If you haven’t heard, Hostess is filing for bankruptcy. Hostess Brands, known for making iconic snacks such as Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos, is closing its plants, letting go of 18,000 workers, and totally liquidating its assets.
A massive union strike and tremendous debt brought them here. But underneath it all, the real reason why Hostess failed is because of its lack of empathy both to the needs of its workers and to the needs of its customers.
In a statement on their website from CEO Gregory F. Rayburn, Hostess Brands “has been forced by a Bakers Union strike to shut down all operations and sell all company assets….We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike.” It seems the gap between management and the union has grown ever-wider over the last several years.
Rayburn replaced former CEO Brian Driscoll earlier this year, who had been criticized for his enormous salary increase. The company has had six CEOs in the last decade. According to the Washington Post, “That kind of turnover is not typically a good environment for labor relations, in which a history of past successes between leaders and unions can be drawn upon for future goodwill.”
Hostess has threatened bankruptcy many times before, often as a negotiation tactic when the union made requests to which they didn’t want to comply. Like someone who threatens to walk out of a relationship every time they don’t get their way. They have chosen intimidation over communication, time and time again.
This isn’t just apathy, it’s antipathy. Hostess is really short for hostility.
Of course Fox News blames the stubbornness of a small union in taking down the 82-year-old manufacturing giant. But in reality, Hostess has been slashing pensions and eliminating benefits for years. The members of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) finally had enough. More than 92% rejected Hostess Brands’ last and final offer, ratified by the union. This caused a strike starting November 9 that stopped production at 12 of its 33 plants. The union represents about 5,000 of the 18,500 Hostess workers.
The Bakers Union blames staggering debt and a history of mismanagement for the company’s demise. It is reported that Hostess stopped making contractually obligated payments to the workers’ pension plan more than a year ago, and due to the company’s debt, had been trying to cut wages and benefits by as much as 32%.
So why is Hostess Brands in so much debt? Why have they been throwing their employees under the bus in order to save their business? Because they’re hemorrhaging customers. As Americans have become more conscious of what they eat, Hostess refused to diversify its product offerings.
“The fatal flaw is they continued to be mainly white bread when the whole category shifted to variety,” a competitor said to the NY Post.
Hostess has failed to take care of their customers’ evolving needs and instead has chosen to poison them. Now you may or may not know that I’m a foodie and a locavore, so please understand where I’m coming from. I care deeply about where food originates and how it affects our bodies. I believe a lack of food education is what has caused the global obesity pandemic. And the supposed food manufacturers are sticking the needle in our arm.
Simply put, Twinkies are not food, and neither is anything Hostess Brands makes. It’s all artificial flavors, genetically modified ingredients, and chemicals. These are not treats we should be encouraging our children to eat (nor each other) — regardless of how much it reminds us of our childhoods.
I’m in no way suggesting that all foods have to be health foods. I’m all for sweets — a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, a stick of butter, a pound of chocolate. I’m the first to indulge.
What I’m talking about here are non-foods. Hostess products are filled with ingredients that simply are not food. They are synthetic. Food comes from nature. Twinkies are made in a lab.
Let’s take a closer look at the Twinkie to get a better sense of how Hostess really treats their customers. There are 37 ingredients in a Twinkie, and by my count, only 11 of them are actually food. Try buying the ingredients at the store to make this:
- Enriched bleached wheat flour
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Animal shortening
- Corn dextrin
- Soy lecithin
- Modified corn starch
- Corn flour
- Baking soda
- Cellulose gum
- Sodium stearoyl lactylate
- Polysorbate 60
- Sorbic acid
- Mono calcium phosphate
- Sodium acid pyrophosphate
- Sweet dairy whey
- Soy protein isolate
- Calcium caseinate
- Sodium caseinate
- Soy flour
- FD&C Yellow #5
- Red #40
- Calcium sulfate
- Folic acid
- Thiamine mononitrate
If you want to see what these ingredients actually look like, I highly recommend you check out Dwight Eschliman’s photo project 37 or So Ingredients.
Now here are a few details for you as to what these ingredients really are:
- Dextrose – chemical used for nutrient replacement
- Corn dextrin – thickening agent
- Monoglyceride – hydrogenated fat, cell extract to extend shelf-life
- Diglyceride – hydrogenated fat, artificial hardening agent
- Sodium stearoyl lactylate – manufactured from lactic acid to extend shelf-life
- Polysorbate 60 – chemical derivative of sugar alcohols, reduces surface tension of liquids and creams
- Mono calcium phosphate – chemical compound used as a leavening agent (also used as fertilizer)
- Sodium acid pyrophosphate – manufactured acid used as leavening agent (also used as leather treatment)
- Calcium and sodium caseinate – manufactured milk protein used by bodybuilders to slow digestion (also used in paint, glue and plastics)
- Red 40 – chemical dye that is known to cause hyperactivity and learning problems in children, as well as DNA damage and cancer
- Yellow 5 – chemical dye that is known to cause anxiety, depression, migraines, weakness. The food standards board in the UK has called for a voluntary removal of these dyes
- Calcium sulfate – industrial chemical used as a coagulant
- Folic acid – B-complex vitamin used to treat low red blood cell count
- Niacin – B-complex vitamin used to reduce cholesterol and fatty substances in blood, used to boost energy production
- Along with niacin and folic acid, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin and iron are added to flour to replace what is lost during processing
Does all of this sound like something we should be putting into our bodies? Even once in a while?
By disregarding the well-being of its customers and its employees, the once-iconic brand has buried itself. Once again they have proven that empathy is the most essential ingredient for continued success. It’s a travesty that 18,000 people are now out of a job, but their employment should not have been at the cost of our health.
My greatest hope is that this will be a warning signal to other artificial food manufacturers to start listening to the market, and lead their teams with humanity and insight into the next generation.
- On Empathy and Apathy: Two Case Studies August 21, 2012 | 49 comments
- The Flawed Dining Experience at Hill Country August 13, 2009 | 5 comments
- How “When I…” Reasoning Poisons a Team August 16, 2012 | 9 comments
- User Experience is Not Enough April 21, 2012 | 43 comments
- The Purpose of a Business is to Create a Customer August 13, 2012 | 12 comments