Broxburn Bottlers is currently retrofitting its facilities to meet the increased demands for its services, as the Scottish provider of bottling for high-end alcoholic beverages is living through the busiest period of its history
Scotland, few would argue, is the Mecca of whisky. Renowned for the production of world-class brands of scotch, the northernmost country in the UK attracts hundreds of thousands of aficionados every year that take to the Highlands to degust some of the finest spirits Scotland has to offer. The first years of the 21st century have cultivated a trend of in-depth knowledge of quality alcoholic drinks, which has led to a rise in the popularity of whisky, in particular, as a greater number of members of the general public is discovering the experience of learning about, tasting, and cherishing the delicate beverage.
Based at the heart of Scotland, Broxburn Bottlers is responsible for the aesthetically pleasing look of any bottle of exquisite whisky that comes out of the bottling provider’s manufacturing facility. The company was formed in 1984, operating from a facility, which had previously been a property of another business that had also been offering bottling services, thus giving Broxburn Bottlers a head start in its own operations.
“During the first ten years of its existence, the company was focused on its own production, but upon entering its second decade, it gradually started venturing a bit more into contract bottling, especially for the whisky industry,” Managing Director, David Harris begins. “The business had reached a production rate of 1.4 million cases by 2004, when I joined it, and today, we have increased that figure to just over 40 million bottles per year, serving the whole industry.
“We have about 50 customers – from the biggest companies to some smaller businesses. Our capabilities allow us to bottle a variety of products and our specialism is high-end, low-volume spirits. We are well-versed in developing fancy packaging and gift boxes for the premium end. Recently, we bottled a 60-year-old Glenfarclas, which is selling at about £18,000-£20,000 per bottle, so we have been dealing with some spectacular whiskies. Naturally, though, we cover the whole range, going down to the cheapest on-display type of products. Our bottle size ranges from 50 millilitres to six litres of very expensive whisky,” David explains.
Entrusted with the bottling of such a whopping number of spirits, Broxburn Bottlers invariably needed to set up some exceptional processes at its manufacturing facility in West Lothian. The plant features eight production lines and mixes manual production with fully-automated manufacturing, synchronised to perfection. “We are incredibly versatile, which is one of our core strengths. We invest a lot of time and money to train our staff, so they can reach the level of versatility that will allow them to perform the tasks we require from them. Besides, it is a quite enjoyable job for them, because of the variety of products that pass through their hands, and they are proud to be involved in their bottling,” David praises his team. He also hastens to clarify that all of the materials for the bottling are supplied by the customers. “We do not make the bottles ourselves and do not own any of the materials or the spirits. However, in odd cases, we would buy the glass for some of our smaller customers, because it is more costefficient for both parties.”
In addition to its manufacturing facility, Broxburn Bottlers operates a warehousing centre with a number of units, where it stores its goods. “We have a storage for about 2000 casks, as well as a capacity of two million litres. Furthermore, we have a wide variety of vats – from enormous vats that can hold up to 110,000 litres to smaller ones with a capacity of 5000 litres. However, we have not got too many of the latter. The majority of our vats are larger – between 50,000 and 110,000 litres. Additionally, we operate a couple of units for the dry materials we receive, including all the glass, cardboard, and labels. We also currently hold over 400,000 cases of finished goods,” David details.
With the amount of workload having reached unprecedented levels for Broxburn Bottlers, the company has had to think about the expansion of its infrastructure, and the business is presently showing signs of intensified investment activity. David outlines the principal upgrades the plant is undergoing. “We have just agreed to buy a new bottling line, which will be our ninth and will cost approximately £1.5 million. It is currently being built in Italy and we will have it sent to us in stages. The final piece of kit is scheduled to be delivered right on December 24th, and we are aiming to have the line installed over the Christmas period, so it could be fully operational from the first days of the new year.
“The building of a new cask storage facility is also coming to a completion, representing another investment of over £1 million. It will be able to hold 20,000 casks and will feature a bulk processing area for bringing in bulk whisky and preparing it for bottling. Simultaneously, we are building a new welfare block that will include new toilets, shower rooms and locker rooms, which will be finished in a couple of weeks,” he discusses.
As Broxburn Bottlers serves the highend whisky industry, the company is advancing its offering further by building a new luxury products hall to handle the deluxe items it works with. David elaborates: “It will allow us to improve in finishing off the high-value production, so this specialist hall will be an essential part of our future activities. On top of all of that, we have just broken ground on three new warehousing facilities for dry material storage. Truth being told, we could do with all the facilities up and running. It normally takes a year or so to plan an expansion and find the investment for it and by the time it has been completed, you start wondering whether that would be enough to manage all the workload,” he points out.
Thanks to Broxburn Bottlers having earned a leading position in the industry, we are able to gain some precious insight from David on the dominant market conditions in the business of spirits. “The gin market and the top-end whisky market are both going strong, at the moment,” he remarks. “The trend of alcopops has given way to what might be called ‘the affordable luxuries’. People are prepared to pay a little bit more for high-quality products. Instead of buying a lot of lower-quality spirits, they are more inclined to buy a bit less but of a higher standard.
“Perhaps, the popularity of gin and whisky is down to the availability of more information about them. The Internet has played a role, because the consumers have started to discover the opportunities to make some lovely cocktails with gin as a base. Besides, people like drinking cocktails, they enjoy the ritual of preparing one, so that is how one might explain the gin phenomenon in the past three or four years. It is a bubble that might burst sooner or later, but in fact, these gins are a genuinely good product and good products tend to last.”
David maintains that the picture in the whisky market does not differ much. “Again, it is an affordable luxury. With whisky, you are guaranteed a very high standard. It is a unique and wellcherished product by the industry and the latter’s efforts in the last 30-40 years to reach this particular quality have been laudable. If you buy a bottle of whisky, you know you are buying a very good product. It is not like buying a watch for £1000. Instead, it is about paying £50 or £60 for a bottle of a high-quality scotch, which you can share with your friends and talk about. What is more, when you get into whisky, you can explore it for years, because there are so many different types. People like trying various styles and comparing them. Drinking whisky has become an event of a sort,” he smiles.
“At the moment, people are talking a lot about rum, but it is showing only early signs of turning into a major trend,” David continues. “It is an interesting product and we have seen some growth already, but nothing spectacular as of yet. These things tend to take time. It is true what they say that behind every overnight success there is ten years of hard work. Rum has been bubbling along for the last five years, so it might require another year or two to kick in like gin, or maybe even longer. It is another product with a lot of variation in styles and areas of production, so it could be explored by consumers. I expect it to come to the fore in the years to come.”
He concludes on a positive note, expressing his confidence that Broxburn Bottlers will stay on the growth trajectory in the long run. “We have to keepinvesting and getting stronger. People are enjoying the products we are offering, because they are guaranteed a standard. With the world population growing and more and more people being able to afford these spirits around the world, lots of different markets open up for us all the time, so I am hoping for a continued, steady growth.”