Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
BLACK FRIDAY DEAL: Trust the World's Fastest VPN with Your Internet Security & Freedom--A Lifetime Subscription of PureVPN at $48 with coupon code "BFRIDAY20" ×
Robotics Businesses United States

Hostess Saves Twinkies By Automating, Fires 94% Of Their Workforce (washingtonpost.com) 474

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Where Twinkie once employed 22,000 workers in more than 40 bakeries, their workforce is now down to just 1,170, reports the Washington Post, relying mostly on robotic arms and other forms of automation. "This 500-person plant produces more than 1 million Twinkies a day, 400 million a year. That's 80% of Hostess' total output -- output that under the old regime required 14 plants and 9,000 employees."

"We like to think of ourselves as a billion-dollar startup," Hostess chief executive Bill Toler said Tuesday, announcing that Hostess Brands, which had twice filed for bankruptcy, now plans to become a publicly-listed company valued at $2.3 billion.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Hostess Saves Twinkies By Automating, Fires 94% Of Their Workforce

Comments Filter:
  • by fred soksabay ( 3457337 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @12:39PM (#52483639)
    bloody 'ell mate they taste like cardboard now.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 10, 2016 @12:47PM (#52483695)

      As if the taste was any better before.

      • They used real cream back in the 1960's.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          They used real cream back in the 1960's.

          Welcome to the modern era of cost-cutting, shortcuts and quick profits. Long-term strategies need not apply.

          • by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @08:50PM (#52486073)

            They used real cream back in the 1960's.

            Welcome to the modern era of cost-cutting, shortcuts and quick profits. Long-term strategies need not apply.

            No they didn't, that was back in the 30's when the twinkie underwent a big change, and the reason they changed it was because the key ingredient of a twinkie no longer existed. They made twinkies out of actual bananas. The reason they stopped doing both bananas and cream was because both were rationed in WWII (partly due to the gross michel extinction, with the cavendish not making it to mass market quite yet, among other general supply problems that existed at the time caused them to switch to vanilla creme.) After that period, everybody's palate changed and they adapted to the new taste. Depressions tend to do that.

            Even if they wanted to go back to the old taste, they couldn't. The gross michel banana is gone and it's not coming back; instead we have the cavendish now which is very bland in comparison, and even it is going to die soon because like their predecessor, all cavendish bananas are clones of one another. This MUST be the case though, because real bananas that can reproduce on their own don't have much actual fruit in them, and have seeds that are as hard as a rock and will break your teeth if you try to chew them. We might be able to resurrect the gross michel with GMO to make them more resilient to the fungus that killed them, but who knows because we can't even have golden rice because Greenpeace declared war on it.

            At any rate, back in 2011 Hostess reintroduced the original twinkie (as best they could; remember, no more gross michel, so it's literally impossible for them to reproduce the original taste without adding sugar and other stuff) only nobody really bought it. People got used to the post-depression twinkie as its taste had already become so iconic over the years, and so that's what people want.

            • The Gros Michel banana is not extinct. It just is rarely grown because it's vulnerable to a blight, and growing an entire field of it practically guarantees that you'll lose your crop. It is grown in smaller crops to guard against this. You can get them, but not cheaply, and not at your store.
        • They used real cream back in the 1960's.

          So the legend has it....

          The sugar rush from eating one of those on a little kid back then had about the same effect as taking one of Roger Ramjet's proton pills [youtube.com].

          Roger Ramjet is great, super classic 1960s Saturday morning TV. Still funny after 50 years.

        • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Sunday July 10, 2016 @03:45PM (#52484683)

          "They used real cream back in the 1960's."

          Hardly. I ate a few from the early sixties yesterday, and they tasted just like the 'new' ones.

        • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @04:16PM (#52484795)

          Real cream never had the shelf life.

          I was whipped sweetened lard, then it became whipped sweetened hydrogenated vegetable oil.

      • I never really ate Hostess products, but the new company is not making a fresh product anymore. They consolidated everything to 3 plants and freeze it for delivery. What they are selling is not exactly the same, whether that is enough to reduce their sales is something else so we have to wait and see.

        • What is sad is the fruit pies are complete garbage now, in fact the cheap generic fruit pies actually have more fruit in them than a Hostess does. It used to be a Hostess fruit pie was the best you could get, you couldn't take a bite without just piles of fruit, now you are lucky if there is 3 pieces of fruit in the whole nasty thing, its just gross HFCS with artificial flavoring.

