How to Manufacture Your Beverage Product

Beverage manufacturing is one of the fastest-growing segments in contract manufacturing. The Beverage category is a very competitive market; it has a low barrier to entry for new competitors, high shipping and warehousing costs, and supply chain constraints for glass, aluminum, and cardboard.

David Boyle
Jul 5

Beverage manufacturing is one of the fastest-growing segments in contract manufacturing. The Beverage category is a very competitive market; it has a low barrier to entry for new competitors, high shipping and warehousing costs, and supply chain constraints for glass, aluminum, and cardboard. On the other hand, beverage brands lend themselves to be poised for rapid viral growth amongst other product categories, especially if they achieve product-market fit.

Unlike other products, beverages can be consumed multiple times a day – whether it’s sparkling water or a new seltzer, there is a better chance of a consumer drinking a six-pack in a sitting before they eat six nutrition bars or six bags of popcorn. Simply put, if consumers like a beverage, they buy it often!

Beverages can be broken down into three different high-level categories for contract manufacturing:

  • Hydration (water category)
  • Libation (alcohol, CBD, Cannabis)
  • Function (sports beverage, supplement, juices).

As you dive further, most contract manufacturers are looking for three main items to see if they can work with you: packaging, processing steps, and annual volume projections

MAIN ITEMS TO HAVE COVERED BEFORE LOOKING FOR A BEVERAGE CONTRACT MANUFACTURER

When you call on a contract manufacturer and are trying to see if they will work with you, they are really looking at these basic things as a first pass to see if they can even work with you:

  • Pasteurization – The pH of the beverage determines if it’s a low-acid or high-acid beverage. The pH will essentially let you know what pasteurization method is required to make the beverage safe for shelf-stable consumption. Different manufacturers have invested in different types of pasteurization methods (Hot-fill, Tunnel, UHT, Retort) so they usually can only work with products that fall into the right wheelhouse for them.
  • Packaging – Whether you are in a can or a bottle will determine if the co-packer can fill your product.
  • Ingredients – What are the ingredients in your beverage and do you have any ingredients that might not be allowed in the plant? Any major allergens like Soy, Coconut, etc. could mean the plant can not accept the ingredients into their plant. Some beverage plants are 100% Kosher facilities and will only accept ingredients in the plant that are Kosher Certified. If your juices are coming in as frozen juices, you will also need to check that they have enough frozen storage onsite for your needs.
  • Minimum Order Quantity – Beverage lines are designed to be highly efficient, and produce hundreds or thousands of product per minute. Because of this, most have high minimum order quantities, because the machines have to run a few hours at a time. A beverage line making 100 cans per minute will make ~48,000 in a standard 8-hour production run.

MANUFACTURING PROCESSES

  • Canning Lines – Canning lines can range from 100-200 cans per minute for smaller co-packers all the way up to 1000+ cans per minute for larger high-volume co-packing plants. Some of the main cans typically co-packed are:
  • Can Processing
  • Sleeved Cans – Sleeved cans are for smaller groups or for new projects where you want to order a smaller amount of cans or you foresee artwork changes in the future. For this type of manufacturing, you would buy digitally printed sleeves and blank aluminum cans (referred to as “brites”). Depending on the manufacturing capabilities, you would either have the sleeves applied at the manufacturing line at the time of production, or if they do not offer “inline-sleeving” you would purchase pre-sleeved cans from a supplier.
  • Printed Cans – Once you are able to order in larger quantities (closer to 1 truckload of cans per flavor) then you can save money by ordering printed cans that you would send directly to the contract manufacturer. When you use printed cans you can send your product to the can manufacturer for corrosivity testing. If your cans pass the corrosion testing you can acquire a warranty on the product to ensure that it does not have any corrosion. This is an important step to take to ensure that more acidic formulations do not eat at the can and cause leakage over time.
  • Typical Can Sizes
  • 12 oz standard cans
  • 12 oz sleek cans
  • 16 oz cans
  • 8.4 oz cans
  • Lids
  • Lids are incredibly important to can manufacturing. Not only do they provide the final seal to the can, they are also the main information for recycling benefits by state. Depending on the type of product and what states you sell in you will need to acquire different lids.
  • The most commonly used lid is a “10-state end” but there are a variety of different ends from 3-state, 4-state, 6-state, and 11-state. It is best to speak to your can supplier/broker to ensure you are buying the right lids.
  • Bottling Lines – Bottling lines can vary dramatically based on the type of packaging and type of beverage. Here are some of the most common bottling lines you will come across when co-packing:
  • Glass bottles – Glass bottle co-packing is being phased out by some groups because of glass shortages and the hazard on the production line for staff, but there are still lots of viable glass bottling lines. Glass bottles are most typically used for cold-fill or hot-fill co-packing.
  • PET plastic Bottles – PET is very modular in the type of
  • Aluminum Bottles
  • Bottle Openings – There are different bottle openings that are critical to what contract manufacturer you are able to work with. For most Ready-To-Drink beverages in the natural food industry, you will see either 28mm or 38mm bottle openings; however, there are many other sizes like 48mm, 53mm, 100mm, and more depending on your needs.
  • Caps – Similar to the bottle openings, the bottle
  • CT Caps – Continuous thread caps have more turning to open and close for secure closing.
  • Lug Caps – quick turn seal caps for quick opening and closing. Looks more like a “plug” over the bottle or container
  • ROPP Cap – Roll-on Pilfer Proof caps are made from aluminum and the thread is formed by the capping head as the cap is applied to the bottle. This requires a special ROPP capping machine to be used correctly.
Photo from Dreamstime.com

PASTEURIZATION METHODS AND SHELF LIFE

Process Authority –  A processing authority is defined by the FDA as a person who has expert knowledge of thermal processing requirements for low-acid foods packaged in hermetically sealed containers, or has expert knowledge in the acidification and processing of acidified foods. A process authority will give you a legal letter that you can present to your co-packer and the FDA, which explains the processing steps required to keep the food safe for consumption. This is required for foods that have a pH of > 4.6 which means it is a low-acid food. The processing steps are usually a combination of heat and time that is applied to create a kill-step for the growth of bacteria.

