Food and Beverage Makers Find Right Ingredients for Growth in Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on May 31, 2016

Food and beverage processing has been identified as one of the four target sectors of the Lehigh Valley.

Food and beverage processing has been identified as one of the four target sectors of the Lehigh Valley.

This story first appeared in the second issue of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development magazine, a publication developed by LVEDC and Journal Communications. This magazine highlights the region’s competitive advantages for targeted sectors, as well as providing an overview of the region’s business climate, livability, transportation infrastructure, and other economic assets.

When Ocean Spray sought to build a high-volume processing plant for its brand-name line of juices and drinks, it settled on a region that was already a magnet for companies in the food and beverage industry: Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

In 2014, the Massachusetts-based cooperative cut the ribbon on a $110 million, 315,000-square-foot bottling facility in Upper Macungie Township. Besides its size and capacity, the plant incorporates a variety of state-of-the-art innovations, including an ultra-pure, highly secure blending room.

“About 40 percent of what Ocean Spray makes and sells passes through our facility,” said Tim Haggerty, plant director.

The new facility replaced Ocean Spray’s first processing plant – an outdated facility in Bordentown, N.J., that could no longer meet production requirements.

Ocean Spray has plenty of company in the Lehigh Valley. Next door is Bimbo Bakeries, the U.S. arm of Mexico’s Grupo Bimbo and the corporate parent for such iconic American brands as Entenmann’s, Thomas’, Arnold, and Sara Lee, among others. Across the street from Ocean Spray’s Macungie Township plant is Nestle Waters – a firm whose very name reflects one of the major reasons why so many food and beverage makers call the Lehigh Valley home: water.

Recipe for Success

For food and beverage companies, water is vital, and the Lehigh Valley provides it in both quality and quantity.

“Most industrial regions have to chemically treat their water supply to make it pure enough for their uses, but we don’t,” said Joseph Brake, vice president and general manager of Bethlehem-based Coca-Cola Bottling of the Lehigh Valley.

The beverage maker had such confidence in the water’s purity that it invested $46 million in 2012 to expand its Coca-Cola Refreshments syrup plant in Upper Macungie Township. This allowed Coca-Cola to add several new manufacturing lines, including Powerade, Vitaminwater, and Fuze, and boost employment.

“Our local bottling plant undergoes three audits for environmental compliance, safety and quality,” Brake said. “We must meet or exceed Coca-Cola’s standards. The corporation can order a shutdown of our plant to make adjustments, but that has never happened to us. Our plant’s record has been exemplary for the 98 years we have been in operation.”

Brake enjoys bringing visitors to Coca-Cola Park in Allentown to watch the Lehigh Valley IronPigs play baseball. Such abundant opportunities for recreation turn many visitors into permanent residents, he said.

“People come not just for the financial benefits and the lower cost of living, but for the quality of life we have here,” Brake said.

While some communities might not consider a wastewater treatment plant an “attraction,” a pre-treatment plant built in the 1990s in Upper Macungie Township is a huge draw for food and beverage makers. The plant cleans waste before it enters local sewer lines, saving these industries the high cost of building and operating their own pre-treatment facilities.

Toasting the Valley

When the Breinigsville, Penn., Schaefer brewery went on the market in 2008, Boston Beer Co. was quick to snap it up.

“The new plant expanded our brewing capacity, but it also provided a chance to restore a historic brewery and create jobs in the local community,” said Sal Tortora, director of brewing operations for Boston Beer, which produces the popular Samuel Adams line of craft brews.

The Samuel Adams Pennsylvania Brewery has since become the company’s largest plant, with a workforce of more than 500 people. Boston Beer works closely with the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, which aims to make the region a mecca for food and beverage production. Additionally, the company’s “Samuel Adams: Brewing the American Dream” program has provided local entrepreneurs with capital for their ventures, including more than $50,000 in funding to small businesses in the Lehigh Valley in 2013-2014.

“The richness of this region, the quality of the workforce and the supportive business and community environment have helped us to thrive and grow,” Tortora said. “We toast our future and our home in the Lehigh Valley.”

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