Oak Creek — According to Black Bear Bottling Group president and owner Peter Caruso, the Oak Creek-based company has tripled its business in the last two years.
As the company strives to meet the needs of a larger customer base, it plans an expansion that will add 36,000 square feet of warehouse and plant space to the more than 80,000 square feet it already owns in the city.
Until the company finishes construction, it is renting a 17,000 square foot storage facility in Oak Creek. The facility will be used as temporary storage and will not be leased out after the expansions are complete. Caruso expects to hire 10 employees when the expansion is complete.
Black Bear Bottling Group, a packaging and bottling company, moved from a 10,000-square-foot building in Saint Francis to rent an 80,000-square-foot, city-owned facility in Oak Creek in 2001.
Black Bear purchased the production and marketing rights for the city's Claire Baie brand of bottled water, negotiating an agreement that allowed it to rent the Oak Creek facility for a nominal fee and a 20 percent royalty on every bottle of Clare Baie sold. The royalty fee was dropped by the city in 2010.
"We took 20 percent of the sales. If we continued to get that, they would not be able to make a successful business off of that. We got it started, we're happy with the product, and they can move on," said Michael Sullivan, the Oak Creek Water and Sewer Utility general manager.
He added that the biggest win for the city was leasing the building.
Black Bear bought that building, located at 2025 W. South Branch Blvd., in 2010 for $2.3 million. In February of this year, the company purchased the adjacent Infinity Neon building to serve as a warehouse.
Black Bear sodas and Claire Baie water can be found at many stores in southeast Wisconsin including Woodman's, Pick 'n Save, and Piggly Wiggly. While people can still buy the sodas, mixing the Black Bear brand of drink has become less of a priority for the company, Caruso said.
As the company has gained customers, its focus has shifted to mixing and packaging a variety of products for its clients. Black Bear mixes Goose Island soda, Green River soda, and some A&W, Pepsi and Sunny D products. The company also mixes and packages soda products for Lakefront Brewery and Steven's Point Brewery products, among others.
Black Bear-packaged products are sold from coast to coast, and even internationally. The Jelly Belly soda mixed in Oak Creek sells in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Caruso said.
Black Bear mixes all sodas from raw ingredients and packages items on-site.
Caruso said the new warehouse space coupled with an increase in the plant's bottling speed, were driving factors in Black Bear's recent growth.
He added that he is proud of the community support he has received.
"I just want to emphasize the great job the employees are doing and the loyalties of the Southeast Wisconsin communities," he added.
Caruso has two sons who are active in the business. They are the fourth generation of the family involved in Black Bear Bottling.
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