Ben E. Keith Foods is expanding – and staying – in North Little Rock.
The distributor of food products has been in business since 1906, and its mid-south division has two distribution centers in central Arkansas – a 60,000 square-foot one in Little Rock’s River Port and a 160,000 square-foot one on Pike Avenue in North Little Rock. From there Ben E. Keith sends products out to all of Arkansas, parts of Tennessee, northern Louisiana, eastern Mississippi, and eastern Missouri.
“Back in the early days when we were looking to build and looking at where we would build, from a logistical standpoint it made sense to build a little further east – maybe over in the Memphis market or northern Mississippi – and distribute back toward here, but as we studied economic incentives and things like that we decided to stay here in North Little Rock,” says Rusty Mathis, general manager of Ben E. Keith Foods Mid-South Division. “And of course the biggest part of the decision is that our employees live here. We have a lot of long-time employees and this is where they are. We decided to stay here because of them.”
There are plans to hire about 75 new employees, adding to the 275 employees who will be retained when the two existing distribution centers are closed and those two operations are combined into one in the new facility.
Ben E. Keith’s Mid-South Division was once known as Dillaha Fruit Company, which was purchased by the company in 1973. The Little Rock distribution center opened in 1974 and the company operated as Dillaha Fruit Company for about six years before officially being called Ben E. Keith.
“We moved over to the one in North Little Rock one as we were growing about 14 years ago and then we went back and reopened our facility in Little Rock during a growth phase but we had the need to be under one roof and so we started planning that four or five years ago,” Mathis says. “We acquired property and started building about a year and a half ago.”
The new campus – under construction just off Interstate 440, at the corner of Highway 70 and a street that was renamed Ben E. Keith Way in July – will be 430,000 square feet. The warehouse will make up 350,000 square feet of that space.
“In the warehouse the ceiling heights are much higher so the cubic square footage is, too,” says Mathis. “Back years ago when these warehouses were built they had lower ceiling heights so now the utilization is much better.”
The rest of the space will be used for administrative offices and a truck maintenance garage.
“We’re coming up on completion here at the first of October,” says Mathis. “We’re going to start receiving product in there then throughout the fall and early winter – have to build up the inventory. Our plans are to start distribution out of there the first of January.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the types of products Ben E. Keith Mid-South distributes, the year Ben E. Keith was established and the size of the new facility. The company is a food product distributor, it was established in 1906 and its new facility is 430,000 square feet.