Allegro Fine Foods was doing marinade when marinade was hardly even a thing.
When Allegro entered the market in the late 1970s, there were only five brands of marinade on the market, and Allegro had two of them.
“Now, there are about 220 being sold in the country, and we’re more than holding our own,” said John Fuqua, president of Allegro.
Fuqua has been working for Allegro for 36 years, having become the company’s first fulltime employee in 1983. He was hired by the founders of the company, Dave and Betsy Wilcox, and when Dave Wilcox retired in 1994, Fuqua became president.
These days, Allegro has 75 employees most of the year, and that total goes up to 100 or so during the summer when it hires high school and college students.
Fuqua said Allegro produces about 25 million units (bottles) of product a year. A good day on the production line results in about 50,000 bottles being turned out. The company has customers around the world, but Fuqua said it does particularly well in a geographic area south of a line stretching from New Mexico east through the Sun Belt states and northeast through the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.
“We’re in the top three everywhere in those areas,” he said.
The classic Allegro marinade, whose ingredients are top secret, was begun by Wilcox and his wife when they were operating Pagliacci’s restaurant in Paris and discovered the product they were using could be successfully sold on its own.
In the 1990s, the company diversified and started producing barbecue sauces, too. Allegro also bottles products for other companies, such as salad dressings and malt vinegars.
The Allegro facility on the Highway 218 Bypass runs production lines four days a week, with two staggered shifts of workers for 10 hours a day. The plant is closed on Fridays.
Fuqua said the production lines are basically divided into two categories: self-preserved products, where the bottling operation runs at room temperature, including marinades, cooking wines, wine vinegars and liquid smokes; and heated products that have fresh ingredients in them, such as barbecue sauces.
All the products go through five different lab tests before they’re put into production, as well as having samples sent to independent labs for quality testing.
Fuqua has already set up a plan for the company after his retirement, which he says will be coming in the next couple of years, though no official date is set yet. Thomas Harrison will be taking over as president after Fuqua steps down.
“I’m very proud to be in a spot where I have somebody (Harrison) that I’m confident in and that can continue the company,” he said.
“Allegro is employee-owned, so I’ll actually be selling my shares back to the company when I retire and they’ll be able to sell those to new employees,” Fuqua said.
Through the years, Allegro has maintained its distribution level, and Fuqua expects the future to be full of possibilities, and expansion is probable.
“Our product has passed the test of time,” he said.