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
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.
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.
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.
“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.