Whether their priorities are summed up by quality, versatility or capability, the bottom line for beverage co-packers is that customer service is No. 1 on their list. A successful beverage contract manufacturer might juggle customers and production runs of any size that run the gamut of products from functional shots to multi-serve juices. To adapt to a changing marketplace, co-packers also are diversifying their businesses by offering formulation services, adding logistics capabilities and manufacturing their own branded products.

With the capability to produce 1.5- to 10-ounce bottles, NVE Pharmaceuticals, Andover, N.J., thinks versatility is a key to its business. The company has been in the diet and energy category for more than 30 years and is a co-packer as well as manufacturer of its own Stacker2 line of energy drinks, says Bob Occhifinto, owner and chief executive officer of NVE.

“One of the most unique services that we offer is that we can produce small runs as well as the large runs of product,” Occhifinto says. “Having a full-service facility allows the customer to save time as well as money on their product development and launch. And because we own our own brands and we are not just a manufacturer, we understand the entire distribution channel from manufacturing to retail.”

NVE’s 250,000-square-foot production facility in New Jersey has four high-speed lines dedicated to energy shot production. The energy shot lines have the ability to produce 7.5 million shots per week, Occhifinto says. NVE also has a cold-fill can line for carbonated and non-carbonated beverages that can fill up to 800 8.4-ounce cans per minute, Occhifinto says.

In addition to production, NVE has in-house laboratory where it can formulate products for customers. It also can source and provide all the product’s packaging needs, including bottles, caps, and shrink wraps, such as four- and six-packs. NVE’s New Jersey facility also has six blowmold machines that can produce 1.5- to 10-ounces bottles at a rate of 30 million bottles a month, Occhifinto says. The company currently is installing several retort sterilization chambers, he says.

One-stop shop
Packaging versatility also is a priority for Castle Co-Packers, New Kensington, Pa. To appeal to its customers’ continued desire to stand out on the shelf, Castle Co-Packers offers pressure sensitive, sleeve, cut-and-stack, spot labels and orienting abilities for rectangular or square bottles, says Brian Dworkin, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

Castle Co-Packers is completing the installation of its fifth line, which will add production capabilities for 64-ounce rectangular bottles. On line one, Castle can run hot- and cold-fill PET at speeds up to 360 bottles per minute. Line two runs hot-fill glass or PET at an average rate of 400 bottles per minute, which also is the average speed for line three that produces 16-, 20-, 32- and 64-ounce PET. Its fourth line handles 2.5-ounce hot-fill shots and 8-, 10- and 12-ounce PET bottles at speeds up to 200 bottles per minute.

“Every package except for the 2.5-ounce hot-fill shots can run on at least two lines, so we made it so we have back-up plans,” Dworkin says. “We have a sleeve label on every line; a cut-and-stack label on every line. We haven’t installed them all, but we have enough pressure-sensitive labelers to put one on every line.”

This year, the company purchased almost all the assets of former Pennsylvania brewer Iron City Beer, Dworkin says. The equipment has not been installed, but Castle Co-Packers plans to use the equipment for a can line and a glass line for carbonated soft drinks, he says.

Overall, Dworkin emphasizes that customer communication is key, and “Even if you think it’s a crazy idea, you have to remember that all it took was one crazy idea and Snapple was born.”

Castle Co-Packers also started its own direct-store-distribution company this year, Dworkin says. Distribution services provide another benefit of service to its customers with delivery to the Pittsburgh area as well as into Ohio, he says. Known as Full Circle, the distribution company also offers the option of recycling pick-up from its delivery stops. The recyclables then go into Castle’s recycling stream, Dworkin says.

Next year, Brooklyn Bottling Group is adding storage and logistics capabilities for its customers, says Eric Miller, president of the New York-based company. To better serve its customers, Brooklyn Bottling expanded its storage capability by 150 percent through the purchase of a new building.

“As an incentive and as a service to [our customers], we can technically be their warehouse and logistics company as well,” Miller says. “It’s really about how can I make my customer’s life easy? Whether it’s seamless production, production of multiple items or production-logistics-warehousing services, that’s how I see becoming a successful partner in this business and, of course, reputation of a quality product.”

Brooklyn Bottling has four production lines for carbonated soft drinks and hot- and cold-fill teas and juices. Its line speeds range from 180 bottles per minute for multipack sizes to 800 cans per minute, Miller says. The plant has a line dedicated to hot-fill PET in half-gallon and additional multi-serve packages. Another line can run cold-fill glass, hot-fill PET and hot-fill glass with attached filler options to fill cold-fill, hot-fill, carbo-cooler and pasteurizer options. Cold-fill PET is the dedication of the third line that runs 20-ounce, 1-liter, 2-liter, 2.5-liter and 3-liter PET bottles. The company also has a line for cold- and hot-fill cans in 8-, 12-, 16- and 24-ounce sizes.

“Three years ago, we had the insight of going to [cans] and the business on the can line was very slow,” Miller says. “At this juncture, it’s very close to being sold-out. We’re running it at least 20 hours a day, 5 to 6 days a week. There’s room, but not a heck of a lot of room.”

This year the company also added the equipment to be able to hot-fill 64-ounce rectangular bottles, Miller says. Next year’s investments include updated clean-in-place systems and the addition of running cold-fill still products in PET bottles, he says.

Fostering growth
For Hardy Bottling Co., Memphis, Tenn., the ability of the site and capability of the company’s team are the most important aspects of being a successful beverage co-packer, says Carolyn Hardy, the company’s owner. Capacity, not necessarily in the traditional sense, also is an integral quality, she says.