          BTW before anybody brings up the fact that Wonder Bread is still good? A different company bought the Wonder Bread brand and they still make a quality product. I've tried all the "new Hostess" products and frankly the generic knock offs taste better, Hostess snacks now taste like overpriced cardboard and is one of those companies like Atari that lives solely to mine whatever nostalgia they can because their new products simply cannot compete with their old ones.

          • by RubberDogBone ( 851604 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @06:03PM (#52485315)

            Assuming you don't have issues with Walmart, you may want to check out the fruit pies they are selling, two for a dollar I believe. They come in a little square box, each pie in a metal pan. Just enough for one serving. Usually multiple flavors of these things are stacked on a table somewhere in the bakery section.

            The notable thing is a real award-winning pie bakery is the supplier for these things and they actually, astonishingly, taste like homemade pies. They're not frosted like the old Hostess pies but the pie itself is much better.

            If you really need the Hostess style of pie, the ones made by Tastykake are good. Flowers Bakeries, the owners of Tastykake, also own Wonder Bread in the US. Flowers is known for being much more focused on quality than some other companies.

    • by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @01:34PM (#52483919) Homepage

      Pretty much sll pre-packaged baked goods have a sweet chemical taste. It's technically food but everything is processed to hell.

    • Most of what you eat that's processed and carby like that IS cardboard. All the fat has been taken out and sugar loaded in at 2x the rate to trick you into eating it.

    • by mlts ( 1038732 )

      I bought a pack last January, and they had zero flavor or taste. Yes, the texture and color are the same, but I might as well be putting paper on my tongue. Oh well, there are better desserts these days, especially from local bakeries.

  • by moehoward ( 668736 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @12:48PM (#52483701)

    They are all walking my neighborhood playing Pokenmon Go. Every freaking one of them.

    But really, 22,000 humans making Twinkies and Ding Dongs is a major waste of humanity. I could justify having like 13,500 making Snowballs, cuzz those rocked.

    I get really strange results in 2016 when I Google twinkie, snowball, ding dong, and cupcake. Mom!!!!!

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @01:29PM (#52483909) Journal

      Two ways to look at things.

      1) Its a shame that we now have more unemployed people. While many of them are somewhat to blame in terms of not taking the initiative and updating their own skills having a post Hostess employment plan etc, I think we can agree there were challenges as well. Society has failed structurally to provide many with the opportunities and tools to keep a viable career path open for their working lifetime.

      2) This is really pretty cool. There is a lot more competition in the packaged food space than when the twinkie first graced the scene. Its also true the relative cost of the goods twinkes were originally created as a substitute for have pretty well fallen to levels where twinkie does not make a lot of sense as a replacement good in economic terms. So what we have here is a very niche product, one that could not be offered economically using last centuries technology. Thanks to labor savings and efficiency though the die hard twinkie lovers can get them, and the rest of use vary occasional twinkie consumers can know there will be on on the shelf of our local grocery! The production, supply, and distribution chain is efficient enough to give us a crazy amount of choices!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Society has failed structurally to provide many with the opportunities and tools to keep a viable career path open for their working lifetime.

        Why is it society's responsibility to teach you job skills? Society (by which you obviously mean the government) already gives everyone 13 years of education (K-12), and if you walk away from that with no job skill that can't be better done with a servo motor, that is your own fault. I don't think there will be a big revolutionary change if we change the schools to teach for, say, 13 and a half years. People that are willing to learn will continue to do well, and the rest won't.

        • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @04:58PM (#52484979) Journal

          You'll will note I started by indicting the individuals before I suggested society has failed. You are assuming by society I mean government. Government might be part of it but it isn't the whole of it.

          The new economic reality for most people is you won't just not spend your whole career at the same company, you also won't do it working the same type of job. So yes have to continue to learn to do well, you have to be willing to take appropriate risks and exercise opportunities that come along. So why did these people not do that, why were they still aboard the sinking ship that was a bankrupt company when the doors closed?

          Was that 13 years of government education not effective? I think we have to start there actually, my feeling is despite the fact there are a number of good dedicated teachers out there our 19th century education model isn't a good fit for the education requirements of today. I am not an expert in education so I don't have solutions but I can see that its broken. I also don't think just more and longer education is the answer either otherwise many people with 4 year degrees would not have been hit so hard. Maybe in fact primary and secondary school should be shorter and it should be normal to go to work for a time before higher education?