  • Hot Fill – Hot fill pasteurization is very commonly used in bottle filling for glass and PET bottles where the water is heated in a tank at a high temperature for a specified period of time before being filled into the container.
  • Cold Fill / Chemical Processing – Chemical processing like Velcorin dosing has gained a lot of popularity in the last couple of years. This is in large part because of the lack of capacity in hot fill and tunnel pasteurized manufacturers and a seemingly lower tolling cost for chemically processed beverages. They also allow for higher carbonation than cans that are processed with heat. Some chemical preservatives like Sodium Benzoate need to be declared on the label, but others like Velcorin do not need to be declared on your Ingredient Statement and can still be marketed as a Natural Beverage.
  • HPP – High-Pressure Processing is seen as one of the more clean label pasteurization methods because instead of heat or chemical processing the pasteurization is done by applying a ton of pressure in order to extend the shelf life of the beverage. This is more popular in natural juices but is not as effective for longer-term shelf life.
  • HTST – High-Temperature Short Time pasteurization, also known as flash pasteurization is done at a higher temperature than hot fill and for a shorter period of time. The quicker processing can help with maintaining more flavor and color in the beverage but is less available nationally and usually a bit more expensive
  • UHT – Ultra high-temperature processing is done for more low acid beverages like dairy-based or protein beverages that might need to be packaged into a Tetra Pak style container.
  • Retort – retort processing is also sometimes known as Batch pasteurization and is very well suited to coffee or cold brews that are packaged into different containers. They are well suited for low acid food/beverage products but would also work for high acid products.
  • Tunnel – Tunnel pasteurization is very commonly used in can filling lines and in some glass bottling lines as well. The cans are sent through a long tunnel after being filled where the cans are heated to a specified temperature for a specified amount of time and then cooled before exiting the tunnel

INGREDIENTS

Ingredients Formulated for beverages are broken down into a matrix of ingredients:

  • Juice
  • Sugars / Sweeteners
  • Flavors
  • Active Ingredients
  • Carbonation or Nitro – Carbonation or Nitrogen is usually needed to help to fill the can and for food safety reasons. Beverages in a can/container will usually include either carbonation or nitrogen in some form.

CASE PACKAGING

  • Cans – shown above
  • Retail Carton Packaging Formats – Thin SBS or CRB paperboard that is typically seen for beverages on the center shelf at retail in ambient temperatures
  • 4-packs Retail Cartons
  • 6-Packs Retail Cartons
  • Shippers – the cardboard that protects the cans and is used to place them onto the pallet.
  • 12 pack Master Cases that are put in the case and then a shrink-wrap plastic is applied over the case.
  • 24-pack Master Case where the shrink wrap is brought over 24 loose cans OR 4-pack and 6-pack retail cartons are put into the larger beverage
  • Pallets
  • Most co-packers will be able to supply standard Grocery Pallets that are 40 x 48 and are Grade A or B quality.
  • Barcodes – All sorts of barcodes should be purchased from the GS1 website directly. I would recommend buying 1-100 barcodes
  • UPC – The UPC is the 12 digit barcode that is scanned at the retail level
  • GTIN – The GTIN is the 14 digit code that is used by warehouses and distributors to organize the Master Cases. The GTINs will showcase to those parties how many of the UPC-labeled saleable products are inside each master case.
  • SSCC-14 – SSCC-14 barcode is one of the types of barcodes that would be generated to be placed onto a pallet to showcase to larger retailers how many Master Cases and ultimately how many retail units are in the pallet

SHIPPING AND LOGISTIC CONSIDERATIONS

Beverages are one of the worst products to ship and freight. They take up a lot of space and they are heavy, which are the two main factors when determining freight and parcel shipment prices.

Because of this, it is ideal to find a 3pl warehouse that is close to your co-packer and where you plan to sell the product is close to the entire supply chain. This is

This is also to ensure the safety of your beverages during freight. Because beverages are so heavy, you end up running out of the weight limit before you run out of space on a full truck and you end up sending 21-23 pallets when a full truckload can hold upwards of 25-30 pallets. This extra room in the truck can lead to shifting of the beverages and cause major spillage and damage if the truck driver needs to hit the brakes.

Using bumper pillows or minimizing the miles of your outbound freight is critical to protect your beverage during outbound freight – I recommend speaking to a shipping expert prior to your production to be aligned on the best methods of shipping your beverage

The same goes for parcel shipments via UPS and FedEx. Beverages need to have thick cardboard and proper dunnage and/or protection to ensure that the cans or bottles do break during shipment.

Parcel shipment is brutal to the products and it is best to speak to your corrugated provider so they can do shipping testing or ship products in the packaging yourself from one address to another to ensure the packaging experience is still manageable after the fumbling and tumbling that occurs in parcel shipments!

OVERVIEW

Starting a beverage company is a fun opportunity, but no easy feat. High production runs, expensive packaging, and rigorous ingredient specifications can put up significant barriers. By knowing how the process works, you can arm yourself with the knowledge and information needed to be successful.

Need help with managing this process? I’m happy to discuss bringing your beverage product vision to reality. Contact me at david@boylebrands.com

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