Site work begins on Vt. Hard Cider’s new $30 million plant

MIDDLEBURY — A veritable legion of bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks have begun moving tons of earth on a 27-acre parcel off Exchange Street to make way for construction of the new, 100,000-square foot, $30-million home of Vermont Hard Cider Co.
“It will be a world-class facility,” Vermont Hard Cider President and CEO Bret Williams said on Tuesday.
“It feels terrific to put this facility in the town of Middlebury, where it belongs.”
Years in the making, the new headquarters will give Vermont Hard Cider, or VHC, the additional warehousing capacity and bottling infrastructure it needs to keep pace with demand for its very popular Woodchuck Hard Cider brand. The company has been operating three shifts at its current home base in 62,000 square feet of rented space at 153 Pond Lane. The space crunch has forced VHC to establish several satellite warehouse facilities and to relocate its sales and administrative team to temporary offices on Exchange Street, next to Vermont Coffee Co.
Still, VHC has been hard-pressed to keep up with orders for its cider, which is now available in all 50 states.
VHC currently has 155 full- and part-time workers. Last year, the 20-year-old company shipped 4 million cases of its hard cider, up from 1 million cases in 2003.
It was in 2011 that VHC unveiled plans for a new, larger facility that would allow it to remain in Middlebury. Once completed during the spring of 2014, the new headquarters will include more than 80,000 square feet of warehouse space, administrative offices and a visitors’ center that will provide opportunities for people to get a first-hand glimpse of the cider making process and to purchase various VHC products.
“It will be a tribute to the brand,” Williams said of the visitors’ center, noting some fans have driven 13 hours from Ohio to Middlebury just to see where the product is made and to buy a few cases.
Plans call for VHC to keep operating its Pond Lane facility even when the new headquarters opens. This will allow the company to continue manufacturing cider while the new facility is being built and will ensure additional production capacity to satisfy the still growing demand for the Woodchuck brand. Williams also fully anticipates, in the not-too-distant future, having to build an addition onto the new Exchange Street headquarters. He estimates an additional 15 to 20 workers will be needed once the new facility is opened.
“It’s full steam ahead,” he said of the project. “We are on pace to get it enclosed before the snow flies (next winter). We need the new bottling equipment to be on-line to handle the summer demand next year.”
Williams explains that demand builds in the spring and hits a crescendo during the hot summer months.
Vermont Hard Cider workers are very excited to see the work begin, knowing they will soon have more spacious and modern quarters in which to perform their jobs, Williams noted. The new facility, he believes, is a reward for all the hard work that VHC workers have put into perfecting the VHC brand and persevering through some tough times during the 1990s when Williams did not know if the company would survive.
The company is now doing a lot more than simply surviving; it is flourishing.
“We have tried to get better all the time,” he said of the VHC corporate mentality. “A byproduct of that is that we got bigger.”
A formal groundbreaking ceremony at the building site, located between the Bridge School and Maple Landmark, is being targeted for Thursday, May 9.
 “It has been an amazing ride, and the best is yet to come,” Williams said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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