Should Hostess open source their recipes?

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flour + butter + stuff

By now, many of you have seen that Hostess brands has closed. Many people are going to miss their favorite treats. On their website, they state the following:

We are sorry to announce that Hostess Brands, Inc. has been forced by a Bakers Union strike to shut down all operations and sell all company assets. For more information, go to Thank you for all of your loyalty and support over the years.

People are already stockpiling their favorite snacks like Twinkies®, Ding Dongs®, Ho Ho’s®, Sno Balls® and many more. Even though the company is planning to sell their assets, do you think they should open source the recipes?

In other words, should they release their recipes under a license like Creative Commons or the GPL that would allow people to use, modify, and enhance the recipes 1 to the public domain, essentially sharing them with the world? (Updated after posting.)

Some are already sharing their own recipes, but nothing compares to the real thing. If you had a copy of the recipe, would you try to replicate your favorite Hostess product?


1 - See comments below. Recipes can not be copyrighted.


Jason Hibbets is a Community Director at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and community publications.


Recipes can't be copyrighted.

Recipes "that are mere listings of ingredients".

Yep, I pretty much covered the distinction between not being able to copyright a list of ingredients but being able to copyright your exact wording in the instruction in a recipe. Read my earlier comment below.

They might not have a choice. Going out of business they may have to sell their assets (including recipes) to cover their debts.

No doubt they'll sell off the brand names and recipes. Recipes are trade secrets for a reason. They are NOT protected by copyright laws. They are just a list of ingredients and steps. You can copyright the the exact wording you use to describe those steps but you can't copyright a list of ingredients and steps. So the question of if they should release them with a copyleft licence is rather moot. If they were made public at all they would be public domain.

Thanks for jumping into the conversation. I wasn't even thinking about the copyrights of recipes so I'm glad you brought it up. I will admit that I was thinking about them "giving" their trade secret (recipes) to the public domain and seeing how the competition would unveil.

As someone else pointed out below, the euipment (and process) is probably an important part to consider as well.

The GPL and CC are types of copyright licenses. They depend on copyright laws to be enforceable. So if you are talking about releasing a recipe under those licences then you're talking about copyrighting a recipe. Since recipes are not protected by copyright laws the GPL and CC licenses, or any other type of license for that matter would be unenforceable.

Your question needs a third option: "It doesn't matter."

The recipes are not enough. I'm betting that they also have special equipment to make those snacks. Have you ever tried to get creme filling into a chocolate cake that is covered with some sort of spongy confection? Without the proper equipment, you will never be able to make something "just like a Twinkie". Some of that equipment will surely be covered by patents, and some of the patents may be critical to getting that "Ding-Dong" quality.

Whether this is good news or bad news is another topic.

Designing process equipment is a specialized field of engineering that is harder than it looks. See - you just completely ignored it.

You're right, having the right tools to do the job makes all the difference.

Thansk for your response.

It doesn't matter in the sense that you or I likely could not use the recipe to produce a Twinkie clone, but when more knowledge is available to businesses so that they can compete based on their ability to produce a product well and at lower cost, and not simply by excluding competition by virtue of the recipe being a trade secret, we all profit.

Whether more Twinkies is a good thing for the world is of course another discussion...

Just Google the recipe you want. Here's three I've tried and they are great:

Carbs are killers. The world is better off with fewer of them. If people ate these products in moderation, they wouldn't feel compelled to stock up. The sooner this stops, the healthier the world will be.

Should they? Yes. WIll they? Doubtful. The private equity firm will want them to sell the brand and trade secrets to the highest bidder. Ah, capitalism.

On a deeper moral level, would the world be better off with everyone able to produce Twinkies? I think its kind of like open sourcing all the engineering procedures and design plans for the now-obsolete MK-17 thermonuclear bomb. I already think of Twinkies as the original multimegacalorie fat pill. Is the world really ready for just anybody to be able to make one?

