Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Diageo Invests $120M in Three New Bottling Lines



Packaging certainly is not the most glamorous part of whiskey-making, but it's essential. It's also costly, requiring both a lot of labor and a lot of equipment.

Diageo is the only whiskey producer in North America to do its packaging at a facility devoted to nothing else. It is done in a massive but otherwise non-descript facility in an industrial park on the outskirts of Plainfield, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Roads and rails provide access and the tank farm is the only clue to the plant's purpose. Except for a small hand-bottling line in Tullahoma, used for some Orphan Barrel and George Dickel products, most of Diageo's American whiskeys (Dickel, Bulleit) are bottled here.

This is the sort of thing Diageo rarely talks about. Requests to tour Plainfield are routinely and curtly refused. Diageo did, however, allow the magazine Packaging World to report on its recent addition of three new high-speed bottling lines at Plainfield, including a 300-bpm (bottles per minute) glass bottle line and a 260-bpm filling line for PET (i.e., plastic) flasks.

Since 2010, Packaging World reports, the company has invested more than $250 million in its North American production network to put in place a mix of high-speed, high-volume lines for established brands and lines with greater flexibility for new product innovations.

"Diageo's ambition is to be the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer products company in the world. Our supply chain operations will play a critical role in delivering that goal," said Diageo North America President Larry Schwartz at the unveiling of the company's most recent plant expansion. "The investment we have made in our manufacturing network demonstrates our commitment to developing this important part of our business."

In August 2013, Diageo completed a 90,000-sq-ft expansion at Plainfield, making it the company's largest bottling facility at 531,000-sq-ft The company also added a new cold-filtration system in the processing area, capable of preparing 250,000 gal of liquid per day.

Since it opened in 1966, the Plainfield facility (then owned by Diageo predecessor company Schenley) has been the focus of a number of investments. Diageo added a Brand Technical Center in 2001 to turn new liquid and packaging ideas into commercial products, and in 2009 it created a high-speed bottling area for malt drinks such as Smirnoff Ice. Also in 2009, Diageo partnered with rigid plastic packaging supplier Logoplaste to add a 40,000-sq-ft blow-molding facility adjacent to the plant to supply the majority of its PET bottles. In 2012, Diageo created a flexible production area with two packaging lines geared toward lower-volume, complex production and innovation requirements.

With the latest expansion, Diageo added a pouch filling line for Diageo's frozen cocktail products. That brings the number of packaging lines at Plainfield to 10, with the addition of Line 8 for glass and PET, Line 9 for glass, and Line 10 for PET.

In 2013, Plainfield bottled approximately 31 million cases of product, which is equivalent to 372 million 750-mL bottles. According to Diageo, "if those bottles were laid end-to-end, they would circle the globe nearly three times."

16 comments:

Ben Horne said...

At what point after leaving the barrel is whiskey typically diluted with water? Any idea whether Diageo dilutes with water from the plant in Tennessee or with water from the bottling plant in Illinois? It would probably save shipping costs dramatically to dilute at the bottling plant, but I'd be pretty disappointed to find Illinois water in my Tennessee whiskey. (Though I could care less about Illinois water in my Indiana rye whiskey)

Chuck Cowdery said...

There is Illinois water in your Tennessee whiskey.

Ben Horne said...

I know it's mental, but the next sip of Dickel white label I take just won't taste the same.

Anonymous said...

Do they bottle scotch there?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Probably. Single Malt Scotch must be bottled in Scotland but blends (which are 90%+ of sales) can be bottled here.

Anonymous said...

No no no.. they don't bottle Scotch in plainfield. Neither do they dilute Dickel after barrelling.... Scotch Single Malt has to leave Scotland in the bottle too. Plainfield only bottles white spirit at the moment AFAIK. Bottling blended Scotch outside Scotland is a lofistical nightmare

Chuck Cowdery said...

I don' know where you ^^^ get your information, but it's all wrong.

Joshua Luke said...

The thing I find most amazing about this story is that there is an entire magazine devoted to packaging. Will wonders never cease?

Joshua Luke said...

p.s. That was certainly not meant to be a jab at this post. It's good information. But...Packaging World? Who subscribes to that?

Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck, check out the Scotch Whisky Association rules. To be called "Scotch Whisky" a product must be bottled in Scotland, amongst other things. Otherwise it is an admix product or a "with Scotch Whisky " product.

Chuck Cowdery said...

From Massachusetts Beverage Business, 2010: "According to the Beverage Information Group, foreign-bottled Scotch did better than domestic-bottled for the eighth consecutive year, selling 5,4O4,OOO 9-liter cases while US-bottled Scotch sold 2,491,OOO nine-liter cases, for a small loss of 1.9%." Most single malts and your better blends are UK-bottled. Most bottom-shelf and even some single malts from independent bottlers are US-bottled. That scotch on the bottom shelf in the 1.75 L plastic bottle? It's US-bottled.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I would also add that the SWA can make any rules it wants, it has no jurisdiction here.

Anonymous said...

hi chuck
what is being bottled at the old seagram plant (owned by diageo) outside of Baltimore, md.? it was very active when I drove by a couple of years ago.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Never can be sure because Diageo isn't very forthcoming with that information, but I believe they handle a lot of Capt Morgan there as well as Smirnoff and some blended whiskeys. Probably some of the same brands they bottle at Plainview are also bottled there, closer to east coast markets.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The Relay, MD plant does blending and bottling and received a major upgrade about two years ago.

Anonymous said...

>Joshua Luke (re "Packaging World"): it's just another industry organ, geared strictly for packaging people. Like hundreds (or thousands) of other rags with a very limited audience, that most of us might read only as a sleep aid, or maybe while in the dentist's waiting room.