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Automation helps local companies keep pace with increasing demand for favorite foods, beverages

Whether it’s Riesling, marinara, Kolsch, or root veggies, Rochester area food and beverage manufacturers rely not only on the human touch but automation when manufacturing their products. The Rochester Business Journal talked to four manufacturers of favorite and emerging brands in the region to find out how automation helps them, their employees, and their customers.

The Craft Cannery’s automated production facility in Genesee County. (Photo provided)

The Craft Cannery

Craft Cannery’s roots begin in Paul Guglielmo’s home kitchens where he began making his family’s traditional Italian sauce recipe one pot at a time. In 2014 he started Guglielmo Sauce with 20 cases of marinara sauce. Today, the product is available in over 500 stores, including Wegmans and Tops, and hundreds of small businesses across the Northeast.

In April 2020, Guglielmo purchased Permac Enterprises, Inc., a Genesee-county manufacturing facility started in 2005, and renamed it the Craft Cannery.

The business is one of just six USDA cannery manufacturing plants in New York state and specializes in taking recipes from individuals, restaurants (like Sticky Lips) and well-known brands and adjusting them for large production.

“On day one we had almost zero automation,” Guglielmo said. “Everything was manual – romantic in a way – but not efficient. I knew immediately we had to get automated.”

His first big purchase was a bottling line that could fill four bottles at once, as well as do many other things previously done by hand, like capping and labeling. This automation led to a 100% increase in the Craft Cannery’s production during the first year of operation.

Contrary to what one may initially think, automation does not always equal job loss. Guglielmo has added jobs as automation has increased, taking the facility’s full-time staff from a 3-person team to a 10-person team.

“Automation makes it so you can make more sauce,” Guglielmo said. “Making more sauce means preparation needs to be done faster and on a larger scale. It also means our warehouse is very busy because we have increased production.”

While automation has been a boon for Guglielmo, he also notes that the key to his business success has been maintaining personal connections and continuing to hustle outside of his now-modern manufacturing facility.

On the day he spoke to the Rochester Business Journal he was preparing for a weekend of personally selling his sauce one jar at a time at two local arts festivals, which he does all festival season.

“Our growth has been one person at a time, seventy to a hundred conversations an hour,” Guglielmo said.

Love Beets

If you love beets, you know Love Beets – a company owned by Guy and Katherine Shropshire, who opened its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in 2016 at the LiDestri Foods manufacturing complex on Lee Road in Rochester.

There, about 85 Love Beets employees process and package fresh, marinated, pickled, organic and other beets and beet products like beet juice and beet powder. About 70% of the beets are grown in western New York, according to Leanne Khoury, who was named managing director of Love Beets in February 2022.


As managing director, Khoury oversees the entire facility, including production, operations, warehousing, quality control, and automation – which has gone through tremendous growth over the past few years.

When the Rochester facility opened six years ago staff hand-packed the cooked/steamed beats into plastic clamshell containers which later moved to hand-erected cartons. In November 2021, Love Beets made a large capital investment when it bought an automatic cartoner, which has been a win-win for all involved.

Plastic clamshells are no longer used, along with the hand-erected cartons, as the automatic cartoner now erects and glues the cartons closed. This new process helps with efficiency, sustainability, better display options for merchandisers, and is healthier for employees as it eliminates the need for some repetitive motions with their hands.

Additionally, the automation boost did not decrease the facility’s number of employees because the output has increased, Khoury said.

Bravery Wines

A relative newcomer to the Finger Lakes wine scene, Bravery Wines is a wine brand that was launched in 2020 by Corey Christman, a veteran who retired as a special agent with the United States Air Force in 2012, and his wife Jennifer.

Christman, like Guglielmo, started making his product in his kitchen for fun, but “caught the bug” and decided to go to “wine school.” In 2014 he completed his enology and commercial winemaking operations course at Washington State University, interned with winemaker Peter Becraft at Anthony Road Wine Company in Penn Yan, and “never left.”

In 2019 Christman approached Anthony Road with the idea to start his small label as a partnership with the winery. Bravery Wines began with 400 cases and now has wine available for sale at Anthony Road, online, and in several restaurants in the Oswego area (where Christman grew up). He’s currently looking to expand to restaurants in the Rochester area.

Automation has been a big help to Christman as he grows his grapes (at Martini Vineyards) and his brand, which donates a portion of every purchase price to the Yellow Ribbon Fund to support injured service members and their caregivers.

Corey and Jennifer Christman. (Photo provided)

“From an automation standpoint every part of the commercial wine-making process includes automation,” Christman said. “Without it, you’d be in a world of hurt. We can do a great deal of winemaking through automation, but we still have to be out there in the vineyards with a visual presence.”

On Christman’s automation wish list is an optical sorter that uses optics and optical sorting advanced algorithms to eject under- and over-ripe berries and foreign material from the harvest via air jets. Currently, that process is done through vineyard management.

“I think the future of winemaking in the Finger Lakes will be more automation as finances allow,” Christman said. “That, along with improving our vineyard practices, is how we get better.”

FIFCO USA/Genesee Brewery

FIFCO USA, the parent company of Rochester-based Genesee Brewing Co., is no stranger to automation.

It’s one of the top 10 beer companies in the country and brews, packages, imports, markets and sells its brands – which also include Magic Hat, Labatt, and Seagram’s Escapes – through an independent network of wholesalers nationwide. Additionally, FIFCO performs contract brewing on behalf of other beverage companies.

