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Aqua Vitea to move to Middlebury location

BRISTOL — A local beverage company is moving out of Bristol, but will keep its operations in Addison County.
Aqua Vitea, the maker of the popular kombucha fermented tea, will be packing up and leaving the Bristol Works after less than two years in that space.
Founder Jeff Weaber said the company is moving to Middlebury in June, but said he likely won’t announce the exact location of the new facility until this spring, after all the details are finalized.
Weaber founded Aqua Vitea in 2007 and initially ran the company out of a farmhouse in Salisbury. The company moved into the Bristol Works in 2013 with four employees, but has expanded significantly since then.
“We’ll be moving to Middlebury with 20 employees,” Weaber said.
Weaber said the main reason for the move is that the Bristol Works does not have the water treatment capacity that the Aqua Vitea production line needs.
“We’re going to hit the capacity of (the water) long before we’ll hit the capacity for the floor space,” Weaber explained. He added that the new home will be much larger than the 8,000-square-foot space in Bristol.
Aqua Vitea produces about 13,000 gallons per month, but Weaber said production increases every month. While the company sells its kombucha in bottles, Weaber said kegs account for 60 percent of sales.
Though the loss of Aqua Vitea will be a loss to the Bristol Works, which opened in 2011, the space won’t be left vacant. Bristol Works co-founder Kevin Harper said the Bristol Bakery will move into the space to increase its production capacity. Weaber said the bakery has already started to move equipment in as Aqua Vitea prepares for its move.
Weaber said since he realized last year that Aqua Vitea would need a larger facility, he wanted to remain in Addison County where the company has been anchored for the past eight years.
“We’re definitely committed to growing Addison County jobs,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of support from the small business community getting started, and most of the employees are from Addison County.”
He said Middlebury’s industrial sector meets Aqua Vitea’s needs.
“It’s amazing how much beverage infrastructure is in Middlebury,” he said. “When you talk to people out West, when they hear how much infrastructure we have in our small little town, it’s pretty amazing.”
Weaber said the new facility in Middlebury will enable the company to distribute in new markets. In recent years, Aqua Vitea has expanded its reach from Washington, D.C. all the way to Maine. In just the past two months, it expanded into Boston and greater New York City.
“Our biggest concentration right now is definitely Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and upstate New York,” he said.
Weaber said a significant factor in the company’s growth was its partnership late last year with Farrell Distributing of South Burlington.
“They’ve made a huge commitment to start bringing on a lot of local Vermont brands and changing the diversity of their portfolio,” Weaber said. “They’ve been a great support to us and have helped us move into different corners of the state and pushing us into the mainstream.”
Weaber said he looks to the success of Otter Creek Brewing and Vermont Hard Cider, who both operate plants on Exchange Street, as models for growth.
Just as Vermont Hard Cider, the producer of the popular Woodchuck brand, has benefited from the surge in popularity for cider in the United States, Weaber said he hopes to keep up with booming demand for kombucha, a fermented, non-alcoholic tea.
“We have found ourselves in a really good position of being the regional producer in the Northeast,” he explained. “The opportunity is increasing all the time, not just because of the awareness of kombucha, but into mainstream channels, outside of just health food stores.”
Weaber said that as Americans turn more towards natural and healthy foods, supermarket chains look to stock products that were previously the domain of co-ops and high-end food stores. Kombucha is one of those crossover products, and Weaber said his team is dedicated to filling that need in the marketplace.
“We saw ourselves as a small regional player and now we have an opportunity to create a much larger footprint,” Weaber said.

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