          Has society come a part to the point where people can't get additional education. Do people not know and trust anyone enough around them to watch their kids for the evening so they can take a class? Have we broken up families, family units and the idea of familiar responsibility to the point people have no resources to turn to? Has the risk become to great, do people not have enough savings to risk taking a job that might not work out and having to find another? Why don't we having savings as a nation? Could it be the central bank keeps rates to low for two long? Have wages been flat because of to much regulation sucking profitability out? Do we now mandate individuals divert to much of there income to things that might not be appropriate for them like certain forms of insurance? Are we asking young people who should be building wealth early and as fast as possible so they can benefit form compounding to shoulder crushing tax burdens and provide subsidies to previous generations?

          I am a conservative small government guy, many would label me radically so in fact. I am also not naive government is already big, and therefore the policies it makes have real consequences. Yes I would love to sign on to a plan of starve it until its small enough to fit in a bath tub so we can than drown it but we need to take some steps along the way. We need to identify what statist policy of the the last 60 years has broken in our society and stitch some of that back to together. We need to identify policy that does work so we don't throw the baby out with the bath. We need to look at how the economy has changed and make sure we are designing and offering solutions for 2016 and not 1976.

        • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @07:32PM (#52485721)

          What the OP means is that if say, you learn to do something new but can't get a job because no one will hire you due to your age, that is in fact a structural problem...

          Our society has a very elaborate system where you must have the right credentials from the right places - and earning those credentials typically is a very long and expensive process yet most of the knowledge taught you will not use - and be the right age, and these days you need an internship where you worked for free for a period of time for a job you had to be competitive for, and so on and so forth.

          Then you do everything right and they hire an H1B by scamming the Federal government.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @06:06PM (#52485331) Homepage Journal

        You left out the third option.
        1,100 jobs where saved by automation. Hostess went out of business and several other companies bought up the rights to the products that Hostess made.

    • by TarPitt ( 217247 )

      But really, 22,000 humans making Twinkies and Ding Dongs is a major waste of humanity.
      I'm sure many of them can find jobs making hand crafted artisanal baked goods for upscale markets.
      This is what America is about - overpriced goodies for the affluent.

  • by jpostel ( 114922 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @01:01PM (#52483763) Homepage Journal

    They didn't fire everyone because of automation. They fired everyone because the business was grossly inefficient and bankrupt, and it happened over several years. They automated because it was the only way to compete in their market and survive as a company.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 10, 2016 @01:11PM (#52483815)

      Yeah, I came here to complain about the loaded headline. This isn't even the same company at all. The old one went into chapter 7 and got liquidated. There were no employees left. Those 1,170 jobs are essentially new jobs. Yeah, they likely pay less with fewer benefits than the old company, but they otherwise wouldn't exist without the current owners buying the assets, since nobody else was interested.

      It could be that the submitter is trying to tank the IPO by spinning things this way so he can buy the stock cheaper.

      • And unfortunately, this goes into the column: "We created 1,170 jobs!"
      • >"Those 1,170 jobs are essentially new jobs. Yeah, they likely pay less with fewer benefits than the old company"

        Not necessarily. With being streamlined and more automated, the new jobs are usually more highly skilled with people being paid more right off the bat. Or, at a minimum, the pay might be more reasonable for the new skill sets instead of GROSSLY over-inflated by unions who raise wages not by increasing productivity or value, but by artificially creating labor scarcity.... Oh, and ultimately

      • it was intentionally run into the ground so that they could get out of paying pensions. It was just a bunch of rich assclowns running a scam to steal private pensions. Truckers are next. They'd do it to the army guys if they were afraid they might revolt.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It had mostly to do with the unions killing them in the first place. Labor became far too expensive, and it ultimately lost for everyone, including the union workers. Here is an old Forbes article: Click [forbes.com]

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        And yet did any of the executives cut their salaries, stock options and bonuses to help out? How dare those greedy people in labor want living wages, that were probably 1/50th of what the CEO made, instead of being content living in poverty!

        • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @02:05PM (#52484121) Homepage

          Let's assume you could cut 20 million out of executive salaries. Divide that by the 22,000 employees, and you end up with about $900 a piece. Realistically, you wouldn't be able to take that much from the executives. When the employees outnumber the executive by 10,000 to 1, it really doesn't matter how much you cut off executive pay, because the cost of the labour will vastly outweigh the cost of executive salaries.

