Strike Causes Bread Product Dearth

Where have all the Twinkies gone?

A strike by a group of Teamsters at the Interstate Breads Corp. (IBC) plant in Biddleton, Maine has pinched local supplies of Hostess, Wonderbread, Nissen and other bakery products throughout New England, clearing area merchants' shelves and forcing Harvard University Dining Services to look to new sources for its bread.

"Everybody's worried about their Twinkies," said Bill J. Turkewitz, the business agent for Teamsters Local 340 of Maine.

He said the now week-old strike, which initially involved about 1,400 union members, shows no sign of ending in the near future.

Earlier this week, Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) began posting signs in the dining halls explaining that a bread shortage had caused HUDS to substitute its normal bread selection with different brands.

The signs do not mention the Teamsters strike.

The majority of the dining halls' sandwich bread, buns and English muffins are normally made by Nissen.

Campus Executive Chef Michael Miller said HUDS was able to find replacement products quickly enough to avoid a noticeable disruption in service

But he said there was a close call yesterday when HUDS had trouble finding pita bread. A source was found, however, and the menu remained unchanged.

"We don't have quite as many different kinds of bread as usual, but we've managed to get pretty much everything we need through other vendors," Miller said. "We're trying to keep everybody happy."

In fact, some HUDS servers said that some students seem to like the new bread better.

Twinkie and Ding Dong fans have not been quite as lucky, however.

Most area merchants have seen their supplies of the snacks dwindle since the start of the strike.

But for Matthew F. Lawson '00, who said he developed a "slight Twinkie problem" after watching a Hostess commercial recently, the strike has helped curb his addiction.

"I was having a few a day, or, at least one a day for a couple weeks, and I just stopped when the shortage hit," Lawson said.

Harvard Square Store 24 Manager Syed S. Rahman said he has dealt with complaints from Hostess fans all week.

He said one customer even called his boss about the bread.

"The customer said I didn't know what I was doing, because there wasn't any bread in the store," Rahman said.

In addition, the strike has caused Store 24 to run out of its Store 24 label bread, which is produced by Nissen and is less expensive than other mainstream brands.

Pepperidge Farm and Entenmann, two of the affected brands' major competitors, have benefited from the strike.

Some local bakeries are also doing more business, such as La Ronga of Somerville, which is helping HUDS meet its bread demand.

While the strike has had an indisputable impact on IBC profits, the Boston Globe reported yesterday that some analysts have said brand loyalty may erode permanently as customers are forced to try other brands.

The scope of the bread and snack cake shortage has expanded to include New York City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland, Turkewitz said.

He said he hopes customers will return to their brands when the strike is over and is hopeful that customers' support will help end the strike.

"Everybody just needs to tell IBC to end this thing, and we'll get them back their Twinkies," he said.