Ben E. Keith is your bud if you like eating out and drinking brew. Through its beverage division, the company delivers more than 1,000 beer brands to retailers in about 60 Texas counties, and it is also one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributors in the nation. The beverage unit also distributes sodas, energy drinks, and water. Ben E. Keith's food division offers more than 20,000 fresh and frozen goods (including meats, seafood, produce, and dairy) as well as restaurant equipment and supplies. Its customers include restaurants, hotels, schools, and other institutional foodservice operators in a dozen Southern states. The company operates distribution centers in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Strategic acquisitions have been critical to growth, enabling Ben E. Keith to expand its product selection and strengthen its coverage. In early 2011 the company acquired Oklahoma City-based Dan's Foodservice, which specializes in food sales to pizzerias in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. The states are existing markets for Ben E. Keith, the eighth-largest institutional foodservice supplier in the US. Focusing on the beverage division, the company acquired the beer distribution portfolio of regional rival Glazer's. The portfolio consisted of more than 60 craft and import beer brands, such as Sierra Nevada, Pyramid, and Flying Dog. The deal doubled Ben E. Keith's existing assortment of craft and import brews and made it the exclusive distributor of the beer brands in about 45 counties in North and Central Texas. The Glazer's transaction is part of a push by Ben E. Keith to broaden its beer selection beyond Anheuser-Busch -- it had distributed A-B exclusively until 2007 -- thereby enhancing its earnings prospects.
New distribution agreements are also key to Ben E. Keith's beverage business. Following the Glazer's deal, Ben E. Keith inked a contract with San Antonio's Alamo Beer to stock and market its Alamo Golden Ale. Alamo Beer tapped Ben E. Keith for its wide geographic reach in the Lone Star State. Similarly, Oregon-based craft brewer Deschutes signed a distribution agreement with Ben E. Keith in 2010 because its Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale would reach previously unserved places in Texas, such as College Station, Corpus Christi, Denton, and El Paso. Hawaii's Maui Brewing began floating its beers (including Bikini Blonde Lager and Big Swell IPA) over to Texas via an agreement with Ben E. Keith in 2011.
As demand for Ben E. Keith's offerings has increased, so has the need for larger-scale operations. In early 2011 the company broke ground for a 475,000-sq.-ft. foodservice distribution center in Missouri City, Texas (in the Houston metro area). The facility is expected to be completed by late 2012 or early 2013.
Founded in 1906 as Harkrider-Morrison, the company assumed its current name in 1931 in honor of Benjamin Ellington Keith, who served as the firm's president until 1959. It is controlled by Robert and Howard Hallam. – less
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