Molson Coors Beverage Company is making substantial investments in its Fort Worth brewery to boost capacity and to support the production and packaging of its expanding portfolio of hard seltzers.
The multimillion-dollar project – which includes the installation of a new canning line completed earlier this year and a state-of-the-art filtration system expected to be finished later this fall – will more than quintuple Molson Coors’ U.S. capacity to make hard seltzers and other beverages, such as fast-growing Vizzy and soon-to-debut Coors Seltzer.
The improvements are part of a larger, global plan to upgrade facilities and equipment to improve efficiency and prepare the company for the future as it increasingly moves into beverages beyond beer.
“As we see our innovations take off, we want to be able to react quickly and take those products in-house when it makes sense from a business perspective,” says Brian Erhardt, chief supply chain officer at Molson Coors. “Vizzy is a good example. Once we saw it take off this year, we made a big bet on an investment in our slim-can capabilities as well as our production lines to better service our customers when it comes to supplying these products.”
Despite not launching nationally until April, Vizzy’s 12-pack variety packs rank as the No. 3 new item across the entire beer and malt category in 2020, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data through June 27. The only products ahead of it? Two other hard seltzers: White Claw’s new variety 12-packs and Corona Hard Seltzer 12-packs.
What’s more, eight of the top 10 Nielsen Growth Brands in the most-recent period are hard seltzers, underscoring a seismic shift in the beverage alcohol industry. That’s another reason Molson Coors remains bullish on the segment, throwing more weight behind Vizzy and Coors Seltzer, which is slated to launch in September.
Like most other large hard seltzer makers in the U.S., Molson Coors uses a contract manufacturer to produce certain products, including Vizzy. But because the beverages have been on a sizzling run for the past three years, the ability to quickly adjust production to meet booming demand is limited. So after Vizzy shot out of the gates, the company moved to add the capability in-house.
“You’ll see us continue to react quickly into the future. When we can support a business case to make capital improvements in our facilities, we’ll definitely do it,” Erhardt says.
Molson Coors also recently completed a new brewery near Vancouver, British Columbia, and plans to open a new brewery in Montreal in late 2021. It is also investing millions more into its Rocky Mountain Metal Container can plant in Golden, Colo., that will enable the company to bring much of its slim can production in-house by the end of the year.
That’s particularly important as more volume moves into 12-ounce slim cans, which have come into favor in recent years and are used to package brands like Blue Moon LightSky and Vizzy, the latter of which is now canned on the new line in Fort Worth.
The new filtration system set to be installed in Fort Worth this fall will make both products and allow Molson Coors to more quickly scale up products that show early promise.
Although the company is moving some production in-house, it still views contract manufacturers as a key part of its strategy.
In the interim, the company made another adjustment this summer that allowed it to purchase tanker trucks full of neutral fermented base from its contract manufacturer that’s shipped to Fort Worth, where it’s flavored, finished and packaged. That allowed the brewery to more than double its output capacity for Vizzy over the key summer months, Erhardt says.
“Two or three months ago, we never thought we’d be able to do this until our new filtration system is installed later this year,” Erhardt says. “But our team in Fort Worth found a way to engineer our systems to make it work, we partnered with our contract supplier to provide fermented and filtered base, and we started packaging additional Vizzy just a couple of weeks ago.”
And all of this happened with the coronavirus pandemic as a backdrop, which forced brewery employees to handle the upgrades without the typical benefit of contractors and engineering firms on hand to help transition and commission new lines, says Greg Moore, senior packaging manager at the Fort Worth brewery.
Despite those challenges and more, the brewery has taken projects that typically take months and completed them in weeks, Moore says.
“When you’re in the middle of it, it’s all pretty stressful,” he says. “But hats off to this whole team. When the dust settles and we step back and catch our breath, you say that was a cool accomplishment. We really did help deliver for the business.”
By PETER FROST