          • Let's assume you could cut 20 million out of executive salaries. Divide that by the 22,000 employees, and you end up with about $900 a piece. Realistically, you wouldn't be able to take that much from the executives. When the employees outnumber the executive by 10,000 to 1, it really doesn't matter how much you cut off executive pay, because the cost of the labour will vastly outweigh the cost of executive salaries.

            How can this be labeled Insightful. While true, it ignores the fact that the $900 per employee would end up in the economy, improve the employees living situation, add taxes, etc whereas the added millions in executive salaries ends up in tax free holdings or offshore investments. Saying that $900 per employee doesn't help things is an utter fallacy and shows a complete lack of understanding of how the economy works. It is also short-sightedness by the corporations as eventually the average person will n

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ultranova ( 717540 )

        It had mostly to do with the unions killing them in the first place. Labor became far too expensive,

        Personal responsibility, capitalism edition: if you're succesful, it's your genius, if you're not, it's your employee's fault. Extra points if you imply those employees should work for free and are unethical if they don't.

        and it ultimately lost for everyone, including the union workers.

        As opposed to workers losing straight away so the management can keep getting their bonuses?

    • My first thought on reading the "22,000 employee" line was "how long ago ago was that?"

      Turns out it was over 12 years ago. It had fallen to 8,000 employees by 2011 and the company had already been through multiple bankruptcies.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Before Hostess filed for bankruptcy, WSJ reported the delivery of Twinkies alone was controlled by two unions. Their work rules stated: "Drivers can't help with unloading, and products like Wonder Bread and Twinkies are not allowed to ride on the same truck." As a result, a one-man job has to be split into two or more. Now the new Hostess apparently doesn't have this trouble.

    The moral is, if you realize you are a dinosaur, evolve now! Otherwise, extinction is guaranteed. Labor unions are so 19 century.

    • Labor unions are so 19 century.

      As is actually living on your wage. And, coming to think of it, economy that's not constantly in some sort of crisis. It's uncanny: it's almost as if people being able to afford stuff is a requirement for making a profit selling it.

      Oh well, I'm getting old and don't have children so I guess I won't lose much when the final crisis comes.

  • I never liked regular Twinkies they were just not good to me, but Chocodiles as they were marketed or chocolate Twinkies as they are now labeled rock. Come to think of it I am going to have one now. MMMmmmm

  • by _KiTA_ ( 241027 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @01:28PM (#52483903) Homepage

    While the Automation kick is an interesting angle, lets not forget what actually killed Hostess -- vulture capitalists. [crooksandliars.com] These are Mitt Romney style assholes who swooped in, loaded the company up with debt, then pawned it off after leeching all the money out. Somehow though, it's not embezzlement when an investment company does it.

    But it gets worse. The unions that took the blame? They were having their workers give upwards of a THIRD of their paychecks [alternet.org] just to try and save the company they helped build. And that just caused the vultures to trade the company around more and more.

    That leaves the unions in one corner and the hedge funds and Hostess management in the other. Management ordered the company to stop contributing to the union pension funds, ignoring their obligations under collective bargaining agreements. They have demanded a new round of concessions, which would have doubled insurance premiums, negated all pension obligations, and slashed pay by 27 to 32 percent. Again, the 14-year Hostess bakery veteran: “Remember how I said I made $48,000 in 2005 and $34,000 last year? I would make $25,000 in five years if I took their offer. It will be hard to replace the job I had, but it will be easy to replace the job they were trying to give me.”

    So yeah, the automation is interesting, but lets not forget what brought us to this point. Vultures bought the company, embezzeled a shitload by loading on bad debt and pawning the company of as well as flat out stealing from the pension fund, and passing the buck to the next leech until they couldn't pass it any further. And now instead of having good quality Wonder Bread and tasty, if not exactly healthy, sweets like the Twinkie, we get mass produced automated crap.

