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Twilight for the Twinkies

Hostess Brands will close down amid labor turmoil

– Twinkies may not last forever after all.

Hostess Brands Inc., the maker of the spongy snack with a mysterious cream filling, said Friday it would shutter after years of struggling with management turmoil, rising labor costs and the ever-changing tastes of Americans even as its pantry of sugary cakes seemed suspended in time.

Some of Hostess’ beloved brands such as Ding Dongs and Ho Ho’s likely will be snapped up by buyers and find a second life, but for now the company says its snack cakes should be on shelves for another week or so. The news stoked an outpouring of nostalgia around kitchen tables, water coolers and online as people relived childhood memories of their favorite Hostess goodies.

Hostess had a plant in Defiance, Ohio, and a Hostess Brands thrift store in Fort Wayne.

It’s a sober end to a storied company. Hostess, whose roster of brands dates as far back as 1888, hadn’t invested heavily in marketing or innovation in recent years as it struggled with debt and management changes.

As larger competitors inundated supermarket shelves with an array of new snacks and variations on popular brands, Hostess cakes seemed caught in a bygone time. The company took small stabs at keeping up with Americans’ movement toward healthier foods, such as the introduction of its 100-calorie packs of cupcakes.

But the efforts did little to change its image as a purveyor of empty calories with a seemingly unlimited shelf life: Twinkies, for instance, have 150 calories and 4.5 grams of fat. Meanwhile, a Ding Dong chocolate cake with filling has 368 calories and 19.4 grams of fat.

Even taking into account changing tastes and competition, Hostess’ problems were ultimately rooted in its financials. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January – the company’s second in less than a decade. Its predecessor company, Interstate Bakeries, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004 and changed its name to Hostess after emerging in 2009.

Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, had been saddled with high pension, wage and medical costs related to its unionized workforce.

Hostess filed a motion to liquidate Friday with U.S. Bankruptcy Court after it said striking workers across the country crippled its ability to maintain production. The shuttering means the loss of about 18,500 jobs. Hostess said employees at its 33 factories were sent home and operations suspended Friday. Its roughly 500 bakery outlet stores will stay open for several days to sell remaining products.

CEO Gregory Rayburn, who was hired as a restructuring expert, said Friday that the company booked about $2.5 billion in revenue a year, and that sales volume was flat to slightly down in recent years.

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