The Silicon Review
In the highly competitive world we live in, the Food and Beverage (F&B) segment plays a unique role in expanding economic opportunity because it is very common for human health and life. There are thousands of F&B products out there for consumers to choose from, but what plays an important role in consumer decision-making is the packaging. The industry experts are also certain that packaging is the biggest sales driver for any brand. Businesses tend to use the appealing package to stand out from the rest and influence the buyer. The packaging must also fulfill other criteria like marketability, communication, protection, and convenience. One of the basic functions of the package is to protect the contents. Especially for beverages, packaging must be designed intricately to prevent leakage and contamination during handling and storage. Many products require protection from loss of carbonation, ingress of oxygen, and sunlight exposure. All the mentioned factors can impact the quality and taste of the product. These components become even more crucial if a product must substantiate the claims made by the business. Why must a business be wary of all the different aspects of a package? It is to deliver an enjoyable experience to the consumers.
Globally there are various companies delivering excellent co-packing & private labeling services, but Blue Marble stands out from the rest. Blue Marble is not your average co-packing and beverage company. The company is here to change the world and have fun while doing it. Blue Marble is a family business with family values, supporting global awareness, conservation, and environmental initiatives through its “keep the blue marble blue” program. The company’s commitment to the environment is as strong as its commitment to bringing you the world’s best tasting beverages which includes: Blue Marble Ultra-Premium Cocktails, Blue Marble Ultra-Premium Spiked Seltzer, Blue Marble Ultra-Premium Spirits, and Blue Marble Pure Love Canned Water. Blue Marble Productions offers co-packing and private label services for canned alcohol and non-alcohol brands. In 1972 the NASA astronauts flew so far into space that when they looked back at the earth, they said it looked like a blue marble. When serial entrepreneur Alan Miller decided to start his all-natural cocktail company and production facility, he couldn’t think of a better name that resonated with what he envisioned… Blue Marble Cocktails, Inc. and Blue Marble Productions, Inc.
Just 5 short years ago Blue Marble was formed and the success story is an inspiration to all for what hard work, determination and what the American dream can get you. This years’ recipient of the Business Excellence Award goes to Blue Marble. This is that success story.
Q. Tell our Silicon Review readers how Blue Marble was started.
Danyelle (Alan’s fiancé) and I both enjoy cocktails and love to entertain, but we were frustrated with the limited options of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. They either tasted terrible or contained artificial dyes, flavors, and sweeteners. I had no clue on how to make them or build a factory, but like a lot of companies out there, identifying a need in the market or a gap is a great motivator. We started with Blue Marble Cocktails and planned on using a co-packer to make the drinks for us. After seeing what was out there, I decided we had to build our own facility. Honestly, I wouldn’t have made dog food in the facilities I saw. My career had been building high-tech surgical lasers with lots of regulatory and traceability. You can find my lasers in over 100 countries, and I wanted to build a high-tech, state-of-the-art facility to produce our cocktails. I never imagined that the biggest alcohol companies in the world would approach me to make their products. We started off small with 20,000 sq. feet, expanded to 32,000 sq. feet, then 181,000 sq ft, and now 425,000 sq ft. Companies found out just how good and complicated our drinks are and trust us to make theirs. I could not be prouder of what we have built.
Q. The world has been gripped by COVID-19 since early 2020. Some sectors have been hit hard financially. Has the cocktail/alcohol industry been hit as hard as others by the virus?
COVID-19 has been life-changing for many, including Blue Marble and the alcohol industry. Overall, the alcohol industry was negatively impacted as most on-premise bars, venues, cruise lines, amusement parks, hotels, restaurants, and more were shut down. Most of our sales were at these on-premise locations, and our sales reflected the shutdown. However, off-premise and direct-to-consumer delivery platforms saw a rocketing increase in alcohol sales as people were able to buy booze, including Blue Marble. Year over year, we saw a 25% in our cocktail brand. Additionally, Blue Marble Productions, as planned, grew and moved locations last year. We were able to grow in our canning capabilities exponentially as a wave of beverage brands knocked on our doors to make canned beverages. Gratefully, we were one of the companies considered essential to keep our business open.
Q. How was it expanding your factory last year?
COVID has shown just how bomb proof our industry is; while others have been shutting down, we have been growing. Blue Marble Productions represents the majority of our revenue income, and it continues to grow. We used very strict screening policies and combined them with compassion for our team members, contractors, vendors, and suppliers. It was difficult, but we made it through it. This year we have and are expanding again to add even more co-packing capacity. It has been somewhat of a challenge with all of the shutdowns, but we have worked through it. We are considered a premier facility that specializes in some of the most complex alcohol and non-alcohol beverages in the world. We have added every level of revenue expansion we can, including lab services, private label, small-batch test services, can sleeving services, 3 PL services, and even regulatory, legal, and sales/marketing support. All of which can be found in-house. Overall I would say the impact of COVID has been neutral to our business. The explosion of the hard seltzer market is probably the biggest positive impact to our business.
Q. How much does technology or innovation play a role in Blue Marble?
From the inception, I set out Blue Marble to function as a world-class company. Bringing the right team into the company was imperative, but being a techie and creator, I wanted to bring in as much out-of-the-box thinking and approach I could. Most people told me, “Alan, that’s the way it’s always been done.” Something I could care less about. I am glad I was not from the industry so I could use a clean-sheet approach to building everything, including our cocktails and factory. To me, technology and innovation are EVERYTHING. We have tried to implement as much as we could, and every day am looking to add more sophisticated robotics and even AI into the business. It is not easy to work with some of the largest companies in the world without good MRP systems and good QMS/SOPs in place. We have run things like SAP day 1 to give us the traceability we needed, installed world-class laboratories, high-tech lasers, monitoring devices, software programs, and robotics to give our clients the highest quality products available.
Q. Being a tech based company how much of a role do your team members play and what challenges have you faced?
Technology is great, but it still needs talented people to operate it. People that I hired, in the beginning, were good for our first steps, but in some cases, weren’t capable of getting us to the next level. Top-grading talent is ongoing daily at Blue Marble. I am a firm believer with some direction and the right people; you can move mountains. At the end of the day, I know my role, strengths, and limitations. I have tried to install and empower talent all over the company. We have had challenges with the basic roles. The work ethic of the younger generations can be challenging, but we have one of the best HR directors in the country, and she has done an excellent job bringing in the right people. I have always been a firm believer in being a YES man to help our team members be successful. We hire on attitude and work ethic; everything else can be taught if someone has the right attitude.
Q. What is your advice to other young entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself with winners and ask lots of questions. Better to fail small and quickly, than wait and fail a large way. Learn to embrace the tough days; you may just find that they turn out to be the best thing to happen to you. Start with a really solid business plan with your exit strategy in place. I have helped enough start-ups & turn-arounds both private and public, to know you better start with great attorneys and accountants! At the end of the day, all it takes to be successful is an understanding that it is a little bit of brains, a little bit of guts and LOTS of determination.
Q. What do you define as success?
We are creating a business that not only creates jobs but makes the world a better place. Danyelle, I started the keep the blue marble blue foundation years ago to help keep our beaches and oceans clean. We hate single-use plastic, and I am proud that we can make an impact at Blue Marble by using sustainable packaging and doing things better for the environment. At the end of the day, giving back is my definition of success.