Friday, January 14, 2011

J. J. Taylor Distributing

Firkin Around...Tampa, Florida.

Trucks in the loading bay
Have you ever thought of where your last beer came from? I don't mean your cooler or your fridge. What about the store or restaurant where you made the purchase? In other words, how did it find its way from the brewer's hand, to your hand?  If you have given that some thought, you might recall seeing armies of distributor's trucks, delivering beer from the manufacturer, to your local point of purchase.

J. J. Taylor is just such a distributor - - - and they differentiate from the pack with distinction.  Fact is, J. J. Taylor was named, "The Best Beer Wholesaler of 2010" according to Impact newsletter, Market Watch.  J. J. Taylor was established in 1958 as a single brand supplier, but has evolved into the ninth largest beer wholesaler in the country. Operations are in Minnesota and Florida with headquarters located in Jupiter, FL.

Some of the vast stock on hand
Their market includes 11,000 retail and on-premise customers in Florida and 2,200 in Minnesota. Sales for 2009 were posted at over 26 million cases, accounting for revenue of over $400 million. Their major suppliers include MillerCoors, Heineken USA, Diageo-Guiness, Pabst Brewing and D.G. Yuengling & Son. They also have the specialty brands that we "beer geeks" look for; their lineup carries a who's-who list of small craft micro-breweries.

The Boulder Beer Co., Boston Beer Co., Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Stone Brewing Co. and Bell's Brewing Co. are just few names in their specialty beer arsenal. In addition to beer and ale, a line of "ready-to-drink" items such as Mike's Hard Lemonade and others, are also available.

Taken from their website, the company has a straightforward mission statement that clearly defines their goals for success:
J. J. Taylor Companies’ mission is to be the "FIRST CHOICE" in beer distributors as measured by it's employees, customers, and suppliers: Take care of your people, Take care of your customers, Be aggressive in the marketplace, Do not get greedy.
One can glean from this statement that they are not just in this business for their own endeavor and gain, but that they also take responsibility to partner with their direct customers and suppliers.  At the same time, J. J. Taylor ensures that those they employ, along with the ultimate consumers of their products, remain satisfied.

Wow, that's a lot of beer!
A whole lotta' Heineken, right there.
My visit began after making the acquaintance of Joe Burns, Director of Specialty Brands at J. J. Taylor. He invited me to come and see firsthand the entire operation, with virtually unlimited access, as cases of beer flowed from one end of the plant to the other. The size and scope of the operations was amazing to say the least. I swear there was a stack of Heineken that could have filled my house!

Joe Burns with Sam & Sam & Sam...
Walking about the warehouse floor proved to be a challenge as tow-motors and forklifts scurried from the back of plant to the front, bringing one after another pallet of different beer to the staging area. The keg refrigerator was equally as busy with traffic. I'm not too surprised. So many new beer bars have sprung up with the renewed popularity of beer in the past few years. Customers have been ordering more of the fresh draft styles offered by the craft brewers, that a refrigerator of this size is a requirement. Walking into the keg cooler, I saw another astonishing visual. Joe pointed out a literal wall of Sam Adams Boston Lager kegs right there in front of us! Think about that for a minute - - - That's just one line item, by one brewer, in their keg fridge! You can start to get the idea just how huge this facility really is, without being there for yourself.

Largest Distribution Operations Under One Roof

Manuel and Joe
Joining Joe and I on the tour of the facility was Manuel Portuando, President and General Manager of J. J. Taylor. He explained some of the finer points of the operations. Points including how the warehouse has expanded since the 2000 opening, to how their employees are their single most important asset. Both my hosts stressed the amount of training and level of commitment J. J. Taylor gives to the employee. Everyone I met on the tour had the same level of genuine enthusiasm of working for J. J. Taylor.

During my tour I was introduced to Jay Martin, Vice President of Operations. He was enthusiastic about all brands, but particularly exuberant about how the craft beer movement has helped to add more SKU's to their ever increasing portfolio of beer.

Proving their commitment to efficient beer distribution in the state of Florida, we can quickly sum up J. J. Taylor by the numbers:
  • Largest single distribution center under one continuous roof
  • Largest refrigerated keg cooler on the east coast of the US
  • 900 - 1000 SKU's (Stock Keeping Unit) and growing every year
  • Enough product supply on hand for a 15 day delivery inventory
  • Picking and packaging (VERTIQUE™) line can be operated by as few as 7 to 8 employees
  • Up to 16 trucks at one time, can be loaded in an environmentally controlled indoor setting
  • 130 daily truck routes, covering 17 South Florida counties
  • Two satellite distribution facilities located in Fort Myers and Fort Pierce
Summarizing the operations on the production floor, order fillers pick items from a library arrangement of continuously stocked shelving, onto a conveyor. The cases pass through scanning stations around the warehouse until the order is assembled on a pallet, up to seven cases in height. The final order is wrapped and inspected and then moved by forklift directly onto one of the awaiting trucks.  At that point, the beer is ready for delivery to its destined retail location. The entire system is computer automated for efficiency and accuracy, from order taking, to order building and final delivery.  Here are a few examples of the VERTIQUE™ system in operation.

350,000 square feet - reduced carbon footprint

It's easy being green
J. J. Taylor is also committed to 'green initiatives'.  Packaging is broken down into cans, glass and plastic for any damaged containers, for the purposes of recycling. Plastic wrap packaging materials are also collected along with cardboard. Lighting requirements are reduced by using energy efficient bulbs and motion sensors, for areas requiring electric illumination. Natural lighting supplements some areas of the building, where possible. Huge fans have been installed in areas requiring large amounts of air movement, such as the indoor truck loading bay. No kidding. They use "Big Ass Fans®" to keep the air circulating.

Now that you know...

So, the next time you take a trip to the fridge to crack open a cold one, you may want to take a moment to thank all of those great beer folks that helped make it happen.

Beer, beer, and more beer
A Firkin Whole Lot of Beer! 

J. J. Taylor Distributors
5102 South 16th Street
Tampa, FL 34201