Positive progress

Bottle manufacturing plant sets up in Trinity Bay North

Deanne Hiscock editor@thepacket.ca
Published on January 31, 2013
bottling plant
Deanne Hiscock photo

It's just two new jobs but in a town that's seen more than its fair share of economic woes in the past couple of years, a new business that creates just two jobs is reason to celebrate.

That's just what they did in Port Union on Monday, Jan. 21, as Iceberg Vodka Corporation started up its blow and mold bottle-manufacturing operation in the restored Fishermen's Union Trading Company property.

Members of the board of the Sir William Coaker Foundation and the town council of Trinity Bay North were on hand for the milestone.

Coaker Foundation Chair Bruce Sweetland called it one of the Foundation`s greatest accomplishments.

"There were lots of naysayers but the best thing is a positive attitude," he said, adding, "the new venture will provide work for the area. It is starting small, and we hope for more, with spin off jobs as well."

From idea to reality

The event on Jan. 21 to mark the start of the new venture was the culmination of a dream of the Coaker Foundation to see the old trading company property put to good use.

The building was constructed during the 1916-18 period by Sir William Ford Coaker, founder and president of the Fishermen's Union Trading Company (FUTC).

The Port Union building served as the hub of the union's operations.

The original building housed the retail, wholesale and salt fish operations of the FUTC. It was razed by fire in 1945 and rebuilt a year later, continuing to serve as the union headquarters until the FPU folded in the 1970s.

Over the years ownership of the building changed hands, and the building was eventually abandoned, and fell into disrepair.

In 2009, the Coaker Foundation acquired the building and set to work on the dream of restoration.

The federal and provincial governments provided funding for some of the work and by 2012 the exterior, and some of the interior, had been restored.

A partnership between Iceberg Vodka and the Foundation also enabled the completion of the restoration.

The Foundation entered into a lease agreement with Iceberg Vodka. That agreement provided for the company to complete the interior restoration, with any interior renovations to meet the approval of the Coaker Foundation board of directors.

Initially Iceberg planned to operate a water bottling facility, but that idea was shelved due to economics.

The current operation involves production of all the required plastic bottles for the company's vodka and rum products that are bottled at the NL Liquor Corporation in St. John's.

The blow mold machine is operated by two people, and the company says it has plans to hire a third employee.

During the Jan. 21 event, Manager John Batten explained the manufacturing process to the group.

A narrow plastic cylinder travels on an assembly line through temperature-controlled heat lamps onto a mold machine that blows the cylinder to the pre-set size and ejects the finished product. Temperature is critical because lower levels, or even a draught from an open door, can cause hazing in the plastic, making it inferior for market.

Quality control is stringent, with employees carefully removing even a speck of dust on the assembly line that could cause defects.

Batten says the operation will be a full-time venture, at least five days a week to start, producing approximately 8,000 bottles a day, with five bottle sizes.

Depending on the demand for bottles, production could increase.

Currently company uses both glass and plastic bottles for its vodka product - about half of each. The glass bottles are imported from Europe.

All raw materials and finished products of the plastic bottle line, in addition to the glass bottle inventory, will be stored in the ground floor of the building.

The barge and ship used for collecting the icebergs are moored at the facilities wharf, awaiting Spring when icebergs begin drifting down the coast.

The barge will return to Port Union to unload the cargo of iceberg water, for transport to St. John's where it is used in the production of their rum and vodka products.

Iceberg Vodka is sold across Canada and at some locations in the United States.

Markets for their products are Canada wide in addition to a growing United States market. Batten says he is excited to have the bottling plant up and running in Port Union.

He admits that when he first saw the property, which had become dilapidated over the years, he thought the best option would be to tear it down.

Thanks to the restoration work, he now sees a bright future for the property.

"There are big plans and I can see it growing," said Batten, "(we`re) always headed towards up, always looking to grow."

Trinity Bay North Mayor Brendan Peters was also on hand for the tour and celebration.

He says he is impressed with the building and hopes to see more development in other space in the building.

While it's only two new jobs being created right now, he said, "It's nice to see a start."

Peters hopes the new venture will provide something beyond the jobs, that it will give people a positive outlook for the future.

The Mayor also gave credit to the Coaker Foundation for its contribution to the area and for great job they've done on restoration of the Coaker properties.