Dow Jones reports that a federal bankruptcy judge gave the go-ahead for Hostess to begin tapping a $75 million loan to keep the company above water while during bankruptcy proceedings.
Some attribute Hostess’ troubles to healthier eating habits among Americans, the USA Today article on their filing states:
Hostess has enough cash to keep stores stocked with its Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and other snacks for now. But longer term, the 87-year-old company has a bigger problem: health-conscious Americans favor yogurt and energy bars over the dessert cakes and white bread they devoured 30 years ago.
Last year, 36% of Americans ate white bread in their homes, down from 54% in 2000, according to NPD Group. Meanwhile, about 54% ate wheat bread, up from 43% in 2000.
That explanation sparked some discussion from Reason’s Nick Gillespie, who writes:
I’m not sure I’m buying that argument in its totality, but there’s no question that sliced white bread, especially Wonder Bread, went from being the staff of life for upward-striving post-War middle-classers to being a cultural touchstone for all that was bad and wrong with America. Whether we’re buying less of the stuff – or feel less in need of the myriad ways it supposedly enriches our bodies – I don’t know. But there seems less a role for white bread in a world where even the Olive Garden is pushing rustic loaves of yeast and flour.
Big Government’s Dana Loesch was skeptical, observing that the USA Today article buried facts about Hostess’ union problems and rising ingredient costs deep in the article.
It’s not difficult to sell creme-filled heaven snacks and America isn’t exactly eating healthier. If anything, America is eating leaner because the price of everything has increased eleventy-fold because the cost of energy is passed to us, the consumers.
…Hostess, a privately held company based in Irving, Texas, has outstanding debts of more than $860 million and owes over $50 million to vendors, an economic situation that sources attribute to rising prices for sugar, flour and other ingredients and higher labor costs which the company’s approximately $2.5 billion in annual sales have not been able to cover.
Additionally, Hostess employees are unionized while most of its competitors aren’t. As a result, Hostess has high pension and medical benefit costs.
While the broader trend Gillespie observes is certainly true – Trader Joe’s anyone? – it’s also true that during recessions, people adjust their purchasing habits. The stock price of McDonalds, for instance, has doubled since late 2007. Based on today’s report, it appears Loesch is right. If an agreement with the unions isn’t reached in 75 days, the terms of the loan state that Hostess could begin selling off its assets.
Also, apparently during the earlier negotiations the international parent union was representing the local chapters, which they aren’t authorized to do:
In perhaps the hearing’s most dramatic moment, Hostess President and Chief Executive Brian Driscoll took the witness stand and told a lawyer for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, or BCTGM, that he was unaware that during recent labor negotiations, the international parent union wasn’t actually authorized to negotiate on behalf of the local unions.
“Who were you negotiating for?” Driscoll asked the union’s lawyer, Bredhoff & Kaiser PLLC’s Jeffrey Freund.
“I’m asking the questions,” Freund responded.
“I would like my $900,000 back,” Driscoll said, referring to the amount of money Hostess has paid to its professionals negotiating with the unions. While Driscoll’s response elicited laughter from nearly everyone in the courtroom but himself, the back-and-forth is a clear precursor to a tough fight between Hostess and the union both in and out of the courtroom.
It’s hard out there for a snack food company, and these hamfisted union negotiations certainly don’t help. Hostess is more or less the last independent publicly-traded purveyor of snack foods with names most people have heard of. Almost all of the brands that filled the school lunchboxes of American children for decades have experienced major upheavals in the last quarter-century. The venerable Keebler (est. 1853) is in the hands of Kellogg as of 2001. Nabisco has been passed around like an, erm, Ho Ho since its merger with RJ Reynolds in 1985, and will presumably be a part of the snack-food company resulting from Kraft Foods’ planned split.
For a company like Hostess with a less diversified line of products, it’s a lot harder compensate for the cost of something like this, too.