January 15, 2013

Georgia company bids to buy closed Biddeford bakery

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Hostess Brands' idle bakery in Biddeford could soon have a new owner.

The line of products from Hostess Brands Inc. that were made at the Biddeford plant included: CupCakes, Sno Balls, mini CupCakes and a variety of Wonder and J.J. Nissen breads.

AP

Georgia-based Flowers Foods has signed an agreement to buy the plant as part of its effort to acquire some assets of the bankrupt company, which made Wonder Bread, Twinkies and other well-known baked goods.

A spokesman for Flowers wouldn't say Monday whether it would reopen the plant or rehire any of its 370 workers, who were laid off late last year when Hostess Brands Inc. ceased operating.

Sue Tapley of Scarborough, who was a mixer for Hostess in Biddeford, is keeping a close eye on the prospective sale. Like other former Hostess workers, she hopes it is a good sign for the future of the plant.

"There's definitely hope out there it will reopen as a bakery," she said. "I've been hoping to get back into my job."

Hostess on Friday selected Flowers Foods Inc.'s two bids, totaling $390 million, to buy six of its bread brands, including Wonder Bread and Beefsteak, as well as 20 bakeries and 38 distribution centers. The Biddeford plant is among the 20 bakeries.

Flowers spokesman Keith Hancock said Monday that the sale of those assets is "by no means final" and Hostess' bid selection marks only the start of a court process, which will include an auction at which other companies will have a chance to outbid Flowers.

Hostess spokesman Lance Ignon said the auction will likely happen in late February and a sale could be completed by mid-March.

Flowers, which manufactures Nature's Own bread and Tastykake snack cakes, owns 44 bakeries and employed about 9,400 people in 2011. Last summer, the company acquired Auburn-based Lepage Bakeries, which has two bakeries in Lewiston and one in Brattleboro, Vt.

According to its website, Flowers, which was started in 1919 by brothers William Howard and Joseph Hampton Flowers in Thomasville, Ga., is the second-largest producer of packaged bakery foods in the United States, with annual sales of more than $3 billion. The company distributes mainly in the East, South and Southwest, and in some markets in California.

The company issued a news release last week saying the acquisition of Hostess would be consistent with its long-term strategy to expand its customer base in the U.S.

"We believe these assets would enhance our ability, over time, to provide more U.S. consumers with quality baked foods at a good value through existing and new retail and food service customers," George E. Deese, chairman and CEO of Flowers Foods, said in the release.

Hancock wouldn't say why Flowers wants to buy only 20 bakeries out of the 33 that Hostess closed last year.

Four of the six bread brands that Flowers wants to buy -- Wonder, Beefsteak, Nature's Pride and Home Pride -- were made in Biddeford.

Calls to the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represented 300 employees at the Biddeford plant and about 30 percent of Hostess workers nationally, were not returned Monday.

About 10 percent of Flowers Foods' employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements, according to the company's 2011 annual report.

The bakery union went on strike against Hostess in November, after rejecting contract concessions that included cuts to wages and benefits. Workers at two dozen of the company's bakeries, including the one in Biddeford, went on strike or honored the walkout.

Hostess announced in November that it would close and lay off 18,000 employees nationally. That number included 500 in Maine, from the plant in Biddeford and outlet stores around the state.

Hostess is expected to name buyers of more of its products in coming weeks, according to The Associated Press, including possible buyers of Twinkies.

Flowers could bid for some of the snack brands. The company said in its statement that it has an "interest in acquiring certain Hostess assets should they become available."

Other companies that may bid for Hostess' assets include Grupo Bimbo and McKee Foods, which makes Little Debbie snack cakes.

-- Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: lbridgers@mainetoday.com


Correction: This story was revised at 3:22 p.m., Jan. 15, 2013, to state that Flowers Foods is based in Thomasville, Ga.
 

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