Vermont Hard Cider Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Bret Williams estimates that when he joined the Middlebury, Vt.-based company in 1996 as its first sales associate that the company shipped approximately 300,000 cases a year. In 2012, the company shipped 3 million cases of its Woodchuck Hard Cider brand, he says.
Still operating out of the same 62,000-square-foot facility, the company is “busting at the seams” to keep up with demand from all 50 states. For the last two years, offices were relocated to portable trailer units, and toward the end of 2012 into early 2013, those offices moved to a satellite location just around the corner from the cidery.
In addition to space constraints for its offices, Vermont Hard Cider Co. also is in need of space for product development and storage. “We’re out of space for our liquid, so we’re going to need some more tanks, and we’re completely out of warehouse space,” Williams explains. “Any one of those problems by itself is a hurdle, but when you get hit with all three at the same time.”
Acquired by Dublin-based C&C Group at the end of 2012, Vermont Hard Cider Co. will break ground this spring on a $30 million, approximately 100,000-square-foot facility. The construction period is estimated to last between 12 and 15 months, Williams notes.
“We’re building a new facility from scratch, breaking ground in April, that will be just over 100,000 square feet here in Middlebury, and we’re going to run both operations,” he says.
The dual facilities will more than double its current capacity and also will feature corporate offices and a visitor’s center.
“What we’re excited about with the new cidery is it’s going to be a combination of everything,” Williams explains. “It’s going to be a state-of-the-art, world-class facility, but the line’s going to be laid out so that people that come in and visit can see the process, so it’s a nice balancing act of making sure that it’s super efficient yet laid out strategically so the people can come and really feel the process and see it.”
At its current cidery, Vermont Hard Cider Co. has a bottling line, which was purchased in 2007, that processes 600 bottles a minute for its 12-ounce bottles, a dedicated large-format bottling line for the 750-ml bottles of its Farmhouse Select 91 that handles 30 bottles a minute, as well as a keg line that does one keg a minute.
“The one that the [keg line] replaced, two guys could do 30 kegs an hour,” Williams explains. “This one, one guy can do 60 kegs in an hour.”
Although its six-packs of 12-ounce bottles and its 15.5-gallon kegs account for the majority of its business, the company also installed a canning line last year to meet consumer requests for Woodchuck hard cider in cans.
“Fans really wanted the cans, and we didn’t have room for a canning line, but we went out last spring and said, ‘We’re buying a canning line and we’re going to shove it in the warehouse,’” Williams says. “We didn’t have room, but if the fans want it, we’re going to do it. It’s given us some fun challenges in trying to be creative with space in the warehouse, but it was the right thing to do, and they’re responding and they love it.”
Williams says the canning line processes about
30 cans a minute and is running three shifts a day in order to keep up with demand. Packaged by hand, the Woodchuck Amber in cans has become the company’s second-fastest growing package, trailing only the variety pack, Williams says.
Like the canning line, packaging for the variety pack also is constantly operating within the warehouse. Employees are hand-packing the variety package with the four different varieties: Amber, Granny Smith, 802 Dark & Dry and Crisp. Due to the growing demand for the variety pack coupled with the space constraints of the current plant, Williams says the assembly of the variety pack will continue to be a non-automated practice for now.
Although space within the current cidery might be a bit tight, once the new 100,000-square-foot facility is completed next year, Vermont Hard Cider Co. has some big plans to help keep up with its growing demand.
“We’re going to put in an entirely new 600-bottles-per-minute bottling line, a new keg line, and I think we’re going to have to put in another canning line as well,” Williams says. “So it’s going to be a brand-new, state-of-the-art, world-class facility as a standalone operation separate from our current facility because we’re landlocked in our current location.”