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Ben E. Keith Co.: Of Food And Beverages

August 19, 2013

We all have to eat so it’s a given that food as business can be viable when properly handled. What’s another given is the point of production may not be in the same location as the point of consumption so there must be a distribution network in place. Put the two together and you have a food distribution company.

Ben E. Keith Co. has been in the food distribution business since 1906.  Over a hundred years old the company started out as Harkrider-Morrison, a produce firm in Fort Worth, Texas. Ben E. Keith was actually the company’s first salesman and junior partner.  In 1918 he was able to purchase controlling interest in the company. With some changes in partners the company was renamed Harkrider-Keith-Cooke.

Company partners withdrew for a various reasons starting 1917 and by 1918 Ben E. Keith was solely running the company. A significant event happened in 1928, Ben E. Keith noticed the slow sales of produce during summer since people where growing their own gardens. Sales were strong during winter.

He entered into a partnership with Adolphus Busch for St. Louis and became an independent distributor of Anheuser-Busch products. As this was during the Prohibition, the major products were ice cream syrup, baker’s yeast, starch, dextrin (cattle feed made from spunt grain) and ginger ale. This carried the company during the summer season when produce sales were down.

Another significant aspect about the partnership was when Prohibition was lifted; a great selling product became available, beer.

Today Ben E. Keith Co. is a distributor of food service products and premium alcoholic beverages. It has an independent Food Division which supplies a full line of produce offering more than 20,000 fresh and frozen goods like meats, seafood, produce and dairy. It also offers restaurant equipment and supplies. The company’s independent Beverage Division distributes over 1,000 beer brands to retailers in 61 Texas counties. Ben E. Keith is one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributors in the nation.

With a long history the company has proven its resilience and remains very profitable.

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