrading the company’s “aging vehicle fleet” and merging its distribution warehouses for efficiency; installing software at the warehouses to allow it to track inventory; and closing unprofitable retail stores. It also proposed to restore its advertising budget and establish an R&D program to develop new products to “maintain existing customers and attract new ones.” Continue reading