    The local Hostess bakery re-branded as a Franz [franzbakery.com], and the quality is really good. They also have a direct-from-the-baker storefront that you can go in and get bread at a huge discount. Oh, and they're union and pay their workers a good wage -- around $17 an hour starting. [sltrib.com]

    As I said the last time this came up [slashdot.org], no American should EVER support Union Busting. Hostess is dead to me, and besides You can clone a twinkie pretty easily [youtube.com], which lets you do stuff like a fresh baked chocolate twinkie with cherry filling.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 )

      Do the math first. 400MM twinkies, 22,000 people. That is an output of about 9 twinkies per hour per employee. Even if back in the day they produced twice as many, the efficiency is abysmal and there is no way that a Twinkie has sufficient value to sustain all those people on a liveable wage. The automated factory is about 380 per hour per employee.

      The unions were part of the blame, and tried to be part of the solution, at least to some extent. Management also clearly had some blame... as did changing

      • Not everyone that worked at Hostess was on the production floor, and Hostess sold more than just Twinkies.
      • by _KiTA_ ( 241027 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @02:15PM (#52484175) Homepage

        Do the math first. 400MM twinkies, 22,000 people. That is an output of about 9 twinkies per hour per employee. Even if back in the day they produced twice as many, the efficiency is abysmal and there is no way that a Twinkie has sufficient value to sustain all those people on a liveable wage.

        Well, yeah? That's why the workers didn't just make Twinkies -- they also made a shitload of different types of pastries (chocodiles, ho hos, etc) and breads. Stuff like Wonder Bread, the Nature's Pride line, etc etc. And the 22,000 people probably weren't all making Twinkies to begin with.

        Hostess -- under their name Interstate Bakeries Corporation -- was pretty damned huge before the Vultures got to them. Hell, before the health food kick of the past decade or so Wonder Bread was probably one of the most popular breads in the US.

    • I agree with your statements. I've seen these tactics before. Beech Aircraft went through a deal similar to this where they got huge concessions from the union. They went as far as to even go in to the judge and demand huge raises for the management, as "They didn't want to lose all the talent". This "talent" put Beech in that position. The judge was smart enough to see through that argument and denied the request. The outcome was that after all the concessions and Bankruptcy the Venture capitalists made of
  • by Cutting_Crew ( 708624 ) on Sunday July 10, 2016 @02:20PM (#52484195)
    "How they’d do it? Cherry–picking top assets, modernizing manufacturing and distribution, doubling the shelf life of products...."

    How did they manage to double the shelf life? Double the preservatives? Double to toxins?
  • I told my 7 year old nephew that he couldn't have anything sharper than a twinkie after he dropped something. He said "What's a twinkie?" which is way funnier I think.

  • by DFDumont ( 19326 ) on Monday July 11, 2016 @08:06AM (#52488243)

    This story is nothing more than the natural progression of something that started in the early 20th century. We used to have people who held the title of 'machinist'. Now we have machines called 'CNC's which perform the same job to a better precision and produce identical parts. Being a machinist was an art form. Since the invention of 'machine tools' we have slowly moved away from the art to a repeatable process. Eventually factories will employ no one, or essentially no one. Stock will be dropped off and finished product will be picked up without ever encountering a human being. No lights, no breaks, no vacations, no unions, no variance. Perhaps a team of maintenance workers, but there would be no reason to house them at a single plant. This is the future of manufacturing.
    Similarly we are automating the office. I am old enough to remember six-part forms and hallways filled with file cabinets. Now the same information can be housed on a single drive. I remember call centers which employed thousands of agents. Now there is a computer program which can get you through at least the front few interactions. As we continue along this line of reasoning, there are a number of jobs which will fall into oblivion just as the machinist has. The basic premise is if the human being is following a script, or a decision tree, or a detailed process; I don't need a human being for that. Humans are needed for exceptions, not wrote processing.
    There is of course an impact to this move towards automation. We don't need unskilled workers who can absorb the necessary training through OJT. This then eliminates the need for a vast number of now middle class workers. They move into the poverty class and the societal divide widens. Not everything intended for good is limited to positive consequences.
    If you are a factory worker now, how do you ensure employability? Learn how to repair robots.
    If you are a low level office employee now what do you do? Learn how to automate your own processes.
    For something a little closer to my own profession, if you are a Route/Switch engineer (Networking IT professional) what should you prepare for? Learn how to program. You job is nearly obviated now. It's called 'Software Defined Networking'. The days of troubleshooting OSPF/EIGRP are nearly at a close.
    Automation is the natural outflow of specialization and advancement. As you work towards making your job more repeatable and predictive, you work towards ending your employment.

The computer is to the information industry roughly what the central power station is to the electrical industry. -- Peter Drucker

Working...