It does not matter if the beverage company is big or small,or if they produce tea or water or energy drinks. When contract packagers are sought to produce a beverage, the most important aspect between the beverage company and the contract packer is communication.

Many times beverage companies will want the contract packer to produce its product, but there may be an issue with bottle or label size, or perhaps ingredient mixture. By keeping the doors of communication open, more problems will be resolved, say industry experts.

President of New Kensington, Pa.-based Castle Co-Packers Brian Dworkin understands the challenges of a co-packer and beverage company relationship. To him and his company, personality makes a huge difference.

“To us, everything is about personality,” he says. “The whole staff and everyone, the incoming beverage company has to fit with the company culture. We try not to say the word ‘no.’ We try to figure things out. Let’s see what it will take to do this, and let’s do this together.”

Castle Co-Packers has been packaging and producing beverages since 2005, and Honest Tea was the company’s first customer. Clients of Castle Co-Packers continue to ask for teas and functional beverages, Dworkin says. The company now packages for companies such as Herbal Mist, Sweet Leaf Tea, Hint and Target’s Archer Farms brand.

In addition to the actual beverages, Castle Co-Packers also focuses on packaging. Dworkin says the 32-ounce size has been popular this year. In addition, the company added hot-fill energy shot sizes last year, and will be adding 64-ounce rectangular bottles by the end of this year.

“We added hot-fill energy shots in January of this year,” he says. “We set up a line to run 200 energy shots a minute. We also are building another line right now. We will then have five lines, and I started off four years ago with one line. We have been really lucky. We keep growing.”

Castle Co-Packers also has been focusing on sustainability at the plant by recirculating cleaning water and using a chemical-free boiler system. The company also sorts all the glass, plastic and cardboard in color-coded dumpsters to simplify the recycling process, Dworkin says.

The company provides its clients a plethora of options in regard to packaging, ingredients and other production essentials. Dworkin admits to having more than 1,200 ingredients on site.

“We are one-stop shopping at this point,” he says. “We can do anything from hot-fill energy shots all the way up to 64-ounces and everything in between. As far as labeling, we can do cut-and-stack, sleeve label and pressure-sensitive. We have an on-site warehouse. We can do club store packaging as well as variety packs to printed shrinkfilm. We also have a food scientist on staff for development.”

Castle Co-Packers offers its beverage clients a variety of options when they are interested in producing a product. With this in mind, a phone call is what starts the entire process.

“The initial phone call is where they describe the product,” Dworkin says. “If they don’t have batching instructions, we work together on that. Then we make sure they come out to the plant, and they will meet everybody. That’s really important, meeting everybody, knowing the personalities, making sure all their personalities and our personalities mix well together. Most people laugh at that one, but that’s really the most important because without a plant, there is no brand.”

Treating the co-packer and beverage customer relationship like a partnership makes the entire process run more smoothly, Dworkin says.

“Once you start dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars — which sometimes one day of product will cost you $100,000 with ingredients and packaging — you’re at a different level,” he says. “You’re not just simply writing a check, we provide a service, and you go on your way. We do it together. You’re dealing with too large a number to treat it as though they are just customers and we are a plant. Communication is key. The more you help, the more they appreciate you.”

Castle Co-Packers not only has good relationships with its beverage customers, but also with other co-packing facilities. H.A. Rider & Sons, Watsonville, Calif., and Castle Co-Packers refer customers back and forth, Dworkin says.

“Not many plants out there are friends because everyone is so cutthroat,” Dworkin says. “Rider is our back-up plan if there is an emergency, and we are Rider’s backup plan as well. It works well because if there is a catastrophe in Pittsburgh, they are far enough away that they can actually cover for us and we could recoup.”

Communication with beverage customers also is an important aspect to the business at H.A Rider & Sons. It really is a two-way street, says Thomas Rider.

“If they go through some of the development stuff like what label and what bottle they are going to use, it’s very important to have that back and forth so they don’t think they can do something that really can’t be done,” Rider says.

H.A. Rider & Sons operates a glass and hot-fill PET line, both filling around 180 to 200 bottles per minute. The company produces 6-ounce to 1-gallon packages in glass and 8-ounce to 1-gallon containers in PET. Beverages including ready-to-drink teas, flavored waters, fruit blends, fruit juices, energy drinks and wellness drinks are produced on the 26-acre site.

When a beverage company wants its product manufactured at H.A. Rider & Sons, Rider and his brother, the plant supervisor and the production manager, go over the project and tackle any issues they see. Flexibility is essential when working with beverage customers because every client comes in with a different approach to their product, Rider says.

“You have to either bend with them or sway with them one way or another,” he adds. “You don’t want to automatically say no. It’s a little bit like a push and pull. We help them keep on track or point them in the right direction.”

Another important aspect to the co-packer and beverage client relationship is understanding what the client wants in the end.

“A lot of times, the client is frustrated and nervous [about the process],” Rider says. “It’s like a new expectant father … They are nervous about it, but we do this every day. We try to make it look easy.”

