Food, beverage producers expand operations, products in 2020

Coming soon near you: more foods and beverages featuring new and exciting ingredients, spaces and trends.
In the brewing industry, Benzie County’s third brewery, Five Shores Brewing, opened in downtown Beulah. It joins Lake Ann Brewery and Stormcloud Brewing in Frankfort.

Owners Matt Demorest and Oliver Roberts had home brewed since college. After graduating, Demorest went into the mortgage business, and Roberts became a brewer at Wolverine State Brewing Company in Ann Arbor. The two met at a football tailgate two years ago and hit it off.

“Within a week of meeting, we formed an LLC,” said Demorest.

Roberts moved north to be closer to family. When he and Demorest found a Quonset hut-style brick building for sale in Beulah, they went all in, completely refurbishing the structure. They opened late last month.

“We’ve been welcomed by businesses, the village – we feel like part of the community,” Demorest said.

In addition to several different brews (lagers, stouts, fruity beer, a New England-style IPA and kettle sours), they are also offering food and anticipate slowly expanding the menu.

In nearby Frankfort, brewers there are not resting on their laurels. Stormcloud Brewing Co. has expanded its distribution footprint to include the greater Kalamazoo area and mid-Michigan counties, including Saginaw, Bay City, Midland, Isabella, Genesee and Lapeer. That brings Stormcloud’s total distribution to 50 counties in the Lower Peninsula.

It is also scheduled to start shipping out its fourth canned beer, The Nightswimmer Stout, to distributors in late February. It should be on store shelves by early March.

More beer news: Short’s Brewing Company is expanding its warehouse at the Elk Rapids production facility. The new warehouse building will be approximately 7,000 square feet, and will include three new loading docks, improving logistics for production and distribution with increased storage. Short’s also acquired another building to the south of its production, and it plans to add bathrooms at the seasonal pole barn operation in Elk Rapids.

Short’s is also partnering with Green Peak Innovations of Dimondale, Mich. to offer a number of THC-infused gummies that taste like some of its popular beers, though without the alcohol. The products are all being created at Green Peak, but Short’s is working directly with the Green Peak team. Among the flavors they are working on are Mosa (one of the most popular Starcut Ciders) and Soft Parade.

Cider’s popularity continues to grow. Northern United Brewing Company, parent company of both North Peak Brewing and Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, is spinning off Nomad hard cider to be its own line. Nomad Cidery is opening a tasting room on M-72 at the old Hoxsie’s Farm Market location by summer. Some ciders will also be canned.

Another trend some breweries are looking into is the exploding hard seltzer market. Short’s (Beaches Hard Seltzer, which the brewery spun off as its own brand),  Rare Bird Brewpub (Bird Claw hard seltzer) and Right Brain Brewery (Helter Seltzer) are among the local breweries breaking into that market. Right Brain is also experimenting with low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beers as well as sours.

Wineries and cideries alike are looking at different packaging or products to compete with rather than simply embrace the hard seltzer trend. Leelanau Cellars, Verterra, Mawby, 2K Ciders, 45 North and Chateau Chantal are among those canning wines and/or ciders.

“Hard seltzer is a market disruptor and we are exploring ways to (compete) in a way that fits us,” said Marie-Chantal Dalese, CEO at Chateau Chantal.

Another selling point for hard seltzer is its lower alcohol content, and Dalese said Chateau Chantal is investigating ways to lower the alcohol content of some of its wines, though she noted cool climate wines in general tend to be lower in alcohol.

Paul Hamelin of Verterra and president of the Traverse Wine Coast said canning used to be the exclusive province of major producers, whether that was Budweiser or Coca Cola. The advent of mobile canning lines has enabled smaller operations such as wineries to opt in as well.

“Consumers like cans and wineries saw some opportunity,” he said.

Innovations in bottling don’t stop at cans. Dalese said her winery is investing in a new bottling line, which will allow Chateau Chantal to make its own sparkling wine.

“We needed a new line anyway, so why not do one that’s more efficient and technologically advanced and stop sending our wine all over the state to put bubbles in it,” she said.

The winery has budgeted $500,000 for the new system, and hopes to be able to gain some return on that investment by bottling for other wineries interested in sparkling wine.

Another new bottling line could help out numerous wineries around the region and elsewhere as well. The brother and sister duo of Sam and Taylor Simpson knew the bottling lines at both their wineries – Aurora Cellars and Good Harbor Vineyards – were getting to the point where they would need to be replaced. So they decided to create a portable system.

“It took about a year and a half to design and six months to assemble,” said Sam Simpson of the $600,000 investment.

