From humble beginnings, Country Malt Group continues to brew a local success story.
It has nearly finished the transition to its new 100,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility in the Town of Champlain. Chris Trombley, site manager for Country Malt Group and Brewcraft USA, said they have been moving into the new building over the past five weeks.
“It’s been a long process,” he said.
Country Malt Group is a malt and specialty brewing product division of Great Western Malting Co., which, in turn, is owned by Australia-based Grain Corp. They are the exclusive North American distributor of a number of malts used in the brewing process, Trombley said, and now offer a number of other brewing ingredients and supplies.
The boom of the craft-brewing industry has led to their continued growth, which in turn prompted the most recent expansion in Champlain. Some of their customers include such regionally recognized names as Switchback and The Alchemist, both based in Vermont.
Country Malt Group was founded by Managing Director Bryan Bechard and his father, Claude, in a small tool shed behind Claude’s home in 1995. It has now grown to 40 employees in Champlain and nine distribution centers across North America, all run by Bechard from the Champlain offices.
The business moved to a 7,200-square-foot building at 16 Beeman Way in 1997-98, with half that space rented to another company.
When the neighboring business left, Country Malt Group took over that space. It added 5,000 square feet in 2001 for more advanced packaging lines.
As business continued to grow, the company leased a 40,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility in the Champlain Industrial Park from The Development Corp. It also leased space from NFI in Champlain and plans to finish moving that part of the operation to the new spot by the end of July.
That will be a tremendous boost to the efficiency of their logistics, Trombley said, as they have had to spend a lot of time moving goods from one location to the other as orders are processed, packaged and then shipped.
“When all is said and done, all of our stock will be in one location, at 16 Beeman Way,” he said.
Trombley said Neil Fesette of Fesette Realty is the developer behind the project.
Fesette got involved because he and Bechard have known each other for a long time, ever since he sold Bechard his first house.
Bechard called him three years ago, and they plotted out growth projections for the company and how much space they figured they would need.
“It’s been really fun to watch their growth,” Fesette said.
He said the planning and construction process went smoothly with the assistance of Town of Champlain officials, particularly Codes Officer Michael Tetreault.
It was a long, cold winter for construction, Fesette said, but work really picked up once they were able to complete the exterior shell.
They kept the expansion work local as much as possible. Lead contractor Mark Brow of Mark II Construction, based in West Chazy, knows Fesette from his work in the home construction business.
Brow said this is the largest project his company has ever had, both in terms of how long they’ve been at it (54 weeks) and overall size (45 feet at the peak).
“It’s been like going to the Super Bowl for me, and I just won,” he said now that they now have their certificate of occupancy.
The project allowed him to expand the workforce from six to 12, and he believes it will stay at that level going forward.
“My future looks bright. Neil has helped my business grow quite a bit,” he said.
Fesette said it is also the biggest deal of his career so far.
“It’s been a great partnership with Country Malt Group and our team, including Mark II Construction,” he said.
As happened when they built the original space, they purchased land from Roswell Beeman for the expansion. Beeman and his sons are in the trucking business and have also helped with the move.
Trombley said about 75 percent of the new space is for warehousing. The vast space is already nearly full of row after row of bagged malt and other grain waiting to be shipped.
The older portion of the site includes a new milling machine manufactured by Malt Handling. The milling side of the business continues to grow, as customers request special grinds and mixtures for their recipes.
The end product of that process is bagged using a machine named a Bag Nabbit, which was built for them by Modern Mechanical Fab in Champlain. It features pneumatically controlled arms that clamp each bag to the unit, which drastically reduces dust.
“This business was born locally. It’s nice to partner with other local businesses as well,” Trombley said.
Customer Service Manager Nicole Atkins said the consolidation will help her department as well. Country Malt Group has grown to nine warehouse and distribution centers, six in the United States and three in Canada.
All 12 members of her team in Champlain now work side by side, which helps with communication and accuracy as they process an average of 1,300 orders per week.
Karrie Tremblay is in charge of procurement. Her team places orders with a six–to-10-week lead time, with the majority of those shipments coming from malt producers in Europe or western Canada.
Their suppliers process the orders and ship those to Montreal. The shipments are inspected in Montreal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, then shipped to Champlain by Fournier Transport trucking.
“Our proximity to Montreal is one of our biggest advantages,” she said.
Once in Champlain, the shipments are processed and packaged as needed and then stored in the new warehouse.
While a standard racking system is eight feet wide, they went with nine feet due to the bulky nature of the bags of malt, which can shift outside the boundaries of a pallet when stacked.
There are three islands of flow-rack storage, angled at 15 degrees so goods move from the back as they are taken from the front. That helps ensure that goods are shipped in first-in, first-out order of when they entered the warehouse.
Jeremy Jennett, one of the firm’s shift leaders, said the new building will make his crew of 18 more efficient.
“With everything under one roof, we’ll be able to push out a lot more,” he said.
His team has also been very busy, working to get everything moved while ensuring orders are packaged and shipped on time at the same time.
Country Malt Group acquired Brewcraft USA several years ago, a similar business that is focused on smaller brewers.
Matt Welch is the warehouse leader for the Brewcraft side of the business. He and his crew are busy finalizing the move of that portion of the inventory from the space in Champlain Industrial Park to the new building.
“We have a long weekend ahead of us,” he said.
The two firms are sister companies, with Brewcraft serving as a “hook” for Country Malt Group. Brewcraft sells to home-brew retail stores and smaller micro-breweries, who often switch to Country Malt Group as they grow.
The last part of this transition will involve expansion of the cooler space from 3,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. That is needed as they expand the hop-distribution part of the business, as those ingredients require refrigeration.
Trombley said that while the expansion has taken a lot of time and effort, the result will be worth the work.
When everything is said and done, they will have racked slots for 5,025 skids of goods, as well as a bulk tote storage area for customers who prefer that form of packaging.
“We have the largest inventory in the chain,” Trombley said. “And, we’re still growing.”