Hostess snacks fly off shelves

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

Buying a Twinkie in the Mother Lode right now could be a challenge.

With the once-ubiquitous snack cake's future in jeopardy, supplies of the cream-filled sponge cake are dwindling.

Hostess Brands, which manufactures Twinkies as well as a line of cream filled cupcakes, mini-donuts, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and other sweet cakes and snacks, announced last week that it's shutting down all bakery operations and going out of business.

A search by The Union Democrat failed to turn up any Twinkies in multiple Sonora-area grocery stores. Save Mart and Price Co. did carry a handful of Hostess products on Monday, though Safeway, Cost U Less, Wal Mart and Grocery Outlet did not have any on the shelves.

About a half-dozen convenience stores had nearly or completely bare Hostess-labeled shelves where the snacks were previously stocked.

"What we have in our stores is all that is available," Alicia Rockwell, spokeswoman for the Modesto-based Save Mart, which has locations in Sonora and Angels Camp, said in an e-mail.

That means no more shipments to one of the area's biggest grocers for now.

While in federal bankruptcy court, Hostess Brands requested to liquidate and sell off the company's assets in the midst of a worker strike. The company operates 33 plants. It does about $2.5 billion a year in business, but company officials have said the strike is costing $1 million a day.

It went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this decade.

In court documents, Hostess attributed the financial problems to debt, rising labor costs, changes in consumer tastes and management turmoil.

After the liquidation announcement, Hostess fans started buying up the product around the country to stock up. Ads for the snacks started popping up on Internet vendor and auction sites. Craigslist, the popular online classified website, lists dozens of ads from people selling boxes of Hostess snacks in Northern California for prices ranging from around $25 to hundreds of dollars.

None of the sellers were listed from Calaveras County or Tuolumne County.

Twinkie fanatics do have some hope, however, that their favorite snack will be back on shelves. On Monday, a judge told Hostess and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, to go into mediation talks and try to solve the ongoing contract dispute.

The parties will begin mediation today to try and pull off a last-minute agreement. The union went on strike Nov. 9. While the union rejected the last contract proposal, it never filed an official objection.

"Many people, myself included, have serious questions as to the logic behind this strike," said Judge Robert Drain, who heard the case in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York in White Plains, N.Y. "Not to have gone through that step leaves a huge question mark in this case."

And even if Hostess goes out of business, its popular brands will likely find a second life after being snapped up by buyers. The company says several potential buyers have expressed interest in the brands.

Despite declining sales in recent years, the multi-billion-dollar brand is still attractive. Twinkies alone brought in $68 million so far this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Union Democrat
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