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(audio) Pittsburgh: "town talk radio" #1-4
by vincent / kevin bblast furnace radio Wednesday, Jan. 07, 2009 at 6:04 AM

mp3 location of towntalk radio show #1 #2 #3 #4 hp/program/30954

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Back to headlines

Town Talk was toast of the town

By Kim Leonard
Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The orange-and-yellow striped bags stand out on the bread shelves of local supermarkets, as they have for decades. But there's something different about Braun's Town Talk these days.

Red, blue and yellow balloons now appear on the same package. That's fair notice that Pittsburgh's longtime favorite white bread -- baked here for a century -- soon will take on the nationally known Wonder Bread name.

"Town Talk was a part of childhood if you grew up in Pittsburgh," Marge Snyder, 58, of Shadyside, said Monday as she walked past dozens of brands and flavors of breads at the new Shop 'n Save store in East Liberty.

Anyone who lived in Western Pennsylvania in the '40s, '50s and later probably remembers Wonder and a few other white breads, too. But for most families, Town Talk was the basic bread on the kitchen countertop for making the morning toast and lunchtime cheese sandwiches.
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That's why Interstate Bakeries Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., is taking its time in phasing out the Town Talk name. The nation's largest wholesale baker has owned the brand for 10 years, and Town Talk now is made in Akron, Ohio.

"The brand is very regional and is only sold in the Pittsburgh market," said Jacques Roizen, chief marketing officer for Interstate.

The temporary Town Talk/Wonder package has been out for a few months, and Interstate seems in no hurry to change it further. Local grocers still are selling white Wonder Bread, too.

What's inside is identical, and has been for a long time, Roizen said. "It is literally the same bread, and so this is just a question of merging brands to provide brand equity. We're doing that slowly, with success in that people are not switching to other brands."

Roizen wasn't sure when the Town Talk name will disappear for good, saying the next move will depend on consumer reaction.

Generally, times are tough for bread-makers. Sales of 12 of the Pittsburgh market's 17 top-selling brands -- including Town Talk, at No. 4 -- have dropped in the past year, according to Information Resources Inc., a market research firm in Chicago.

Interstate itself filed for bankruptcy in September, citing a shift in consumers' eating habits, although Roizen said there is no connection to the consolidation of the bread brands.

Snyder acknowledges that while she grew up eating Town Talk and her family knew the Brauns, who lived in East Liberty, she hasn't bought a loaf in years. "I buy the whole-grain breads now," she said.

Alonzo King, 79, of East Liberty, never cared for Town Talk, but recalls his wife and children buying it. "You would send the kids to the store for a loaf of bread, and they'd always come back with Town Talk. They liked it, I guess," he said.

Remnants of Town Talk advertising campaigns -- many targeted for children -- are easy to find on Internet auction and other sites.

A promotional card from the late '50s announced that Town Talk bread sponsored the "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" TV show. Western hero Kit Carson's image appeared on a pin. The Town Talk and Skippy peanut butter logos were on different sides of a hat, and it looks as though Town Talk and radio station WWSW gave away desk blotters in the '40s.

The history of the Braun bakery in Pittsburgh stretches from 1889 until the closing of the North Side facility in May 1989, when production was moved to Philadelphia.

Three years later, many of the former Braun's employees went to work at City Pride Bakery in Lawrenceville, opened under an employee stock ownership plan with $1.1 million from the state and other public and private financing.

Financial problems led to a sale to con artist Michael Carlow's Pittsburgh Food & Beverage Co. Inc., which closed the bakery in February 1994 after losing $4 million over 11 months.

Carlow pleaded guilty in 1996 in a $31.3 million check-kiting scheme involving Pittsburgh Food & Beverage Co., a holding company that formerly owned Pittsburgh Brewing Co. and D.L. Clark Candy Co.

Interstate Bakeries maintains a distribution center with more than 100 workers on the North Side, and Roizen said no changes are planned there. "You're only talking about a label on a package," he said.

Some shoppers at the Shop 'n Save stores in East Liberty and on Route 66 in Greensburg yesterday said they occasionally buy Town Talk when it's on sale.

Jeff Coons, 47, of Greensburg is careful about his grocery spending, because he's a single father. "It's outrageous at $1.89 for a loaf of bread," he said of Town Talk, which was more expensive than the store brand. "It's good bread, but it's overpriced."

Jean Wilcox, of Hempfield, will be sorry to see Town Talk go. She bought it for years before switching to 12-grain bread.

"But I love white bread," she said.

Kim Leonard can be reached at or 412-380-5606.

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