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Hostess fans stock up on last Twinkies, other iconic foods

Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 2:08 p.m.
 

Christina Macsurak came out of the Hostess outlet store in West Mifflin on Friday with six boxes of snack cakes, Twinkies, Ho Hos and Mini Muffins.

It was all she could buy with money she had in her pocket. But Macsurak, 37, of West Mifflin vowed to return with her sister and her debit card to get whatever might be left of the iconic bakery's stock.

“We'll buy whatever we can,” she said.

A steady stream of lovers of Twinkies and Wonder Bread visited grocers and outlet stores after bankrupt Hostess Brands Inc. said it would shut down its bakeries, putting 18,500 people out of work, and liquidate assets.

People reacted quickly online, bemoaning or joking about the company's demise on sites such as Twitter.

“Hostess was Michelle Obama's Osama bin Laden,” wrote @StevenAmiri.

“What's the only two things that can survive a nuclear holocaust? Cockroaches and Twinkies. The Twinkie couldn't survive the unions though,” wrote @DrunkPunk_.

On auction website eBay, a seller from Raleigh offered single-wrapped Twinkies for a starting bid of $5,000. There were no bids but six days left in the auction.

The company employs about 140 people in Western Pennsylvania, said Dino Taormina, business representative for Teamsters Local 926, which represents about 80 Hostess delivery drivers.

“The notification, obviously, is a shocker,” he said.

Hostess blamed the striking Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union for crippling production and accelerating Friday's liquidation request in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The union represents about 60 Hostess workers in outlet stores in West Mifflin, Butler, Washington, Dunlevy, Vanport, Monroeville and Morgantown, W.Va., and distribution hubs in Cheswick, Charleroi and Morgantown, Taormina said.

He blamed poor management by Hostess executives.

“It's not the bakery workers' fault that this company chose to shut down,” Taormina said.

Hostess CEO Greg Rayburn said no buyer has stepped up to rescue the company. Without specifying, he said Hostess might be able to sell some of its 30 brands, which include Dolly Madison and Nature's Pride snacks. Experts agreed it's likely the biggest brands would survive.

To that point, Pabst Brewing Co. owner C. Dean Metropoulos & Co. said on Friday that his company is considering an offer to buy Hostess.

“Our family would love to purchase these iconic brands,” Daren Metropoulos, a principal at the private-equity firm, said Friday in an e-mail. “We have analyzed this opportunity very carefully for a few years now. Shedding the complications of the unions and old plants makes it even more attractive.”

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 competitors, Hostess is saddled with high pension, wage and medical costs for its unionized workforce. The company faced intensifying competition from larger companies such as Mondelez International, the former snack unit of Kraft Foods that makes Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Nabisco snacks.

Hostess sent home employees at its 33 factories when it suspended operations. Its roughly 500 bakery outlet stores will stay open for several days.

A cashier in the West Mifflin store declined to comment, as did workers who answered phones at other outlets.

Customers such as Tom Klein picked over remaining baked goods on shelves. Klein, 64, of North Huntingdon emerged from the store with three bags of Twinkies and cupcakes.

“I'm not happy,” he said. “I'll miss them.”

Giant Eagle Inc. spokesman Dick Roberts said supplies of Hostess products varied by store. “We are actively working to make available larger quantities of alternative snack offerings for our customers,” he said.

Supervalu Inc., the nation's third-largest grocery store chain, said sales of Hostess items jumped. The Minnesota-based company supplies Kuhn's and Shop ‘N Save grocery stores in Western Pennsylvania.

Heather Baumgartel, 36, of South Park rushed to the West Mifflin store after her parents called about the news.

“Hurry up and get over there,” Baumgartel said they told her. She carried a shopping bag stuffed with loaves of Wonder Bread for the family's Thanksgiving dinner and a bag of Ho Hos and cupcakes, “for the kids.”

“I'd hate to see them go out of business,” she said.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report. Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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