Snack food success

GUBA competes against larger firms for market share in peanut business

Roscoe Allen wasn’t sure what type of business he wanted to start until a road trip to a car sales auction in Georgia provided the perfect idea. “While I was driving, I spotted a vacant peanut processing plant,” Allen says. “I didn’t know a lot about the peanut business, but I knew there were no black peanut processors in the South. It was the perfect opportunity to create my own label, so I decided to give the peanut industry a try.”

Today Allen, 38, is president of the Roscoe Allen Co., a $3 million Ocilla, Georgia-based nut processing business that produces salted nuts and other mixed snacks for nearly 3,000 supermarket chains throughout the South.

In 1996, Allen leased the peanut plant for 15 months, and began producing peanuts, cashews and mixed nuts under the GUBA label (GUBA is derived from the Congolese word nguba, which means peanut) for Publix and Bi-Lo supermarkets. A year later, he began distributing to Publix, which did sales tests on his peanuts in its Miami stores.

“At first they carried my product in 150 of their stores in Miami, but it sold so well there that they decided to put it in all 550 of their stores,” Allen says.

With that experience under his belt, he was able to secure a $50,000 guaranteed loan from the Business Development Corp. of Georgia, a U.S. Small Business Administration preferred lender, to acquire the peanut plant for $525,000 and, later, a second SBA-guaranteed loan of $250,000 to expand the business in order to sell to other supermarkets.

He then prepared press kits with product samples, sent them to supermarket chains and made follow-up calls. Once a store expressed interest, he made a formal presentation before the buyers, including those of Kroger, Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie.

Despite the company’s success, Allen says distributing his products has not been easy. “Some supermarket chains have their own brand, so they aren’t willing to try something new. But I’m cheaper than just about any brand on the shelf, so I’m able to compete in price.” GUBA’s products sell for about $1.69 each, vs. $1.79-$2.39 for other major brands.

Allen, who was named Georgia’s 1998 Small Business Person of the Year by the SBA, says his formula for success is perseverance. “Believing in myself and never quitting are mottos that I apply to my business and everything else I do.”

The Roscoe Allen Co., P.O. Box 796, Ocilla, GA 31774; 912-468-9540; roscoe@planttel.net

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