Bread shortage eases as school districts adjust to Interstate Brands' closing

Jean Kinder, food service director for Quincy Public School, left, and Quincy Junior High School custodian Shawn Wolf divide up a bread shipment for the different schools in Quincy Tuesday. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Jan. 14, 2013 7:50 am Updated: Feb. 4, 2013 9:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Quincy School District is no longer scrambling to find enough bread to meet the needs of school cafeterias.

In late November, cafeterias throughout the district were suddenly short on bread products because of the shutdown of the district's bread supplier -- Interstate Brands, a subsidiary of Hostess Brands Inc.

Hostess had announced it was ceasing its operations and selling the company's assets in response to a national Bakers Union strike. That decision had a direct effect on the Quincy School District's school lunch program because Interstate was the district's sole supplier of hamburger buns, hot dog buns and sliced bread.

Quincy and many other school districts began scrambling to find alternate bread suppliers.

For two weeks, the Hy-Vee grocery store at 3700 Broadway filled the void by agreeing to bake all the bread needed for Quincy's public schools. Since then, the district made arrangements with Bimbo Bakeries to have a sufficient supply of Sara Lee bread products shipped to Quincy once a week from the company's St. Louis distribution center.

Jean Kinder, the district's food service director, said she is grateful Sara Lee stepped in to fill the district's immediate bread needs.

"They're overwhelmed with business" in the wake of Interstate's closing, Kinder said.

The district has since solicited formal bids from vendors interested in supplying bread to the Quincy School District for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year. Kinder said the bids will be presented for consideration at the School Board's Jan. 23 meeting.

"We'll see how that shakes out, and then we'll have a permanent supplier for the rest of the year," she said.

Kinder said when Interstate announced it was shutting down, she immediately started searching for another bread distributor to fill the void, but this was difficult because of the widespread bread shortage.

That's when Hy-Vee came to the rescue and agreed to bake extra bread for the district at its 3700 Broadway store.

Mark Lammers, the store director, said his staff was happy to help because everyone realizes the schools must have enough bread to serve students.

"It was pretty interesting there for a while," Lammers said. "We had a couple of weeks in there where it was heavy, heavy bread production in the bakery. They came early and stayed late and worked overtime."

Lammers said the massive bread-baking effort provided some extra revenue for Hy-Vee, but he said the store is "not really set up to do institutional-type production." So he was glad to see the district make arrangements with Sara Lee, a major producer of bread products.

"I think the school came out OK with Sara Lee," he said.

Kinder agrees, saying the relationship with the St. Louis distributor has been working out well. "We're getting relatively comparable prices to what we were getting before" with Interstate, she said.

Some other school districts in the region also had to find alternate suppliers after Interstate shut down.

For example, the Liberty School District was expecting a large bread order to arrive on the very day Interstate ceased operations.

"It didn't arrive," recalled Chris Hogge, the district's food service director. "It put us in a tough situation for a little bit. I actually ran to Walmart and emptied their bread counter."

Since then, Hogge said, "other companies have kind of picked up the slack and formulated new products to fit the schools' needs."

He noted, for instance, that the Liberty schools are now getting bread products through two of the district's food suppliers -- Kohl's Wholesale of Quincy and Fox River Foods of Montgomery, Ill. He said most bread products from those suppliers "come in baked but frozen," so the bread must be left out overnight to thaw before it's needed. "It does take up some freezer space, that's for sure," Hogge said.

Hogge said he also has adjusted the district's cafeteria menus "so we don't need buns quite as often," but the menu offerings still meet all state and federal guidelines for nutrition.

Some school districts haven't been affected by the Interstate shutdown. For instance, Griggsville-Perry Superintendent Andrea Allen said her district is under contract with a different bakery supplier, so bread deliveries have continued without interruption.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that Hostess is continuing plans to sell off its assets under bankruptcy-court oversight.

One of the bidders is Grupo Bimbo SAB, the parent company of Bimbo Bakeries USA, which owns Sara Lee and numerous other brands of baked goods. Flowers Foods also is in discussions to buy the Hostess brands, the WSJ reported.