Hostess treats their customers as badly as they treat their employees

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:

  1. Enriched bleached wheat flour
  2. Water
  3. Sugar
  4. Corn syrup
  5. High fructose corn syrup
  6. Partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil
  7. Animal shortening
  8. Eggs
  9. Dextrose
  10. Corn dextrin
  11. Soy lecithin
  12. Salt
  13. Modified corn starch
  14. Corn flour
  15. Baking soda
  16. Glucose
  17. Monoglyceride
  18. Diglyceride
  19. Cellulose gum
  20. Sodium stearoyl lactylate
  21. Polysorbate 60
  22. Sorbic acid
  23. Mono calcium phosphate
  24. Sodium acid pyrophosphate
  25. Sweet dairy whey
  26. Soy protein isolate
  27. Calcium caseinate
  28. Sodium caseinate
  29. Soy flour
  30. FD&C Yellow #5
  31. Red #40
  32. Calcium sulfate
  33. Folic acid
  34. Niacin
  35. Thiamine mononitrate
  36. Riboflavin
  37. Iron

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.

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  1. says

    This entire series you’re doing on empathy is really fascinating. It makes me think of that book from a few years ago about emotional intelligence. The other day my 15 year old grandchild asked me, “Can’t Democrats be rich?” I answered, “Yes they can, but what they do with their money is different. For example, Oprah is really rich but look at all the money she gives away. She’s not shipping off to the Caymen Islands to stash it away all for herself.” Which brings me to empathy. I think the reason people are so angry with the 1% is because they are acting like Hostess. There’s no empathy for anyone in their decision making. There’s no emotional intelligence to greed.

  2. Esmertina says

    My two reactions on hearing the news (which was reported as a union destroying an American icon) went something like this:
    1) Dudes. If you can’t afford to pay the people who keep you in business, you don’t deserve to be in business. You’re really blaming your bakers for wanting fair pay and benefits?
    2) This isn’t a labor dispute, it’s an exit strategy. They know processed white flour baked goods are a declining industry and they’re choosing to cash out rather than adapt.
    Only later did I learn that the CEO had tripled his salary to more than 2 1/2 million dollars, and that others on the executive team were in the high hundreds of thousands. Really??
    The only thing that stops me from crying class war is that the Hostess execs and right wing media have shown NO class whatsoever in this whole episode.

  3. says

    The minute I finished In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, I realized that the entire majority of food producers in this country have zero empathy for the growers of their products, the eaters of their products, or even themselves as companies, because of their use of like you said, chemicals and things that aren’t food in their foods.

    The sooner we as a society, realize that we have a responsibility to ourselves to understand the decisions and implications of the things we eat the better off we’ll be. The problem is, that like all other forms of oppression, this affects poorer people moreso than affluent people. Poor people are poor in a lot of ways, not only monetarily, but diet-wise, in choice of medicine, in employers, in education, basically in everything.

    The only way that we’ll be able to stem the tide of obesity in America is to do it at the local level and give people of all social strata an understanding that FOOD is food, not chemical laden food.

    In the future, I would like to see more community gardens with classes on horticulture in urban areas that produce more food and give to neighborhoods that can’t afford good food. Of course, people will think I’m a communist for even SAYING that. So be it. I feel that it’s better to teach a man to fish, then to just give him one that has fourteen eyes because of a chemical spill that happened 24 years ago. Sorry, I know this got rambly. ;)

  4. says

    It’s a sad situation. My son spent the day Saturday with a friend whose father worked for Hostess. He said they have no food in the house and no money. The dad is filing for unemployment, and everyone in the family is looking for work, but with no luck. Hopefully things will look up for them.

    I think what Esmertina says rings true. At the point where it looks more attractive for the executives running a company to cannibalize it and bail out with their golden parachutes, that’s exactly what they are going to do.


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