“You have got to have the capacity to be loyal to 50 brands – that’s amazing,” Hardy says. “We do have that capacity. The small guy has asked me in the past, ‘Why are you guys so loyal and committed to us as well as your big customers?’ And I said, ‘In my world, you could be the next Red Bull. I don’t know that, and I hope that you remember that when you were small, you were with Hardy.’”

Hardy Bottling operates a more than 1.3-million-square-foot facility on the 26-acre site of a former Coors brewery. The company is able to produce ready-to-drink teas, energy drinks, diet varieties, relaxation drinks and a variety of enhanced waters in glass, plastic and aluminum packaging, she says. The facility runs in excess of 80 million cases per year on four can lines, which have a top speed of 1,500 cans per minute, and three bottle lines that have a top speed of 1,000 bottles per minute.

Currently, Hardy’s facility is only at a 15 percent capacity, but it has plans to grow, Hardy says.

“We are working on a strategy for the next year to increase our beverage manufacturing,” she says. “One of the things that we’re not doing right now is that we are a brewery and we plan to turn our brewery back on.”

The brewery is one of the largest in the United States that is not owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, Hardy says. The brewery’s capacity could range from 4 to 7 million barrels depending on fermentation aging time, she says. At press time, D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc., Pottsville, Pa., had signed a letter of intent to purchase Hardy Bottling.

Hardy’s Memphis location provides various advantages, including a source of Memphis water, which is known for its quality, she says. Hardy owns six wells linked to the Memphis Sands aquifer and can pump up to 7 million gallons of water a day. For logistics, Hardy can receive and ship products through its 15 incoming rail lines and load trucks at 47 dock doors, she says.

“With our customers, we want to create what I call a strategic relationship and we want them to appreciate the value of the Memphis location and our ability to add value to them,” she says. “…We had a customer who had a national roll-out and he had to do it rapidly. We went from running 20,000 cases to running 500,000 cases. He was shocked. Our ability to ramp up and do really large things is extremely unique as well as our ability to deliver a high-quality product consistently.”

Building capacity in a different way is First Fruits Beverage Co. LLC, Marion, Va. The company began operations in April in a former Pepsi plant. Although it’s a new company, First Fruits’ executive team has a combined 150 years of experience, says Jack Tally, the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

First Fruits renovated its plant with a sustainable and green focus and is pursuing LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, Tally says. The company installed energy efficient boilers, skylights and used recycled and sustainably sourced materials throughout the plant, he says.

First Fruits focuses on hot- and cold-fill production of 100 percent juice, juice blends, ready-to-drink teas, sports drinks, nutraceutical products and enhanced waters. Currently, the company has one computer-controlled line that runs up to 600 bottles per minute, but has plans for a total of three lines at its 102,000-square-foot plant. The line is able to manufacture products in glass and plastic packages from 8-ounce to 32-ounce, he says.

“We have to be efficient to operate, be productive and be profitable,” he says. “At the same time, we have to offer the highest quality we can. The way we look at our company is that we’re like a daycare for somebody’s beverages. They entrust us with the brand, with their formula and with their product and we want to deliver the highest quality just as if it was our product that we’re bottling ourselves.”

The company also places a strong emphasis on packaging and offers cut-and-stack, shrink-sleeve, and roll-fed labels. In terms of secondary packaging, First Fruits can produce 12- and 24-packs in tray-shrink or registered film formats and also variety packs, Tally says.

The company also has developed a new label offering called a Spin Label, which it is patenting, he says. The Spin Label is a label on top of a label that rotates around a base to provide 70 percent more label space. An exclusive offering from First Fruits, German company Krones developed a machine designed to apply the Spin Label, he says.

In addition to production, First Fruits also can formulate products for companies looking for a new product, line extension or product reformulation, he says. First Fruits also has off-site warehousing capability and logistics.

Century Foods International, a Sparta, Wis.-based division of Hormel Foods, offers its customers extensive expertise from formulation to production to packaging and labeling, the company says. The company produces nutritional beverages, energy drinks, weight loss drinks, water and non-carbonated, high-acid beverages in 8-ounce to 64-ounce bottles. Its focus is on quality of ingredients and finished product as well as consistency efficiency and good service, Century Foods says.

With its tagline “Bottled ideas,” Al-Rite, Miami, focuses on helping first-time inventors as well as large companies to develop new products, says Alfredo Faubel, director of sales and marketing. Al-Rite creates and bottles products ranging from ready-to-drink teas, functional drinks, energy drinks and products with up to 24 percent alcohol.

“We are not a high-speed supplier,” Faubel says. “In fact, we’re a low-speed, high flexibility competitor. We have two lines and we do anything from 1-ounce to 1-gallon so our lines are very flexible, but slow.”

Al-Rite has been in business for about 40 years and has found its new product-related niche has an inherent paradox, Faubel says.

“More than 95 percent of our clients eventually go out of business because that’s the failure rate of new products,” he says. “If the products succeed, when it comes to high-speed, we then become the suppliers of the mix or the concentrate, and it goes on to high-speed lines somewhere else where they can accommodate the economies of scale.”

In addition to developing new products for its customers, Al-Rite also produces its own products, including a wine-based ready-to-drink cocktail line.

“Alfredo’s tagline is that ‘We don’t make it cheap, we make it possible,’” says Steve Bragg, president of Al-Rite. “We’re trying to help build other people’s dreams. We’re also trying to build our own brand on the 12 percent alcohol line and expand.” BI

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