This will be the first full year for Harbor Hill Mobile Bottling, which is housed on a 37-foot trailer. Not only will it serve both the family’s wineries, allowing them to reclaim the space where the previous systems were housed (both have already been sold), it can save other wineries time and money. Simpson said six-spout manual fillers, in use at many wineries, can bottle 200-300 bottles a day; the portable system can do 1,800 in a day. Typical bottling costs can run $6-$8 per case; portable bottling is $2.65 to $3.65.

The purchase last year of Bel Lago and French Valley by John Heekin portends changes at both wineries. At the former, the tasting room will shortly be undergoing a renovation. “We will increase the bar space in the tasting room and instead of looking at a wall, (those at the bar) will look out and see a view of Lake Leelanau,” said Sarah Peschel, marketing director for Bel Lago Ventures. The tasting room will be closed when the renovation gets underway; Peschel said they are hopeful the renovation will be finished by early spring.

The French Valley tasting room on the waterfront outside Suttons Bay was not part of the purchase. A new tasting room will be added at the vineyard on French Road. In the meantime, the renovated 100-year-old barn on the property will continue to be used as an event venue.

Other wine news includes new branding for the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail and the ongoing expansion of the partnership between Traverse Wine Coast (which includes most of the Leelanau and Old Mission wineries) with Traverse City Tourism.

At Press On Juice, the news is as much about food as juice. General manager Vicky Akers said she wants to keep expanding food options. That will include grab-and-go options and expanding the menu to include such items as soup in the café. Another new option is a three-day food package.

“It’s an affordable (way) to get back on track with eating,” she said.

She said that is especially important that plant-based foods, such as what Press On Juice specializes in, be both good tasting and healthy. “So much that’s good for us doesn’t taste that great,” she said. “We want to make healthy food delicious.”

Akers said Press On Juice also offers an array of sweet treats that use dates, maple syrup and honey as sweetening agents, rather than refined sugar.

Courtney Lorenz, owner of Cultured Kombucha, said the coming year will see greater distribution statewide before moving on to distribute in Chicago. She’s adding staff to both the production and sales side as she hopes to saturate the state in the next six months, including offering it both bottled and on tap at bars and breweries.

In addition to expanding the draft line, she is also looking to refresh the seasonal line, partnering with local organic farms for flavors such as blueberry basil.

“I also want to tap into CBD. I’m testing it right now,” she said. “CBD has been shown to have some healing effects. That goes hand in hand with the healing properties of kombucha.”

In Empire, Grocer’s Daughter is looking to expand as well. Owners D.C. and Jody Hayden purchased the shuttered hardware store next door to their shop on M-22, but are moving deliberately as they determine how to best use the additional space, as well as the parking lot and outdoor gathering area between the buildings.
“We want to have more offerings, maybe have bonfires and hot chocolate,” D.C. Hayden said.

Wendy Becker, the vice president of sales and marketing at Cherry Capital Foods, said the company is looking to be very aggressive in food development. The company includes not only the Michigan-product distribution side, but also local specialty food producer Food For Thought and Earthy Delights, a mushroom company based in Okemos, where Cherry Capital Foods also has an office.

Becker said she and David Eger, product development and marketing content specialist, have mapped out where they want to go in terms of developing products trending in the market.

“We have a lot of exciting new products mapped out, including some very hot salsas,” said Becker.

The company’s bean and corn salsa with Scotch bonnet peppers, Devil’s Breath and Red Scorpion salsas were all recent Scovie Award winners, which recognizes the top fiery foods products from around the globe. With hot foods trending, Becker said the company is also working on Michigan-made hot sauces and four new barbecue sauces. It will also be producing some new apple products, including bourbon preserves, part of a line of new boozy jams.

Becker said the inclusion of both its new sister companies is providing more options for its distribution network, which also continues to grow.

“Earthy Delights  has mushrooms, truffles and wild ramps, which means we have more products for our customers,” she said.

Cherry Capital Foods works with large grocery chains such as Kroger and Meijer, organic and natural foods stores such as Oryana, Lucky’s and Whole Foods, and a number of small specialty retailers, as well as many restaurants, chefs and breweries. That list includes Rare Bird, Stella’s, The Franklin and Sugar to Salt.
“We’re always looking for new products,” she said.

For those with a sweet tooth, good news at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa’s Gallery of Shops. Dylan’s Candy Bar has morphed into Whirligigs Candy & More. It includes hundreds of sweets, ranging from classic candies to Mackinac Island fudge to Moomers ice cream. The new store also offers healthy treats and has a focus on Michigan-made products.

And at Moomers Ice Cream, co-owner Jon Plummer said the company is expanding its distribution as well as its off-season hours, opening daily beginning in March. He promises new flavors, as well as the return of its staff flavors contest and sunflower ice cream flavors from its acre of sunflowers. It is also working on a promotion with the Traverse City Pit Spitters where one specially marked container of its ice cream to be sold at the Traverse City Meijer will enable the winner to claim a bounty of prizes.