Food Service & Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Sustainability

Vivant’s vision for growth is deeper, not wider

Brewery keeps its focus on making Grand Rapids a better place.

July 8, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Jason and Kris Spaulding
Kris and Jason Spaulding celebrate the installation of solar panels atop Brewery Vivant. Courtesy Brewery Vivant

As breweries across the United States strive to produce and distribute more, Brewery Vivant continues to focus on its local community.

The East Hills neighborhood brewery does continue to grow its capacity, but Brewery Vivant Director of Sales and Marketing Kate Avery said the company’s growth is all about expanding “deeper, smarter and better.”

Brewery Vivant is not necessarily growing beyond its distribution footprint of Michigan, Chicago and Indiana. The recent release of the Plein de Vie series of wood-aged and sour beers offers a new product to consumers in its distribution areas, while three new 60-barrel fermenters will help boost production capacity to 9,000 barrels annually. A barrel is approximately 31 gallons.

Expanding the production capacity will pose a challenge for the brewery, however, said Kris Spaulding, who owns it with husband, Jason. According to the Brewers Association, Brewery Vivant is the 17th-largest brewpub in the nation, which by association guidelines means it produces less than 15,000 barrels annually and sells nearly 30 percent on-site.

Currently, Brewery Vivant sells approximately 1,500 barrels on-site, so getting to nearly 3,000 on-site barrels sold — 30 percent of its new capacity — could require more special events like the brewery’s annual Wood Aged Beer Festival.

“That’s important to Jason and I to stay a brewpub,” Spaulding said. “It’s a good distinction to have for consumers when they come in. A brewpub has a more natural community connotation than just being a big brewery.”

Maintaining the brewery’s connection to East Hills and Grand Rapids as a whole is why Kris Spaulding is focusing more of its efforts on sustainability.

Sustainability has been goal since the brewery was opened in 2010, but as the capital flow to brewing equipment and physical build-outs has slowed, the concentration on sustainability can strengthen.

“We’re not trying to take over the world with our beer,” Avery said. “We want to be the local brewery and support our community. If we can distribute throughout our state, that’s wonderful, but we’d like to draw more people to Grand Rapids.”

Avery said the brewery team believes being a good steward to the community will help attract more visitors — and potential residents — to Grand Rapids for the long term, while making it a better place to be.

In 2014, Brewery Vivant became the fourth Certified B Corporation in the Grand Rapids area. B Corp certifications require for-profit companies to meet social, environmental, performance, accountability and transparency standards.

The threshold for certification by the nonprofit B Lab in Wayne, Pennsylvania, is 80 points. When first certified, Brewery Vivant scored 86. This year, while going through the recertification process, Brewery Vivant was randomly selected for an on-site audit and scored 110.

Spaulding said the audit process helps keep companies honest but also clears up confusion and helps show what organizations can do better in the future.

Since the brewery was first certified, Spaulding said the business now has the financial means to offer better employee benefits and was able to better identify and strengthen company policies.

“I think we got as much low- and mid-hanging fruit as possible, so when we recertify again two years from now, the bar will be that much higher,” Spaulding said. “It’s nice to have a tool to keep pushing us, and they reassess the assessment on a regular basis so they’re always evolving, and their expectation is for us to keep evolving, too.”

Spaulding said the company will be hard-pressed to ever reach the “Best of the World” status reserved for companies that reach 150 points, such as Bazzani Building Co. and Catalyst Partners locally. She said to reach those point totals, products have to benefit society.

“There’s a big chunk of points we’ll never get,” she said. “Though I think (beer) is a benefit to society, they disagree.”

Still, when making beer, Spaulding said the company could focus on procuring more certified organic ingredients and utilizing the growing Michigan supply chain of hops and malt.

Following a two-year process, Brewery Vivant also has started sourcing 10,000 pounds of beef for its 20,000 hamburgers a year from Wernette Beef Farm in Remus.

To help source the beef, Brewery Vivant server Jeff Duba, owner of Duba Heritage Meats, was a middleman.

“We like those situations to help have our staff relationships expand,” Spaulding said. “It was a challenge to find a farm that produced enough for us with the criteria we had in mind, but they’re great partners and have been really excited about it.”

Brewery Vivant added 195 solar panels from Copemish-based CBS Solar across the roofs of the taproom and brewery facility. It’s a project with a nine-year payback, but Spaulding said it’s been a goal to provide 10 percent of power by on-site renewable resources.

The new panels will bring on-site renewable power to 20 percent, up from .00001 percent, she said.

“That’s my little joke, but there’s truth to it,” she said of a solar powered Brewery Vivant sign. “We knew we couldn’t dedicate anything in the beginning, but now that we’ve filled out our space with production equipment, we’ve doubled our goal.”

A celebration of the solar panels will be held at 4 p.m. July 19, at the pub. The brewery’s annual employee appreciation day is July 11.

Many employees at Brewery Vivant have bought into the sustainability initiatives and will volunteer at Kids’ Food Basket later this month, Avery said. Volunteering at the nonprofit coincides with the brewery helping to provide sack suppers to neighboring Congress Elementary School through a portion of proceeds from the restaurant’s kids menu.

“It’s really great to have our staff involved to keep it circular,” Avery said, but she also appreciates being able to tell guests that because their child is eating off the kids menu, another child is able to eat. “It’s a tangible way of giving beyond writing a check.”

Avery said Brewery Vivant likes its position as a champion for the B Corporation process, along with Local First and other area B Corporations, and together they hope to get to 200 in Michigan by 2020. There are 11 right now.

A three-pronged approach encompassing profit, environment and community is wholly important for companies looking toward the future, Avery said.

“If we start having a big collection (of B Corporations) in the area, it’s that much cooler and attractive to the generations coming up,” she said. “We’re pretty good in per capita, but there are others with a better concentration. If we can make a dent in that and become a hub of that activity, it makes Grand Rapids attractive to the next generation and that is pretty important.”

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