Twinkies ovens will fire up again in Emporia

Junk food junkie alert: Look for Twinkies on store shelves in July.

Four former Hostess snack cake bakeries around the country, including a plant in Emporia, Kan., are scheduled to reopen in eight to 10 weeks.

“Hooray!” said Kent Heermann, president of the Regional Development Association of East Central Kansas, which includes Emporia.

About 500 people lost their jobs at the Emporia bakery when Hostess Brands Inc. shut down the plant in bankruptcy last year. The new owners, doing business as a new company, Hostess Brands LLC, said Thursday that the plant would hire 250 initially and about 50 more as work progressed.

A small group of Emporia bakery employees is expected to begin work May 15.

“The city is delighted,” said Emporia Mayor Bobbi Mlynar, who said that “making the best snack cakes in the world is something that Emporia area workers know how to do well and are eager to resume doing.”

Reopening will boost the Emporia economy, but there will be only half the number of previous jobs. The plant’s new owner also has said it won’t use union labor.

But Michael Cramer, an executive involved in the new Hostess Brands LCC operations, said the new jobs will pay “competitive wages and benefits, and I’m sure people will be pleased.”

Employees who worked for Hostess under union contracts may apply for the new non-union jobs, he and another job recruiter confirmed.

“Experience helps,” Cramer said. “We want people who are excited about working there and are energized about it.”

The Emporia plant is the largest Hostess property near Kansas City. Two other former Hostess properties, in Lenexa and Boonville, Mo., were bought by a different buyer, and plans for them have yet to be announced.

Previously, 15,000 of the 18,000 former Hostess plant workers around the country were represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union or by the Teamsters.

An investment group, which bought assets and rights to several products after Hostess Brands Inc. liquidated last year, confirmed this week that bakeries in Emporia, Indianapolis, Columbus, Ga., and Schiller Park, Ill., would begin hiring soon.

The investor partnership of Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo Global Management LLC paid $410 million for the bakeries and rights to make Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, Donettes, Zingers, Suzy Qs, Mini Muffins and Hostess Cup Cakes. The sale was supervised by a bankruptcy court after Hostess Brands Inc. filed for liquidation.

Lead investor C. Dean Metropoulos told The Wall Street Journal that the partnership intended to pour $60 million more in capital investments into four or five plants and hire 1,500 workers to staff them.

The four plants, possibly plus one in Los Angeles, were among 11 former Hostess bakeries acquired by Metropoulos and Apollo. The investors believe the reopened plants can be run more efficiently and turn out as much product as the previous 11.

Cramer said the Emporia plant would begin making the products it previously made. Over time, it may add more brands as it assumes production of items previously made at some of the plants that won’t reopen.

Hostess Brands Inc., formerly Interstate Bakeries Corp., had its headquarters in Kansas City for decades before it moved some executive functions to the Dallas area after emerging from its first bankruptcy reorganization in 2009.

The company had been financially troubled for years. It filed its second bankruptcy petition in January 2012, blaming union contract disputes.

The bakery union walked out in November after the former Hostess owners sought cuts in wages, insurance and pension benefits after union members already had agreed to a series of concessions.

Spokesmen for the national bakery union were unavailable for comment Thursday. Conrad Boos, union representative in Missouri, said many members would like to return to the jobs they knew.

“I don’t think they can stop them from reapplying, but can they discriminate against them because they were union members?” Boos said of the new owners. “It’s hard to say what will happen. But in the end, it’s up to employees if they choose to organize.”

Linda Bartley, union representative in Kansas for the Emporia plant, was not available for comment on Thursday.

Metropoulos said in a press release announcing the Emporia reopening that the new company already had upgraded some of the bakery facility, and he thanked the state of Kansas and the city of Emporia for being “extremely helpful throughout the redevelopment process.”

Hostess Brands assets were sold piecemeal to bidders in the bankruptcy proceedings.

Flowers Foods, a publicly traded baking company based in Georgia, acquired 20 Hostess bakeries that made bread and buns, including the plants in Lenexa and Boonville.

Flowers has declined to speak publicly about its plans for the bakeries because of an antitrust review by federal regulators. Flowers, which already operates 44 U.S. bakeries, expected the review, which could take several more months.

Flowers paid $360 million for the plants and rights to Wonder, Home Pride, Nature’s Pride, Butternut and Merita brands. Its purchases included the Lenexa bakery, where nearly 200 workers formerly made Home Pride and Wonder bread and buns, and the Boonville bakery, where about 90 workers made buns.