Mark Brandl is the electrical engineering manager at the Rochester manufacturing facility, which produces numerous beer and other beverages annually with its flavored malt beverages representing the largest volume coming out of the brewery right now. He was hired twenty years ago to install a new bottling line and never left.

“We had a lot of really old equipment when I started, but our brewing equipment has taken a quantum leap over the past five years,” Brandl said. “We’re always updating and constantly looking at keeping up with the latest packaging equipment and brewing technologies.”

From 2016 to 2018, FIFCO USA spent over $50 million on a major overhaul that modernized the brewery. The update has led to more efficient and sustainable production, as well as increased automation and the ability to manufacture more premium and specialty products, Brandl said. In 2020 a $2 million new keg handling system, which features robotic palletizers and a fully automatic cleaning and filling system for kegs, was installed.

Brandl also noted that since 2016 the increase in automation has not reduced jobs. On the contrary, it has added them due to increased production and other needs associated with the upkeep of high-tech machinery. “The more automatic equipment you add, the more maintenance staff you hire to keep it all running.”

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

Finger Lakes wineries feeling the impact of coronavirus

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the closure of restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters earlier this week, he also effectively closed the tasting rooms of more than 500 wineries statewide.

Preventive efforts like this aimed at lessening the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic could have a devastating side-effect on the wine industry. Many wineries in the Finger Lakes thrive through their direct-to-customer sales, which will be difficult to maintain without their tasting rooms.

“We fall into that with the restaurants and the bars. We’re not allowed to do tastings. That’s OK in a way. I get it,” said John Martini, co-owner and co-founder of Anthony Road Wine Company on Seneca Lake. But the impact will be great, he said.

Tasting rooms aren’t exactly closed; they just can’t offer tastings or — for those with on-premises liquor licenses — sell wine by the glass. It’s part of an effort to discourage people from congregating in large numbers and spreading the virus.

“We do depend on our tasting room for more than 50 percent of our income,” Martini said. For many years, Martini has travelled to New York City weekly to participate in the city’s Greenmarkets, where he offers tastings of Anthony Road Wine Co. wine and sells wine. “I’m not going down to the greenmarkets until this kind of clears up,” he said, noting that his age puts him into a higher risk category. An employee in New York will continue to work on a reduced schedule with accounts there, he said.

Wineries are still allowed to make and sell wine on their premises. Some wineries are posting notices that they remain open to sell wine by the bottle or case, and will make arrangements to bring purchases to customers’ cars or ship wine to them.

Colleen Hardy, co-owner of Living Roots Wine & Co., an urban winery on Rochester’s University Avenue with a vineyard in Australia, was in self-quarantine in Australia this week. She had flown there to work the family’s grape harvest, but had been exposed to carriers of the virus on the flight.

She was remotely supervising changes in the winery in Rochester, including shifting to a new method of doing business temporarily.

“We’ve had to reevaluate our operations and our offerings both for the safety of the public and our team,” Hardy said. Living Roots is beginning same-day deliveries within 10 miles of the tasting room and can offer both wine and packaged snacks.
Like other wineries, Living Roots and Anthony Road are offering discounts and deals on shipping to try to keep sales going.

“Our tasting room is usually pretty busy, and so that is a huge part of our business,” Hardy said.

Living Roots only began distribution outside of its tasting room about eight months ago, so can’t count on its wholesale operation for much revenue now. “All of the liquor stores and bars we partner with are going through the same thing right now,” she said.

The impact the wine industry will endure isn’t just related to the halt in tasting room activities. Crises change consumer consumption patterns.

“People don’t stop drinking wine during times of economic uncertainty, but they do buy less and many scan the shelves more intensely looking for lower prices. The coronavirus alters the menu of wine-drinking occasions, which will have an impact, too, wrote Mike Veseth, editor of the Wine Economist, on its website Tuesday. Veseth is a retired professor of international political economy in Washington State.

Veseth said if wineries try to boost online sales, they may find the ease of price comparison on the internet makes bargain shopping more important for consumers than the high-touch experiences they’ve sought at wineries. Whether they’ll return to in-person visits is one of many unanswered questions at the moment.

With restaurants closed, diners won’t be ordering as many bottles of wine with their meals. However, to try to ease the pain for an industry Cuomo has painstakingly promoted for many years, the state has changed its alcohol prohibition on takeout orders. During the health crisis, the state is now allowing people to order alcohol on a takeout basis, so, you can get a beer, cocktail or glass of wine to go, just as you do a takeout meal.

A coalition of beverage associations was also planning to seek temporary relief from tax payments to the state, allowing them to meet their other financial obligations first.

“An important thing for us is to pay our staff and pay our mortgage and pay our bills, kind of in that order,” Martini said.

In the face of great uncertainty, both Hardy and Martini were doing their best to remain upbeat.

“It’s definitely a day-by-day, hour-by-hour thing,” Hardy said. “In uncertain times like this, it brings people together. We’re not the only ones feeling this. Everyone is being affected by this in one way or another.”
She was taking the opportunity of downtime in Australia to put together a video of the harvest there to share, hoping to keep customers engaged.

Martini, meanwhile, said at least the crisis falls during what’s normally an already quiet time for wineries in North America.

“Hopefully it’s brief. This is the time of year to have it,” he said.

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