As companies look for ways to become more efficient by cutting back on costs but not on quality, co-packers have started to gain importance. It should be no surprise, then, that since Ace Coffee Bar acquired Silver Creek Bottling in 1996, the bottled water and co-packing company has grown by 80%.
Originally, Silver Creek Bottling manufactured, packaged, and delivered spring and bottle waters and flavored products. Today, the company offers co-packing services throughout the country for companies like Target and Walmart. Overall, Silver Creek Bottling produces more than 175 labels and packages for over 45 private label and co-packaging customers.
The company’s continuous success is unusual, however, as in recent years, many co-packaging companies have closed their doors. Lisa Cavitt Patten, president and owner of Silver Creek Bottling and parent company Ace Coffee Bar, believes it goes back to her family’s extensive history in the business.
Patten’s parents started Ace Coffee Bar more than 55 years ago. Her mother, to whom the pink and green ribbons supporting breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on Silver Creek’s logo are dedicated, made the company’s sandwiches in her kitchen while Patten’s father handled the operations of the coffee, vending, and food services pieces of the business.
Over the years, all segments of Ace Coffee Bar’s business grew. As bottled water gained popularity, Ace Coffee Bar added gallon jugs and 16.9-ounce waters to its deliveries. When the company acquired Silver Creek, Ace Coffee Bar already had delivery trucks on the road and had an established reputation throughout Chicago, Wisconsin, and Indiana for its vending services.
Since then, the company has developed a strong reputation for its bottled water and co-packing services and built a 385,000-square-foot facility to enable further expansion and to better serve its customers. “Being in business for as long as we have sets us apart,” said Patten. “We run our companies as though they’re our homes, and despite moving into a larger facility, our floors are as immaculate as my mom’s were when she made the food in her kitchen.”
Under the Ace Coffee Bar name, the company offers vending and food services. With its inhouse bakery and large gourmet kitchen, the company makes its own bread and pastries and provides dining services, automatic food and refreshment services, and catering options.
In addition, it can cater to specific company demands, including healthier options such as low-carb and fat-free meals, and Ace Coffee Bar’s inhouse custom design capabilities enable it to design vending machines using a company’s specific design requirements.
“We have mechanics that work on our fleet of delivery trucks and a body shop that fixes the trucks when they break down,” said Patten. “We also fix our vending machines inhouse.”
On the coffee side of the business, the company is a distributor of Keurig Coffee Pod System, Pronto Café, and Café Diem beverage merchandising machines under its coffee shop business segment. Since moving into its new facility, the company has also started roasting its own coffee beans. Coupled with its co-packing capabilities, the coffee segment of the business has grown by 40% in the past five years.
“We’ve always wanted to do coffee roasting, and with the new facility, we have the space,” said Patten. “We purchased the equipment for roasting coffee, hired an expert in roasting coffee, and expanded our office coffee selections. We still carry many brands of coffee, but now we roast our own with our own label. You know you’re getting fresh coffee because it’s roasted daily here.”
Feeling the effects
Challenges in the economy have caused the company to restructure its water distribution practices, including consolidating delivery routes and eliminating some Saturday routes. Because the company hadn’t added fuel surcharges to its customers’ bills, Patten said customers understood and accepted the changes.
“Where a customer would order one bottle a week, we now ask them to order four bottles that we deliver monthly,” she said. “We still have about 14 repair servicemen on the road, so if anyone has any problems, we still have that fleet out there. We’ve had to crunch our numbers, but that doesn’t mean our customers will feel the effect.”
By looking for ways to continuously improve its operations, the company has been able to not only invest in a new facility but also a new bottling line. The multi-million-dollar piece of equipment is faster, running between 700 and 1,000 bottles per minute as opposed to the previous amount of 300 bottles a minute.
The change has enabled the company to take on new co-packing opportunities, and its proximity to Chicago makes it an ideal location for distribution. “We had a plant in California that was handling the entire country at one time, but it wasn’t cost-effective because of shipping,” said Patten. “Now, we do most of our manufacturing out of this plant, including flavored spring water.”
The company is also preparing to roll out hand-held computers to its delivery drivers to cut down on the time drivers have to spend writing and filing customer delivery tickets. Rather than writing the tickets out, the numbers will automatically file into a computer at the main warehouse. Patten said it’s investments like these and the company’s ability to pair the strengths of Ace Coffee Bar and Silver Creek Bottling together to better serve customers that differentiates her family owned business from others in its industry.
“You wouldn’t look at a vending company the same after you came and visited our plant,” she said. “We have our own kitchen and bakery, and everything in our warehouse is immaculate. Myself and my family put our heart and soul into this business, and because of that our customers know they can count on us.”