Rider also says it is important to keep up good relations not only with the beverage customer, but also with the bottle suppliers, cap suppliers and other aspects of the overall operation. “It’s a full spectrum project,” he says.

Lasting partnership

Family-owned Brooklyn Bottling Co., Milton, N.Y., co-packs a range of pressed apple juices, juice cocktails, teas, seltzers, flavored waters and soft drinks. The company has been in business since 1946, and the facility is 240,000 square feet located on 15 acres.

Brooklyn Bottling has four production lines. Line 1 is a cold-fill PET line that can fill 8-ounce, 24-ounce, 1-liter, 2-liter and 3-liter sizes. Line 2 is a hot-fill PET line that runs 20-ounce, 32-ounce, 64-ounce and 128-ounce packages. Line 3 is a glass line that can fill 12-ounce cold-fill and 16-ounce hot-fill. In addition, shrinkwrap trays are available for 12-packs, 20-packs and 24-packs.

Line 4 is a hot and cold-fill can line. It can run fridgepack-style and suitcase configurations in 8-ounce, 12-ounce and 16-ounce sizes. A fridgepack also can be produced in 24-ounce sizes. Shrinkwrap trays are available for 8-ounce, 12-ounce, 16-ounce and 24-ounce cans.

The company uses its multiple lines to produce beverages for 10 customers, including Honest Tea and Inko’s. With any number of customers, it is important to be understanding, says Eric Miller, president at Brooklyn Bottling.

“Maintaining good relationships with our beverage customers comes down to basically listening more than you speak so you understand the customer’s mindset, needs and desires,” Miller says.

Being accommodating to the customer also is an important aspect to the relationship. Miller has worked with Inko’s Tea for five years, and he says Inko’s white tea, which can be temperature sensitive has unique warehousing needs. Brooklyn Bottling found Inko’s some warehouse space in its facility.

Female owned and operated

On what once was owned by Coors Brewing Co., the 32-acre facility of Hardy Bottling Co., Memphis, Tenn., a division of Chism Hardy Enterprise, has contract packed branded and private label beverages in a variety of sizes since January 2007. Carolyn Hardy, president and chief executive officer of Hardy Bottling Co., previously worked for Coors Brewing Co. in Memphis as vice president of operations. When Coors made the announcement that it would be merging with Molson, the Memphis facility went up for sale. Hardy decided she would buy the facility and start her own contract packaging business.

“The plant was up for sale and she thought it was a great opportunity to keep employed the people who were already there, keep the jobs in Memphis and also expand her entrepreneurship into the beverage industry,” says Marie Heitman, business development manager at Hardy Bottling Co. “Caroline did the impossible by getting some backers and purchasing the facility. We are the only female, minority-owned facility in the United States of its kind.”

Hardy Bottling Co. began producing beverage products in January 2007. The facility site is 32-acres, but the company sits on more than 100 acres of property. Currently, the facility operates with four can lines, three with a tunnel pasteurizer; three bottle lines, each with a tunnel pasteurizer; and a new hot-fill line that was added this year. The lines can produce cans in 8.4-ounce, 12-ounce, 12-ounce sleek, 16-ounce and 24-ounce; and bottles (glass, plastic and aluminum) in 7-ounce, 8-ounce, 12-ounce, 16-ounce, 16.9-ounce, 20-ounce and 24-ounce sizes. The company also is able to package product in 12- and 24-count shrinkwrap trays, four-packs, six-packs, eight-packs and fridgepacks.

The can and bottle lines are capable of producing energy drinks, tea, enhanced waters, functional drinks, carbonated soft drinks, organic products and juices. In addition, Hardy Bottling has a license to produce alcohol products, but is not manufacturing them at this time, Heitman says.

With the ever-changing beverage industry, it is important to be versatile and flexible with beverage customers, says Bernadette Fuller, vice president of quality at Hardy Bottling Co. Understanding that each client has different plans and ideas for their product also is a crucial part to making the relationship a success.

“We have learned that every customer is different and we go to great pains to learn what our customer requirements are,” Fuller says. “We get a very detailed list of each customer requirement, and we get together with our employees and go over the requirements before ever producing the product on the line. The big thing is to know your customers, know their expectations and deliver on their expectations.”

Hardy Bottling currently co-packs for 58 beverage customers, and since January 2007, the company has produced more than 270 different products.

Heitman says it is equally important to communicate efficiently with the suppliers because sometimes negotiations will ensure volume discounts with the customers.

“A lot of our customers are new to the market, so by keeping their cost down, they can introduce the product to the market with a reasonable cost,” she says.

Hardy Bottling strives to maintain good relationships with its beverage clients, and did so even when a natural disaster tried to bring it down.

“In February 2008, we had a tornado hit our facility and most of the people in the co-packing business kind of figured we were out of the game at that point,” Heitman says. “But the team here … we all bound together and we were back up in business the first week of April producing product. We were supported by our major customers, Arizona Tea, Rockstar and Fuze. People like that stood behind us and continued to do business with us, even when we were trying to recover from the storm. Because of that, we are stronger company.” BI