After COVID delay, global flavor manufacturer opens for business in Sparks
SPARKS, Nev. — In 2018, France-based flavor manufacturer Monin realized it was running into a problem at its U.S. manufacturing facility in Clearwater, Florida. Fortunately, it was a good problem.
“We’ve had significant growth year-over-year for the past 20 years, and we realized that we were going to run out of capacity here,” Bill Lombardo, CEO at Monin Americas, said in a video call last week with the NNBW. “When you have products you have to ship across the whole U.S., it made sense to expand our capabilities in the west.”
After surveying multiple pockets out west, the company landed on Reno-Sparks, said Lombardo, adding: “We did an analytic study of location, logistics, cost of operation and also labor quality, and Northern Nevada came out on top.”
With that, in November, Monin announced the opening of its second North America location, a 115,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Sparks.
The facility, built in the Spanish Springs Business Center off the Pyramid Highway by Kentucky-based construction company Gray, includes full flavor processing and bottling as well as warehouse distribution for the western U.S., Mexico and Canada, according to Monin.
“It’s a great opportunity for us because we cover the country very effectively in terms of sales,” said Lombardo, noting Washington, Oregon and Northern California are large markets for the company’s coffee syrups. “And to now have closer distribution, manufacturing and distribution, it’s a huge benefit. A West Coast facility was definitely something we needed to do.”
Among other features, the Sparks facility includes a state-of-the-art “innovation flavor café.” There, customers can experience creative beverage development and operational training with the selection of Monin’s 200-plus flavoring products.
Back in March 2018, the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development approved the application from Monin — which included authorization of $1.2 million in tax abatements — to expand to Washoe County based on the company’s projected capital investment of $11.8 million.
According to the company’s application to GOED, Monin initially planned to employ a minimum of 30 Reno-area employees at an average hourly wage of roughly $24.50.
Last week, Lombardo said the new Spanish Springs location was originally set to start bottling in March of this year, but the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent shutdowns put plans on hold.
Fast-forward eight months, the facility is processing up to 30,000 bottles a day with a crew of 20 employees, said Lombardo, noting the facility was designed to accommodate steady growth, including a 25% staff increase in 2021.
Within five years, Lombardo expects the site to hum along with 100 employees and 100,000 bottles coming off the lines each day.
“We plan to fill it over the next five years,” he said. “That would give us what we need to supply the West effectively.”
Lombardo said demand for Monin’s products dried up early on in the pandemic. This, he said, was due to the fact the majority of the company’s products are sold to B2B customers — restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, bars and more. In other words, Monin’s primary customer base spent months of the COVID crisis with their doors fully shut or partially open.
“When most places are closed or have limited service, our business is not so strong,” he said. “We started off strong, with double-digit growth the first couple months, and then we dropped dramatically in the second quarter when places were diminished.”
Lombardo added that in Q3 the company saw “pretty good recovery” and sales have “plateaued” so far in Q4.
Monin, though, has seen a surge in online sales to B2C customers through its website and Amazon, where individuals can find a selection of 200 flavors. All told, the company’s web sales in 2020 are up 120% compared to last year, Lombardo said.
However, “that still doesn’t offset when 80% of your customers are closed or have limited service,” Lombardo explained. “So, we took a bit of a hit. But, fortunately, we’re pretty strong financially as a company. And so, we’re able to weather the storm pretty well. But, we’re looking forward to a time when things will get back a little bit more normal.”
First established in 1912 in Bourges, France, the company launched its Monin Americas division in 1995 with the opening of its “Flavor Innovation Center” in Clearwater, Florida. The new Sparks facility will double the company’s U.S. capacity.
On a global scale, aside from its original location in France, Monin also operates manufacturing facilities in Dubai, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
From a national standpoint, research shows the embrace of digital commerce is a whole decade ahead of schedule thanks to the pandemic. We spoke with the Retail Association of Nevada, Downtown Reno Partnership and the Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce to give local context to the growth of online retail.