Press-Republican

January 27, 2013

Country Malt Group continues to grow

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

CHAMPLAIN — Country Malt Group is expanding in Champlain once more.

Managing Director Bryan Bechard said the company is the exclusive North American malt distributor for Canada Malting, Great Western Malting, Bairds Malt, Best Malz, Thomas Fawcett and Sons and Malteries Franco-Belges. They also import and distribute several varieties of domestic and imported hops, as well as other supplies and ingredients used in the brewing process to craft brewers such as Magic Hat, Saranac and Dogfish Head.

Company has grown

The company has outgrown the ability to package and distribute in its present Champlain location, Bechard said. They have signed a lease for a 40,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center from The Development Corp. in its Champlain Industrial Park.

The Development Corp. President and CEO Paul Grasso Jr. welcomed the new tenant.

“Country Malt Group is already a valuable member of our business community and TDC is delighted to be able to support their growing business needs,” he said in a news release.

He started North Country Malt Supply with his father, Claude, in a small tool shed behind Claude’s home in 1995. 

They moved to the original 7,200-square-foot building at the present location at 16 Beeman Way in the Town of Champlain in 1997-98. Half of that space was originally rented to another company.

Bechard said his sister, Robin Bechard, was his first employee.

“She’s my right-hand person. She’s very involved in the business,” he said.

Building expanded

The other tenant eventually left, which helped create space for continued growth. In 2001, Country Malt added about 5,000 square feet to the back of the building.

The company added packaging lines as they grew, eventually moving from primitive to more advanced and automated systems.

Country Malt Group joined with United Malt Holdings in 2006, when the latter decided it wanted to get into the craft brewer market. The Chicago location was added, which provided a well-centralized location for the operation.

Bechard said they eventually joined Great Western Malting in 2007, and he still runs Country Malt Group from the Champlain location. They have about 90 employees at eight North American locations.

The various locations allow the company to ship to their customers within a two-day window at pallet prices, which helps reduce costs for their clients. 

“Not long in, we knew our model was sound,” he said. 

Grain Corp., based in Australia, purchased the companies in 2009. Bechard said they expanded the Country Malt Group model to the other North American locations in 2009-10.

“We are one of the largest suppliers in North America to the craft brewing industry,” Bechard said.

Industry expanding

The craft brewing industry continues to grow by about 10 percent a year, he said, but is only now approaching the number of regional brewers that existed prior to Prohibition. 

The Champlain plant operates about 16 hours a day. Most of the production work takes place on the day shift, and most of the order preparation work at night.

Malt from Canada comes into the facility and is placed on a line that uses a system of paddles to move it into one of the six large metal hoppers outside the building. That causes less damage than if they used air to move the malt.

Bechard said they bring in one to two container loads a day to Champlain, and have about 60 containers on the move across North America at any given time.

The company also mills some malt in Champlain, about 15 tons a day.

They spent well more than $1 million to upgrade the facility a couple years ago. That includes a robotic arm that moves filled bags from the line to a pallet.

Plans call for a automated shrink-wrap machine to be added, Bechard said.

The hops are kept in cold storage, at about 32 degrees. The angled racks allow the next box to move forward as each order is packed.

Some orders contain both malt and hops on the same pallet. 

Supplies wide area

The Champlain location supplies all of Quebec, Ontario, Canadian Maritime provinces and the East Coast of the United States as far as Maryland.

“We have a very active sales force in Canada and the United States,” he said, adding that they focus on providing the highest level of customer service. 

Bechard said he was out of college and worked in golf-course management when his brother, Tom, a home brewer, mentioned he had a hard time finding supplies. That’s when he and his father saw the potential of the business.

They also saw the need to have brand-distribution rights to be competitive, Bechard said.

“We give our customers the brands they want to have at a lower cost per shipment,” he said.

They offer about 150 varieties of malt, hop and grain products. North Country Malt also offer several lines of treatment, brewing, filtering and cleaning products a brewer needs.

 “We are a one-stop shop for a brewer’s ingredients,” Bechard said. 

Email Dan Heath: dheath@pressrepublican.com