Thursday, January 12, 2012

Twinkie bankruptcy: time to nut up or shut up

I was overcome by an alien impulse as I strolled down nutritionally desolate aisle 6 of the local grocery store.


Seize the Twinkies!


News that Hostess Brands, makers of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos, was going bankrupt had apparently triggered a run on the golden sponge cakes with creamy fillings.


Some Twinkie fiends had already laid siege to the shelf. There were only three 10-packs of the indestructible treats still for sale for $4.29 each.


The boxes show the smilin’ Twinkie the Kid cowboy, the creation of some former art student who may once have fancied him or herself the next Picasso, and a supersized Twinkie with the nitpicky legal disclaimer “Product Enlarged to Show Detail.”


That Twinkies were sinking is something that just last year would never have registered with me.


It’s probably been more than 30 years since I’d last eaten one.


If that makes me sound like some sort of snack food snob, it’s misleading.


I eat tons of crap. I love chips, pretzels and about any dark sweetness produced in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a lovely company town that looks like all company towns would look if companies were run by 6 year olds.


And, as I’ve said before, the day chickens start laying Cadbury eggs is the day I become a chicken farmer.


So while the Twinkie’s never tickled my taste buds, something about its forbidden waste always tempted.


The reason I felt compelled to start hoarding Twinkies has less to do with the unsinkable pastry -- for experimental purposes I just submerged one an hour ago (still afloat) -- than it does with Tallahassee.


Not the city.


I’m talking about Tallahassee, the redneck zombie slayer.


Tallahassee is the name of the Woody Harrelson character from the uproarious 2009 movie, “Zombieland.”


It’s a difficult comedy to sell to dainty viewers who are put off by films that include graphic scenes of the living dead feasting on human flesh.


So now when people ask me what “Zombieland” is about, I never say it’s about zombies.


I say it’s about one man’s quest for the world’s last Twinkie.


And it is.


Tallahassee -- to prevent from becoming too familiar, they call each other by their hometowns -- realizes that the zombie apocalypse means production of his beloved Twinkies has forever ceased.


Somewhere exists, he knows, a box of Twinkies.


“Not just any box of Twinkies, the last box of Twinkies that anyone will enjoy in the whole universe. Believe it or not, Twinkies have an expiration date. Some day very soon, life’s little Twinkie gauge is gonna go . . . empty.”


So, being a careful sort, I had to buy a 10-pack.


Like I said, I haven’t eaten a Twinkie since the late 1970s, but something about them has always beckoned. It’s just so iconic.


It’s the subject of a book I have to get around to reading. It’s Steve Ettlinger’s “Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover how the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined) and Manipulated into What America Eats.”


Ettlinger explores how things like Polysorbate 60, Sodium Caseinate and beef fat become part of a simple snack cake.


The concept is pure genius.


I showed Val the box of Twinkies like it was a new puppy.


“Look at this!” I said. “I’ll bet I haven’t had a Twinkie since 1979!”


“That’s probably about when those Twinkies were made,” she observed.


Deciding to savor the anticipation, I put the box aside until the kids were in bed.


Coincidentally, Val had taped a movie made at roughly the same time she suspects the Twinkies were. It was “Broadcast News” from 1976.


What a great, prophetic movie.


It’s funny, because I grew up in the ‘70s and remember it being a time of innocent joy. There was The Partridge Family, Speed Racer, The Steel Curtain and the dawning awareness that life was getting more interesting as one-by-one the girls began filling out their sweaters.


“Broadcast News” reminded me of all the unholy tumult that was off the radar for a boy who’d yet to grasp the importance of the daily news.


There was Patty Hearst, the Munich Olympics, Pol Pot, Watergate, the Nixon pardon and the chaotic conclusion of the Vietnam War.


It wasn’t nearly as idyllic as I remember. Sure, parts of it were decent, but overall it hurt a lot of people and left a bad aftertaste.


You know what?


So did the Twinkie.


6 comments:

Alana Elderkin said...

At this point, bankruptcy is only an obstacle in the company’s climb back to relevance. Twinkie is actually one of most-loved American snack cakes before the company went bankrupt. After filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, I think Hostess wants to avoid liquidation because they want to attract investors to keep the business going.

Alana Elderkin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Rodell said...

Right on, Alana. Long live the Twinkie!

Louisa Matsuura said...

Well, it’s a smart move that they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy instead of liquidating. This way, they will still have an option to restructure and continue business operations. The whole process may be quite expensive, risky, time-consuming and complex, but it is the best way for the business to survive. And I think Twinkie deserves that second chance.

Cade Culpepper said...

It was a very smart move. They are actually on a very challenging (in a good way) situation right now. It's for them to be able to have a better marketing concept and a better mixture of the ingredients. If they'll be able to respond the right way, everything should be fine.

Cade Culpepper

Chris Rodell said...

Hallelujah! Thanks for the good insights, Cade. Happy New Year!