aka: Allen Canning Company
aka: Sager Creek Vegetable Company
Allens, Inc., began canning vegetables at Siloam Springs (Benton County) in 1926. From its inception, the Allen family owned and operated the company, which, by 2013, employed more than 1,000 people nationwide and produced canned and frozen vegetables with eleven brand names: Allens, Butterfield, Freshlike, Popeye Spinach, Princella, Royal Prince, Sugary Sam, Sunshine, Trappey’s, Veg-All, and Wagon Master. Company offices were in downtown Siloam Springs, and processing plants are located across the United States. In late 2013, the company declared bankruptcy and put itself up for sale. After its purchase by Sager Creek Acquisition Corp., it was renamed Sager Creek Vegetable Company, although brand names were retained. In 2015, the company was purchased by Del Monte.
Earl and Shadye Allen established Allen Canning Company in 1926 to can tomatoes at an abandoned distillery northeast of Siloam Springs, still known as Plant 1 or Country Plant. Almost all processing was done by hand, and two of the couple’s five children, Irma Faye and Kathryn, worked in the plant.
Green beans were the first addition to the product line, and the work continued to be a family and community affair. The ends of the green beans were snipped in the evenings, when area families could gather at the plant to visit and earn twenty-five cents per bushel of snipped beans. The company survived drought and the Great Depression, and during World War II, plants were added at Siloam Springs, Gentry (Benton County), and the Oklahoma communities of Kansas and Proctor, to can a wider variety of vegetables to help feed American troops.
In 1945, company offices were built at 305 East Main in downtown Siloam Springs. Earl Allen died suddenly in 1948 at the age of fifty-seven, and Delbert E. Allen Sr., then age twenty-nine, took over management of the company. From the late 1950s into the 1960s, the company expanded rapidly. A setback occurred on October 4, 1962, when Plant 1 burned, almost completely destroying the fall harvest. But the chance to rebuild their oldest plant left the Allens with one of the most modern canning plants in the nation. A June 8, 1974, flood in downtown Siloam Springs left five feet of water in the general offices, and several employees escaped the flood by climbing onto the roof. Plant 1 was damaged in the flood but was back in operation in eleven days.
By 1976, the company produced more than 100 products and ranked in the top ten canners in the world. It also claimed the title of world’s largest independent food processor. The company declared that a field picked in the morning could be canned and shipped that afternoon. The company was also involved in research with the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) to develop new varieties of beans and tomatoes.
In 1978, Allen Canning Company acquired the Popeye spinach brand, and in 1988, Roderick L. Allen, son of Delbert E. Allen Sr., was named chairman and chief executive officer. The company became known as Allens, Inc.
In October 2013, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After initially announcing that it was seeking to sell off its frozen vegetables line, the company later acknowledged a debt of more than $280 million and began pursuing buyers for substantially all of its operating assets. On February 3, 2014, the newly formed entity Sager Creek Acquisition Corp. was the high bidder at auction, bidding $160 million to buy the company. Allens was renamed Sager Creek Vegetable Company.
In March 2015, Del Monte Foods, Inc., purchased Sager Creek. Two years later, they sold the subsidiary to McCall Farms, a deal which entailed the closing of a Siloam Springs production plant.
For additional information:
Warden, Don. “Allen Canning Company: From Tomatoes to Watermelon Rinds—and Don’t Forget Popeye.” Benton County Pioneer 47, no. 3 (2002): 16–17.
Siloam Springs Museum
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(July 2015) I bought a can of Freshlike Selects sweet peas and tiny onions. I was going to have it for dinner tonight and when I opened the can and poured it into the pan, I had only two tiny onions in the can. I’m very disappointed and will not ever buy a can again. What a rip-off!
(November 2015) I opened a can of Allen’s lima beans and found about 2 tablespoons of limas in 3/4 can of water. Needless to say, I discarded the contents. I am hesitant to buy Allen’s again, since this has never happened to me before.
(April 2015) I bought a can of sweet potatoes for Easter dinner. This is the only brand I ever buy or have bought in 42 years. I was totally shocked when I opened it. We ended up having mac and cheese with our ham. It ruined our dinner.
It’s a damned shame that such a great company would fall! My grandfather (Gene Forkner) and uncle (Danny Forkner) did all they could do to make sure it lasted, and it’s a damned shame that the Allen’s name has gone by the wayside. I grew up watching my family pour their lifeblood into this company, believing it was the best family and company to be a part of. It’s sad to say it was all for nothing. I had great memories growing up in the canneries, but that’s all it is now, just a memory. Sorry to see such a great legacy go to waste.