Saturday, November 17, 2012

All of This Has Happened Before

All of this will happen again

Now that Hostess has been gutted and left for dead by by vulture capitalists (and now that it's asphyxiation is predictably being transformed by the Magical Power of Conservative Doublethink into another chance to demonize unions), I thought a rebroadcast of this 2007 post about the remarkably similar destruction of another flagship American brand at the hands of a remarkably similar vulture capitalist would be appropriate:

They’re Blowing Up

Tim Riley’s Bar.

In case you never saw it, the title refers to this famous episode of the “Night Gallery”, of which the above is the 7th and final clip (sorry that the sound is a little out of sync.)

It is offered in service of this short, Labor Day parable.

Once upon a time there was a company called Brach’s...

(Photo from here)

They made candy.

Now candy is a very...intimate...product.

It costs a few pennies, you put it in your mouth, and your toes curl up. You give it as a gift to the people you love. On long car trips, Ma Driftglass’ plan to make it across a American west without bloodshed included a thermos of hot coffee, a tea-towel to drape over her sunward arm, a stock of sing-alongs, car games, and a strategic hard-candy reserve.

Brach’s made that kind of candy.

Another thing Brach’s made was a Middle Class: by employing thousands of workers at good wages in all kinds of jobs, Brach’s created an engine of prosperity on Chicago’s West Side.

It was also key to making Chicago the Candy Capital of the Universe. (Oh yes we were!) Because once you reach a critical mass of skilled tradesmen in a particular field, you start to attract other companies – startups and relocators – because they know they can reasonably expect to find enough local talent to make their businesses viable.

And then along came a spider:

Klaus Jacobs of Jacob Suchard.

Who bought this venerable, viable company and proceeded to destroy it (emphasis added).

Wrecked the management:

Management styles and goals clashed, and Jacobs quickly fired Brach's top officers and gutted the leadership of its sales, marketing, production, and finance departments as well. Some of these positions were filled with executives from Suchard's European operations; other positions, including a large percentage of Brach's sales and marketing department, were staffed by people with little experience in the candy industry.
Refused to be bothered to understand their own customers:

To make matters worse, the Suchard-led company did not recognize the U.S. candy market's purchase pattern—in that the bulk of sales are made surrounding Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas—and failed to promote and, at times, even produce the specialized holiday candies.
Fucked with the geese that were laying the golden eggs:

Brach faltered through a series of poor decisions. One of these involved the scaling back of Brach's line, which had reached 1,700 different candies and packaging types and sizes, to only 300 SKUs. This proved disastrous for Brach, because the bulk of its sales continued to be made at the grocery stores and through other vendors that required the flexibility of Brach's former range to realize the highest profit margins.
Ruined one of the world’s most recognized brand names:

Finally, Suchard changed Brach's name, which enjoyed recognition by as much as 77 percent of the U.S. candy-buying public, to Jacobs Suchard Inc.”
Until it was abandoned by its oldest clientèle:
Brach's customers, including major chains such as Walgreens, deserted the company for its competitors. Sales dropped, and the company began posting losses, reaching $50 million in operating losses in 1988, and more than $200 million over the next several years

And they did all of this while aggressively disinvesting in their own people and their own company’s future.

This foreign billionaire wrecked the place, fired workers en masse, blew an economically crippling hole in the neighborhood, sold it at remaindered prices, and slithered away.

And unlike, say, buggy-whip or slide-rule makers who really have outlived their marketplace viability, the extermination of Brach’s was entirely preventable.

So, for reasons of vanity and profit -- arrogance and ignorance pulling in harness with great wealth and complete indifference to the lives of working people -- the brigands who bought the place chose to butcher it.



And for a long time, the deserted hulk of the crowned jewel in Chicago’s confectionery empire sat abandoned.



Until last week when it was finally blown up for the "Batman" sequel.

Here’s the video:

And here’s the story.

This 'Boom!' bittersweet

On the old Brach's Candy factory property, 'Batman' filmmakers destroy office building

By Kristen Kridel and Monique Garcia, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter Gary Washburn contributed to this report

August 30, 2007

A ball of fire, a plume of smoke and almost all of Gotham General Hospital was gone.

A wave of heat swept over about 150 people who had camped out at the corner of Cicero Avenue and Ferdinand Street to watch the pyrotechnics go off for a scene in the upcoming "Batman" sequel, "The Dark Knight."

Hollywood came to the West Side Wednesday afternoon to blow up the five-story administration building that Brach's Candy abandoned with the rest of its sprawling complex in 2003.

