Nalley’s, a once-prominent regional food producer with over 800 employees, eventually stopped making pickles, chips, and peanut butter. The plant’s owners changed, business declined, and its goods were replaced by less expensive alternatives on supermarket shelves and in cafeterias.
How did Nalley fare?
This week’s Throwback Thursday journey takes us to Modesto, California in February 1972 for the debut of the 87,000 square foot Nalleys Fine Foods Canning Facility, a manufacturing facility that Epstein conceived, engineered, and then built in an impressive 10 months!
The 10-acre Nalleys complex produced, stored, and shipped specialty canned meat products to Nalleys customers across the country. In the 1970s, Nalley’s canned convenience foods included lasagna, corned beef hash, meatballs, ravioli, and spaghetti items. Chili and beef stew were the first goods to leave this particular production line.
The Nalleys plant included a structural system with concrete columns, a laminated wood beam roof system, and tilt-up panels with an exposed aggregate outside face for the exterior walls.
Currently owned by Pinnacle Foods, Nalley’s is known for producing the best chili in the Northwest. Over 1,300 culinary items are currently sold under the Nalleys brand, including pickles, canned goods, salad dressing, and peanut butter.
Where are the pickles for Nalley made?
Why the huge get eaten by the bigger: For local businesses, success can be their deadliest adversary.
The announcement earlier this month that Hillshire Farms would pay $6.6 billion to acquire Pinnacle Foods had an impact locally: Nalley’s is one of the trademarks in the Pinnacle portfolio and has been a significant employer in Tacoma for almost a century. On Tuesday, it was reported that Chicago-based chicken company Pilgrim’s Pride may be open to purchasing Hillshire.
The following several days will show who does what to whom and at what cost. The larger businesses that preserve the packaging but throw away the filling—the local plants, like the one that once existed in Tacoma—and the history that they were founded on have been consuming localized food brands like Nalley’s, which is a very real fact that is obscured by the corporate dance.
Marcus Narancic, a 13-year-old Croatian immigrant, came in New York in 1903 with just 15 cents. He was completely incomparable in English. He worked at a steel mill, as a meat packer, and then in a hotel kitchen where he progressed from fry cook to kitchen flunky to pantry boy. On the Milwaukee Railroad’s train from Chicago to Tacoma, he enlisted as a cook; he eventually worked at the Bonneville Hotel in Tacoma.
Marcus, when a small boy living in the Puyallup Valley, learned how to create the thinly sliced, deep-fried “Sararatoga Chips” that were popular at the time, at least on the East Coast. By the 1920s, Herman Lay, a producer, began referring to his Saratoga creations as “potato chips.” Lay would automate the production process and launch his nationwide chip sales. But before that, in 1918, Marcus Narancic merely paid $5 a month to rent a storage space behind his flat and distributed his potato chips to homes and grocery stores door to door in a basket.
As time went on, Marcus added other culinary items, such as pickles (made from cucumbers produced in the Puyallup Valley), beans for chili, salad dressings, and so on. His original name, Narancic, was changed to Nalley. In the canyon off State Route 16, his firm erected a factory, which continued to expand and eventually became one of Tacoma’s greatest employers.
According to the corporate website, Nalley continued to expand when Marcus Nalley passed away in 1962: later, new facilities were established in Tigard, Oregon, and Billings, Montana. Nalley’s was steadily turning into a household favorite in the Northwestern home. In reality, the corporation ran more than 10 potato chip facilities in the US at its peak of operations. There are currently more than 1,300 culinary items with the Nalley brand, including pickles, canned goods, salad dressing, and peanut butter. The Nalley brand is still associated with savory, premium food items, with canned chili being its greatest seller.
Of course, the website is silent on the fact that Nalley’s itself has closed. But when your can of chili, pickle jar, or bag of chips loses its independence, that is what happens.
Nobody is actually to blame. It’s not like Marcus Nalley or the business planned to violate the confidence that others had in him or his family. When was the last time Nalley’s, a local cuisine landmark, was? It was then not. It stopped being.
Nalley’s was one of those companies that contracted the cancer of ambition, a cancer that required financial transfusions from banks and investors, long before it closed the South Tacoma plant, long before the pickles began to come from India, and long before its slow, sad decline as a regional brand. The company was not afflicted by failure; on the contrary, it was afflicted by prosperity. The Nalley’s that is still operating today, hidden away in a vast holding company, didn’t lose its way because it was struggling to make it through difficult times. Instead, it sold its soul because the alluring light of “more” drew it in.
In actuality, businesses develop and are frequently bought by big corporations. The facilities are relocated by the new corporate owners to an area with less expensive labor and even less expensive ingredients. They promise to create synergies of cost-effective sourcing, efficient production, and improved distribution from their gleaming mahogany boardrooms, and then they profit from their rosy new bottom line by selling the business to a private equity group.
In the case of Nalley’s, Marcus and his family sold the business to a firm called Agrilink, which was shortly bought up by Dean Foods. When Dean was acquired by New Jersey-based Pinnacle Foods, the Tacoma operation was shut down. The corporate goal was to protect America’s most recognizable food brands, but in reality, they were buried.
Is this assessment too harsh? Just consider a few of the companies that fall under the Pinnacle Foods banner: In addition to Nalley’s, there are Tim’s Cascade Chips, Hungryman, Van de Kamp, Armour, Birds Eye, Log Cabin, Mrs. Butterworh, and Aunt Jemima. Some of these are still available on grocery store shelves, but they are scarcely the top products in their category.
Inches-by-inches competition for shelf space is where the grocery wars are fought in America’s supermarkets. There may be hundreds of brands, but there are only three top competitors: Kraft, Proctor & Gamble, and Nestle. Coca-Cola, Mars, General Mills, Unilever, and Kellogg. By the way, Pinnacle Foods is not included on the short list. It therefore comes as no surprise that Pinnacle’s corporate parent, the private equity firm Blackstone Group, sold Pinnacle earlier this month. Blackstone, which is estimated to be worth $100 billion, roughly, has a strong focus on investing in technology and the biological sciences; food isn’t really a good fit.
However, the memory of the Nalley family is fading. The harm cannot be undone. We must remember that other things—be they types of beer or coffee, airplanes or bookshops—will also suffer the same fate. Do you honestly believe there will be 21,000 Starbucks locations open in 2100?
If you still believe Nalley’s is an exceptional, one-off story, think about all the well-known brands that have vanished. Since they typically start as family businesses and demand a level of dedication that seldom survives a second generation, bakeries are particularly hard-hit. Examples include Brenner Brothers, Gai’s, and Langendorf. Tim’s Cascade Snacks, the spirtual heir of Nalley’s, has been a part of Pinnacle Foods for many years.
It’s still unclear whether the Pinnacle’s new owners will even pretend to keep Nalley’s open for business.
Has Nalley Chili been gluten-free?
Wheat and Their Derivatives, Other Gluten-Containing Grain and Gluten-Containing Grain Products, Soybean and its Derivatives, and Corn and Its Derivatives are Allergen Information.
Does Nalley gluten-free chili in a can?
25 Ingredients This product must be devoid of gluten, msg, artificial colors, artificial flavors, peanuts, and other tree nuts. It also must not include any eggs.
How can I improve Nalley chili?
To enhance the flavor of the chili, top it with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, and/or a serving of fresh salsa on the side. In a pinch, even the spiciness and tangy acidity of a decent hot sauce can be the difference between night and day.
Is there MSG in Nalley’s chili?
Includes MSG! Fooducate uses lipids, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein to generate FoodPoints. They do not represent the product’s or its maker’s endorsement or approval. Less points are preferable.