You can google and find plans for nukes. But as far as physical manufacturing/production processes those are covered by patent law. So they could very well patent the physical process they use to mass produce Twinkies and nukes. But my guess is that making homemade Twinkie is a lot easier and won't get the FBI knocking at your door. As far as moral implications go I'd rather have terrorists make Twinkies myself.

Twinkies are disgusting and you people are fools to even want them. Comedians have been joking about the multi-year shelf life of Twinkies for years, although they actually last "only" 25 days. Get some taste and suck down something other than preservative chemical laden crap. Not a tear shed for Hostess; they're probably going under because people have finally gotten smart enough about what's in their food.

Brandon I agree about the food but I wanted to fill you in on what happened. The company had been suffering from financial troubles like most yet it was not lack of demand that put them under.

No it was in fact striking union workers who have been told by hostess for weeks that if they did not return to work the losses from not be open to capacity would force the already ailing company to go out of business.

So after weeks of being warned and the company pleading with the workers Hostess had to declare bankruptcy now they are out of a job what geniuses.

Why was the company ailing? Why blame it on unions and not demand?

It's not a matter of blame the FACTS are the ailing economy had made the business less profitable yet the unions decided this meant they should demmand more and they went on strike.

As a result the business hit a wall and due to the acts of a agressive and radical union that refused to compromise they put the company under by refusing to do their job it is that simple and the union had been warned about that yet they mustthink money grows on trees and they did not take it seriously.

They made their own bed right or wrong!

Baloney. It's Red State rhetoric.

"Hostess has been sold at least three times since the 1980s, racking up debt and shedding profitable assets along the way with each successive merger. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and again in 2011. Little thought was given to the line of products, which, frankly, began to seem a bit dated in the age of the gourmet cupcake. (100 calorie Twinkie Bites? When was the last time you entered Magnolia Bakery and asked about the calorie count?)"

Sure their is political posturing as unions are the most political entiry next to the parties themselves but the fact remains yhe final act in this story occured because the unions would not give in.

One only needa to ask what happens in this situation with no union?

Answer is the compay would still be in business.

Anyone over 35 has seen this play out with countless companies including many of Americas 20 th century giants like the Steel industry in the end the story is the same loss of jobs.

I don't value these companies. They produce social patterns of dominance and exploitation, frequently harming people's health and the environment while they're at it. All for shareholder profit, giving little back to the labor that makes these companies possible. If bad management fails in the marketplace, good riddance! It's better to be free and jobless than a slave.

You can have Microsoft too if you like it so much. And Apple, and all the Walled Garden companies.

It's not a matter of blame the FACTS are the ailing economy had made the business less profitable yet the unions decided this meant they should demmand more and they went on strike.

As a result the business hit a wall and due to the acts of a agressive and radical union that refused to compromise they put the company under by refusing to do their job it is that simple and the union had been warned about that yet they mustthink money grows on trees and they did not take it seriously.

They made their own bed right or wrong!

An important distinction regarding the union: they refused to give up more than they already had given in prior negotiations, they were not asking for more. Was it the ailing economy or management's lack of strategic insight regarding where the snack business was heading? Lack of international expansion? How about the crippling debt the private equity firm slapped on the company? I don't think we can point the finger at any one culprit...

No offense to anyone but I simply wanted to add the opinion of an outsider and someone fairly new to Open Software about 3yrs.

At any rate my point is that statements like this are what turn many off to Open software causing them to not take it seriously or even label the open source faithful as zealots to even suggest such h an idea without thought into what it takes to run a business that produces a material product like a cupcake on such scale then packages it for consumption at a later date all while dotting the I and crossing the t to meet the thousands of government regulations to be allowed to conduct business and deliver a safe product to millions.

Such statements even come off as political to some conjuring images of a profit hating purple haired leftist throwing a tantrum In the street.

Good point Al. From a simplistic standpoint, if they were simply closing up shop, why not open up the secret recipe? As you point out, it isn't that simple. While it does sound like a "nice thing to do" for all those Twinkie afficianados, the creditors would not appreciate it, as they would want Hostess to sell their trade secrets in order to settle their debts. It isn't politics, it is business.