Now that much of the city's candy industry has melted away, remnants like the Brach's factory are left as nothing more than props.

The plant was once an anchor for Austin, at its height employing more than 4,500 workers. Started more than 100 years ago by a German immigrant, Brach's outgrew its first small storefront and moved into the Cicero Avenue facility in 1923. The factory churned out everything from peanut and hard candies to coconut nougat and marshmallow confections.

Brach's abandoned plant quickly took on a derelict look, which made Wednesday's demolition no less troubling for Matt Hancock, director of the Food and Candy Institute.

"On one hand it's an indication of the way our society unfortunately has come to view manufacturing, that it's a relic and quaint and nostalgic and looks good in a movie," Hancock said. "But that's out of sync with the reality of today's high tech and sophisticated manufacturing, and what it means to a community in terms of economic benefit."
Blown up.

As a prop.

For a movie about a fictional industrialist…

…who works in secret...

…to save his dying city.

Thus endeth the parable.


Anonymous said...

Those rectangular white nougats with little jellies in them. You could play all kinds of sensual games with them in your mouth.

Unique to Brach's. Miss them a little....

clem said...

it reminds me of the recent businessweek <a href=">story<\a> about how another mittroid corporation called ab inbev are ruining beers all over the world. by aggressively trimming workforce and systematically using lower quality i.e. cheaper ingredients and aiming at a bland common denominator flavor, they ruined beck's among other once respected beers and even made budweiser worse!

n1ck said...

Capitalism at work.

Anonymous said...

This also reminds me of the demise of the Stella d'Oro cookie company. I miss their annisette toast. Those were good cookies.

Hamfast Ruddyneck said...

The Malefactors Of Great Wealth are astonishingly myopic.

The more they destroy the economy of the USA, the more they will destroy the ability of their wholly-owned subsidiary, the US government, to afford the police, military, and covert-action forces which make the USA, and the world at large, safe for the MOGW to plunder.

What will happen to the MOGW when they can no longer count on Uncle Sam Caesar's Imperial Legions to put down slave rebellions in the provinces, once those rebellions exceed the limited competence of the MOGW's native puppets to suppress them? (Not that the Legions always succeed. Does the name "Vietnam" ring a bell?)

Where is the MOGW's Galt's Gulch, where they can run and hide?

OTOH, maybe at least some of the MOGWs do know the truth--but like any other addict, they can't quit their drug (power; wealth being only a means to power), even though they know it will ruin them, even kill them, sooner or later.

Tengrain said...

Driftglass -

That's quite a parable.

It's really sad, isn't it?

I keep having this strange dream that the Multinationals will suddenly stop making everything because there is no longer enough of a profit margin to make it. I think about IBM selling off their PC business because--and they did say it--there was no money to be made anymore.

Brachs were good candies, not great, but they owned their market position from coast to coast. You could go into any corner drugstore and buy them by the scoop and be really happy. I didn't know what happened to them, and now I do.



DiR said...

Good parable. Here's more:When I was about 14 and living in Philly in the 50s, I won a contest sponsored by Brach's. I drew a picture of a huge bronze eagle that was the center point of the John Wanamaker department store. I won a pound box of different kinds of candy from Brach's for every month for a year, and a Huffy bike that had a built-in radio in the crossbar. Cutting edge cool. Brach's bout out and destroyed; Wanamakers bout out and destroyed; Huffy made in China, workers here out of work. I worked in medical book publishing in Philly; every last one of the greats (Saunders, Lippincott, Lea & Febiger) all bought out by multinational corporations.

Bukko Canukko said...

I didn't even know that Brachs was gone, but it's been a while since I've lived in the U.S. and I go for a different style of chocolates. Still, bummer of a story, and all too typical. Like everything else in Republikkkan talkingpointsland, where what they say is 180 degrees opposite from the truth, the "job creators" are actually job destroyers. It's what they do. They are the cancer cells of the economy, a flesh-eating bacteria on the workforce.

On a smaller scale, but with chocolates that were dearer to my heart (and just over the hill from where I used to live) is the tale of Joseph Schmidt Confections of San Francisco. It was a higher-end S.F. yuppie candy company whose specialty was truffles that were the size and shape of half-eggshells. I ate literally hundreds of them because patients' families would bring them as gifts for the nurses at the hospital where I worked. Good quality chocolate (way better than Brachs) innovative flavours in the fillings, and they came in some artistic decorative boxes. We have dragged some of them all over the world, especially the ones with San Francisco imagery like the Golden Gate Bridge, because they bring back good memories.

