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Twinkies baker files for bankruptcy protection

Bob Moon Jan 10, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: I’m sad to have to say this — not so much for the kids of today — but for the kids of days of yesteryear when parents paid less attention to what we ate, but the company behind such culinary marvels as Twinkies, Ding-Dongs and Wonder Bread may be facing bankruptcy.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported Hostess Brands is preparing a Chapter 11 filing. It would be the second go-round with the bankruptcy courts for Hostess, this country’s biggest distributor of fresh bakery products. After more than 80 years in business, Hostess is still, literally, a household name.

But our senior business correspondent Bob Moon reports its familiar brands are looking a little stale.

Bob Moon:Imagine a world without Twinkies.

Scene from “Zombieland”: You’re going to risk our lives for a Twinkie? There’s a box of Twinkies in that grocery store. Not just any box of Twinkies, the last box of Twinkies that anyone will enjoy in the whole universe!

In the movie “Zombieland,” it was the walking dead who threatened to make Twinkies a thing of the past. But in real life, branding expert Harvey Hartman says consumers have simply outgrown the kinds of products Hostess Brands is known for.

Harvey Hartman: It’s not that we don’t like them. We do like them, because our mother introduced us to those brands. But they’re not as relevant to us because, unfortunately, many of those brands have not changed with us.

Hartman says fresh, healthy brands are what sells these days. Bad news for Wonder Bread. At Janney Montgomery Scott, food industry analyst Mitch Pinheiro says Hostess has been saddled with its white-bread image. Its Nature’s Pride whole-wheat bread has a small presence on store shelves, though sales are up. Too little, too late, Pinheiro says.

Mitch Pinheiro: As a whole company, you know, it’s hard to find anyone that we think would have an interest in the business. Pieces of the company, perhaps, but not the company itself.

Branding consultant Rob Frankel agrees the company might be worth more in pieces.

Rob Frankel: They may well find they can derive more value off of selling off their product lines, than the actual master brand of Hostess itself.

Which may mean it won’t take a gun-toting tough guy to search out the world’s last spongy, cream-filled treat.

“Zombieland” scene: Someday very soon, life’s little Twinkie-gauge is gonna go empty.

Analyst Mitch Pinheiro doubts we’ve seen the last of the Twinkie brand.

Pinheiro: It’s worth something to somebody. It’s probably their best asset — for good and for bad.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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