The Manufacturer Behind the Hostess Revival

fried twinkie on a stickHostess products are part and parcel of the ethos of Americana. Sure, some people think Twinkies are pieces of plastic sponge that will last through Armageddon, but it’s hard to deny the allure of Donettes, Hostess cupcakes with their creme-filled core, Ding Dongs, Ho-Hos, Sno Balls, and other signature products that have become American icons. In fact, over half a billion Twinkies are made each year—talk about sales volume…

However, recent years have seen a sales drop for the little cakes and in fact, three years ago, Hostess products disappeared from shelves entirely. The company filed a motion for bankruptcy, which meant closing 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, 5,500 delivery routes, and 570 bakery and outlet stores. As you might imagine, this also meant that 18,000 employees were laid off–a catastrophic blow for thousands, and a manufacturer’s nightmare.

When the products left the shelves, customers finally realized that they loved the sweet treats too much. Dean Metropoulous, CEO of Hostess Brands, LLC told Manufacturing.net, “When Hostess products disappeared last year, there was an incredible groundswell of emotion from consumers who couldn’t imagine a world without Hostess snack cakes. That’s why we’re here today; America wanted its snacks back—they wanted the original, and we’re honored to make that happen.”

It’s a striking example of the way manufacturers insert themselves and their products into culture without even realizing it: The products are more than just products, but an aspect of American consciousness. In an article last week from the Kansas City Star, Diane Stafford reports that as such, Hostess operations have regenerated in a new Emporia, Kansas, plant. Stafford followed Paul Frankum, president of Flowers Baking Co., through the 137,000 foot bakery floor, with its maze of conveyor belts and metal stairs, to see freshly sliced loaves of Wonder Bread and other products from both Flowers Baking and Hostess roll down the line.

Much of the credit for the smoothness of operations goes to Amber Mangiaracino, the plant’s director of manufacturing and a grain science major from Kansas State University. Part of the difference in operations comes from Frankum and Magiaracino’s decision to employ only workers with no union affiliations, a response to the labor turmoil that contributed to the ultimate shuttering of Hostess’ doors back in 2012. Other changes include more than $40 million in upgrades to the plant, including turning two of the snack cake lines into lightning-fast operations: filling those Twinkies now takes a blink of the eye.

It seems that despite the tough times of a few years ago, Hostess is back where they’ve always been: at the forefront of manufacturing’s evolution. Increased automation, labor reduction, and localization of their factories all seem to fit the mold (so to speak) of where manufacturing is predicted to head.

As Anthony Michael Sabino, a business professor at St. John’s University, explains on Manufacturing.net, “The iconic treat’s new owners want to be certain they don’t repeat the mistakes of Twinkies’ prior owners, whose inability to cover costs drove them into bankruptcy twice… You take a beloved but money-losing brand, reshape its finances, and crank out the newer, albeit smaller version. It’s worked with airlines and carmakers. Why not America’s most beloved snack food?”

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