So what happens? The creative guy who put his name on the company sells out to Hershey. Hershey says "Sure, we're a big company and this is a niche market product, but we won't squash it like a dropped M&M. (I know I'm mixing up my candy companies here.) We're going to see if we can scale up what made Schmidt successful in San Fran." And four years after acquiring Schmidt, Hershey shuttered it. YOU BASTARDS! My wife and I just happened to be back in S.F. when it was closing down, and we bought as much as our baggage allowance would let us carry to Australia. Ate them slowly over the next year, but man, was that chocolate ever bittersweet (figuratively.)

Grayson Mendenhall said...

Standard behavior of your average carnivore beast.

Doesn't matter what animal has to die, so long as you get the meat.

Only a special kind of stupidity and/or greed can fuck up a candy store.

Brave Sir Robin said...

I used to work for years right down the street from the old factory. The entire neighborhood is in the dumps. If Austin had a manufacturing job center providing 4,500 middle class jobs, much of the community problems would disappear.

Now much of the building is used by homeless and squatters. And soon the old factory itself will be torn down and then they won't have any shelter any more. Just more victims bulldozed in the name of profits for the 1%.

blackdaug said...

After several decades of watching these "bustouts" turn from a strategy, into an industry, there will have to be a massive shift back to an anti-trust mentality in the government, or there wont be a consumer class left in this country because nobody will be able to afford to buy anything.
It really is part of an effort to convert the manufacturing worker into a slave caste, non union, service sector drone while funneling money to the top.
Company after company has been taken over, leveraged to the hilt (to pay back equity firms for the cost of the a huge profit).
They then strip the assets to line the pockets of the executives who signed off on the take over in the first place. After the prolonged death struggle that puts the unions hard won benefits into the hands of the pillagers who are cleaning the carcass...then bankruptcy and dissolution.
The workers are left no choice but to take non-union jobs in the service sector, at salaries that are so low they qualify for food stamps.
At the top, we end up with massive monopolistic cartels in all sectors (hell even monopolies we busted up in the past have re-consolidated) until almost all production and service is concentrated in the hands of two or three conglomerates (look at telco, media, defense ect..) and even the service sector is drawn down to a few giants (Walmart). The labor supply is controlled from top to bottom..and there are no unions in sight.
The last time there was the political will to take on this creeping disease, it took 30% unemployment and a world war to stop it.

Anonymous said...

The Jacobin solution.

Anonymous said...

Oh, DG. Only you could write a piece about candy and make it hit home.

And unlike, say, buggy-whip or slide-rule makers who really have outlived their marketplace viability, the extermination of Brach’s was entirely preventable.

Are you sure? I hear the market for sweet tasty things is fast disappearing.

Come up to the Cities sometime and get some local flayva in the form of a Pearson's Salted Nut Roll. Pearson's has not the breadth of Brach's portfolio, but the quality is second to none.


Bukko Canukko said...

Just got around to watching the YouTube of the demolition, DG. I spend a lot of time reading things online at work (like during the 3-hour-long breaks I got while the patients are asleep/sedated during my 12-hour midnight shifts) but it's not good to play YouTube clips of loud explosions then...

You summed it up pretty well about the destruction of something that was REAL, and lasted for decades, just to produce several seconds of spectacle for a film that will flicker on screens and then be forgotten. I was saddened by the hooting enthusiasm of the spectators to the explosions, though. I can't call them pig people, because they're just out to see a non-4th-of-July fireworks show. But I wonder if any of them got to thinking "That used to be a place where I could have had a job. Now it's gone, destroyed by the corpo-vultures and the Illusion Industry"? Prolly not.

Got something coming in the post for the Effing Writer. It would be great if you took 100 Swiss franc notes. Believe it or don't, I have a lot more of them sitting around the house than I do U.S. dollars.

US Blues said...

I remember when you shared that story the first time around. Now it is time to for the wealthy to pay up.

Jenonymous said...

Ah, Brach's. My Dad did some work with them when I was a very little girl.

I DEARLY miss the nougats with little jellies in them, and the caramel rolls with the different-flavored cremes rolled up in them.


Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.

Anonymous said...

Hi, unless I'm hallucinating, I recently bought some BRACHS candy in my local (California) SaveMart grocery store, but the candy was made in Mexico.

I bought candy canes, black jelly beans, & those oval-shaped maple candies.

Anyway, someone should check to see why this "Klaus Jacobs" of Jacob Suchard came all this way to destroy BRACHS.

It would be pretty weird if this were some sort of multi-generational "revenge" thing.

How do rich assholes entertain themselves anyway?