Flowers' purchase of Hostess Brands good news in Manatee

sfrater@bradenton.comMarch 1, 2013 

BRADENTON -- George "Bo" Strickland Jr., president of Flowers Baking Co. of Bradenton LLC, says in a courtly southern drawl "it's business as usual today" even as word swirled through the plant that the Bradenton company's parent, Flowers Foods, has likely prevailed in a bid to acquire most of Hostess Brands for $360 million.

Flowers Bradenton employs 176 full-time nonunionized employees and another 232 "outsourced" full-time employees. It also boasts 224 contract-distributors, typically "one-man-with-a-truck" operations, Strickland said.

Flowers' other Florida bakeries are located in Lakeland, Miami and Jacksonville, but Bradenton is the largest at 105,000 square feet. And anyone who has ever driven past the bakery on U.S. 301 at 63rd Avenue East knows the scent.

So will the new deal mean an expansion at the local bakery?

Strickland declined comment on the deal, or the possibility of new Hostess brands, such as the iconic Wonder Bread being introduced to the Bradenton bakery. Flowers Foods' Georgia-based corporate spokesman, Keith Hancock, also declined comment citing the matter "is currently in bankruptcy court."

Bradenton supplies "retailers, institutions and food service companies from Naples in the south to Inverness in the north and as far east as Orlando," with bread, buns and rolls including well-known brands Nature's Own, Sunbeam, Cobblestone Mill and Tastykake, said Strickland. The local bakery does not make snack cakes or pastries that other Flowers' bakeries produce, he said.

That means it's unlikely that even if the Hostess Brands deal goes through that Twinkies or Ho Ho's will ever be produced in Bradenton.

Neil Spirtas, vice president of public policy and small business for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, said the news about Flowers buying Hostess Brands, can only mean good things for the local Flowers Baking Company.

"Flowers Baking Company is one of the larger employers in Manatee County," Spirtas said. "Their presence in our area helps our tax base, our employment numbers, and our local economy as a whole. We are privileged to have them in Manatee County and are thrilled they're bringing the Hostess Brand to us as well."

The $3 billion bakery giant's share price rose more than 5 percent in trading

Wednesday to a near-52-week high of $29.55. A year ago the stock was at $18.46. If the U.S. bankruptcy court signs off on the Hostess deal, as is widely expected on Wall Street, Flowers could be the new owner of Hostess's Wonder Bread, Butternut, Home Pride, Merita and Nature's Pride brands.

Media reports indicate Flower's main competitor, Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V., has expressed interest in one of the remaining Hostess brands, Beefsteak Bread, and may well be pursuing a bid for that slice of the business.

The rapidly-growing Flowers Foods announced another deal Thursday -- one that has no impact on the Florida market -- the completion of its acquisition of the perpetual, exclusive and royalty-free licenses to the Sara Lee and Earthgrains brands for sliced breads, buns, and rolls in the state of California. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Stephen Frater, Herald senior business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095.

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