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Sunday, 28 September 2014 22:00

Beer City Glass taps into growing craft brewing industry

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Beer City Glass in the city of Wyoming screen-prints glass growlers sold at many of the microbreweries in West Michigan, but orders from national and international customers have also been on the rise in recent years. Beer City Glass in the city of Wyoming screen-prints glass growlers sold at many of the microbreweries in West Michigan, but orders from national and international customers have also been on the rise in recent years. PHOTO: JOHN WIEGAND

Breweries and taphouses are far from the only businesses benefiting from the boom in craft beer production these days.

As the impact of consumers’ thirst for microbrews extends beyond the brewery production floor, local companies such as Beer City Glass LLC are finding their niche in serving the growing national industry.

Based in Wyoming just south of Grand Rapids, the company screen-prints labels on glass containers such as 64-ounce growlers, 32-ounce howlers and pint glasses for customers across a growing regional, national and international market.

A similar entrepreneurial drive that compelled microbrewers to launch small startup operations has carried over into the company, said David Thomas, co-owner of Beer City Glass. The company currently has three full-time employees and operates from a 4,000-square-foot production facility.

“We work 12 to 14 hours a day for what sometimes feels like eight days a week, but it’s a craft all to its own and we have fun doing it,” Thomas told MiBiz.

Despite its size, the company has seen significant growth over the years, said Jackie Lautenbach, co-owner of Beer City Glass. While the majority of its clients are Michigan-based, Beer City Glass does approximately 40 percent of its business outside the state — including a growing international market in the Caribbean, Canada and Europe.

The company has seen a corresponding 50-percent hike in sales to date from last year and expects to close the year 60 percent ahead of 2013’s sales numbers, which the owners declined to disclose. Beer City Glass plans to hire three additional employees as that growth ramps up.

Beer City also prints labels on a variety of other glass and plastic containers such as olive oil, maple syrup and chemical bottles.

As the appetite for craft beer expands, products along the supply chain such as growlers are witnessing similar growth trajectories, said Mark Dorich, vice president of retail operations at Founders Brewing Co. Ten percent of all pours at the Grand Rapids microbrewery’s taphouse have gone into consumers’ growlers, he said.

As the operations have expanded and grown, so have Founders’ growler fills. The company has filled an average of 2,000 growlers a month this year, up from 700 a month in 2008, Dorich said. The brewery filled about 200 percent more growlers at the close of 2013 than it did in 2008, he said.

While growlers will only keep beer fresh for about 48 hours, consumers continue to flock to the products because they allow drinkers to access unique beers and freshly tapped brews and take home taproom-only beers, Dorich said.

“Some of those benefits are being able to enjoy fresh craft beer from the source with more selection. Some of the most highly sought after products started as taproom beers and are specific to there,” said Dorich, citing as examples Founders’ Blushing Monk, an imperial fruit beer, and Canadian Breakfast Stout, a chocolate and coffee stout aged in spent bourbon barrels that had been used to store maple syrup.

Beer City Glass owners Thomas and Lautenbach originally had the idea to begin printing on glassware while screen-printing labels for plastic chemical bottles in-house at Haviland Enterprises Inc. — a Grand Rapids-based chemical manufacturer. After attending the 2008 PMMI Pack Expo in Chicago and seeing glass screen-printing equipment in action, the owners realized there was an untapped opportunity in the growing beer industry back home.

“We came back (from the show) and just ran with it from there and figured it out as we went,” Lautenbach said.

Back in Grand Rapids, the owners purchased additional preparation and curing equipment specific to glass screen-printing and signed their first client, Founders Brewing Co., the same year. Local clients include Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery in Ada, Rockford Brewing Co. and Elk Brewing LLC in Grand Rapids.

After growing the business while still working at Haviland, the owners separated the company to form Beer City Glass in February of this year.

The market for the fledgling company continues to expand as the number of craft breweries and brewpubs across the country has grown approximately 79 percent, up from 1,574 in 2008 to 2,822 this year, according to data from the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, a national trade group.

Going forward, the company hopes to capitalize on craft beer’s expansion by incorporating an aggressive sales strategy in its state, national and international markets, Lautenbach said. Beer City Glass also plans to diversify its product portfolio by developing its engraving capabilities and screen-printing on flat surfaces, such as mirrors.

“We’d like to become that one-stop shop for glassware and add products where it make senses for the customers,” Lautenbach said.
Nationwide, breweries have opened at an average rate of 1.2 new operations per day over the last two years — with industry leaders predicting similar growth into 2014, as MiBiz previously reported.

As the industry continues to grow, so too will products across the supply chain, from pint glasses to beer-related apparel, said Founders’ Dorich. For the owners of Beer City Glass, they hope to see growth in the craft beer industry translate into business for their company.

“We’ve been running at mach speed,” Lautenbach said. “We’ve been so busy and loving every minute of it.”

Read 4290 times Last modified on Sunday, 28 September 2014 21:03

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