Hello ! You are correct there are many people involved and we left out the largest group, the "stakeholders", it is business as you correctly point out,

My point was simply that the Open Source community has to be careful not to make people think of it as political thing that is at odds with the other side. While business is certainly like war and companies like Microsoft are competitors to open source solutions we do not have to be enemies.

At any rate the reality is we live in a hyper political era and I was just pointing out that we have to be careful not to make the capitalist think we are against them or out to get them because we are not.

On the flip side we need to make those of a more Marxist persuasion understand our way is not incompatible with that philosophy either and do so while accommodating everything in between if we are to grow.

Like it or not most people think simplistically and in todays climate they are hyper political to boot !

"we live in a hyper political era", isn't that the truth!

Yes open source people often make the category error that all businesses are "software." They think the end of life of a business is comparable to a software startup going under. Dead code will never be used for anything else, so they give it away. That isn't all businesses.

The Free Software Foundation is strongly biased towards the business model of "services." What if some smart guy comes along and tells the FSF that people should just give their service / consulting time away, that being directly compensated for one's time is immoral and a barrier to social progress?

Google is strongly biased towards advertizing susidized business models. They'll give anything away for free, so long as it gets more eyeballs on their search engine. They don't care what markets they destroy in the process. It's a form of dumping, but it benefits them. So they talk about how great it is to give away free (as in beer) stuff.

The recipes have no value outside the industrial food industry, as most require an extruder oven to produce. They are also part of the core value of Hostess, and along with the brand names, plants, and equipment will be sold off to other "food" companies. The brands will continue, the workers will have to deal with the new owners, and the public will have to deal with a continuing supply of industrial "food".

My bet is few workers will be "acquired" in the liquidation. A few skilled food mfg. engineers and maybe a synthetic flavor master (or whatever they are called), and the laborers will be out of luck. Hostess missed the shift to less processed, healthier snacks... that was their ultimate demise.,0,966735.column

Los Angeles Times: Poor management, not union intransigence, killed Hostess

FWIW, the LA Times blames management, NOT the union, for the failure:,0,966735.column

Hostess management's efforts to blame union intransigence for the company's collapse persisted right through to the Thanksgiving eve press release announcing Hostess' liquidation, when it cited a nationwide strike by bakery workers that "crippled its operations."

That overlooks the years of union givebacks and management bad faith. Example: Just before declaring bankruptcy for the second time in eight years Jan. 11, Hostess trebled the compensation of then-Chief Executive Brian Driscoll and raised other executives' pay up to twofold. At the same time, the company was demanding lower wages from workers and stiffing employee pension funds of $8 million a month in payment obligations.
The union members could see that their supposed management "partners" hoped to rescue their own investments by placing workers on a glide path to life on a minimum-wage existence, without pensions and without healthcare, after they had given and given again. You want to claim that they should have accepted the latest management demands as better than nothing instead of voting it down, OK. But you should ask yourself two questions: Where do you think this trend would have ended, and how much would you take?

Here's the scoop from a former Hostess employee:

Hostess in a legal sense is a piece of paper. A privately held piece of paper. Passed from owner to owner for the purpose of profit. The current owners are hedge funds Monarch and Silverpoint, with the later addition of Ripplewood. They are the board of directors. You may have heard that there have been 6 CEOs since 2002. There has only been one ownership group that whole time, the hedge funds. It is their business plan that those CEOs executed. Well.

The goal always was to maximize profits. Baking just wasn't a part of that picture. Monarch and Silverpoint funded the bringing together of Hostess/Wonder and Butternut/Dolly Madison in 1999. Both baking companies were profitable and had great infrastructures. Neither company was failing.

When these hedge funds figured out that they had to actually reinvest in their facilities and delivery equipment over the years, they simply didn't. Instead they turned their profit focus to brand valuation and pension theft. The goal was to lower Union costs then sell the brands and bakeries. They were able to strip 1/3 of our yearly income in the first bankruptcy and the management was paid millions while the company lost 100's of millions. They failed to break the Union so they held onto their investment while forcing the company to suffer for a few more years.

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