With Hostess Gone, Rogers Company Sees Bread Sales Rise

The sudden shutdown of the Hostess Brands baking plant in Memphis has created a bonanza of sorts for a northwest Arkansas company.

If you don’t mind the phone ringing off the hook, that is.

“We’re getting many, many, many calls,” John Carosh, general manager of Harris Baking Co. of Rogers, told Whispers last week.

One of those calls was from the Pulaski County Special School District, which learned on Friday, Nov. 16, that it wouldn’t be receiving its usual weekly shipment of Wonder Bread products — 1,420 packages of dinner rolls, 900 loaves of sliced bread, 900 packages of hamburger buns, 400 packages of hot dog buns — the next day.

“When you are dealing with 18,000 students, a day’s notice isn’t a lot,” Regena English, director of student nutrition for the district, said.

But she didn’t panic. The district had enough bread products on hand to get through the two days of school before the Thanksgiving break. And she also knew that Harris Baking, which had missed winning the bread contract on a technicality in August, would be happy to get the account.

“They were able to pick up within the week and start taking over, which was a wonderful thing,” English said.

Harris’ bread products are better than Hostess’, she said — but not as good as the bread that PCSSD made in a centralized baking plant until last school year. And the price is a bit less than the $3,800 a week that the district was paying Hostess.

The North Little Rock School District was in the same predicament as Pulaski County, according to English, and also called on Harris Baking to fill the void. Her counterpart at the NLRSD was not available for comment last week.

Harris Baking Co. — officially, Ozark Empire Distributors Inc. — was founded in 1926, according to Carosh, and since the 1960s has operated as a cooperative owned by grocery stores it supplies with bread products.

It currently employs about 200 employees in its 20-year-old plant on South First Street in Rogers. Carosh said Harris supplies bread to pretty much all the school districts in northwest Arkansas.

It’s probably no comfort to the 200-plus employees who lost their jobs at the Hostess plant in Memphis, but Carosh said Harris Baking had already had to hire one new delivery driver and was probably going to need another one.