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The Yankee Express

Polar Beverages CEO talks WooSox and blockbuster business deal

Dec 04, 2020 02:41PM ● By Chuck Tashjian

Ralph Crowley, President and CEO of Polar Beverages

The 58th Annual Meeting of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, originally scheduled for April, took place on Tuesday, November 10, via Zoom. Keynote speaker was Ralph Crowley, President and CEO of Polar Beverages and Treasurer of Mount Wachusett Ski Area.

Mr. Crowley gave a synopsis of the modest beginnings of Polar Beverages, describing how his great-grandfather, Dennis Crowley, began the Worcester-based company back in 1882 selling Crowley’s Ball Brook Straight Whiskey and then eventually progressed into the sparkling water business as Prohibition took hold. 

Today, Polar Beverages business segments include their own brands, private labels such as those products made for major supermarket and retail chains like Shaws, BJ’s, and Trader Joe’s, and National brands like A&W and Sunkist. 

He noted that Polar dominates the New England area with a 42.8% market share of seltzer and sparkling waters and has become the No. 2 trademark behind Coke.

Polar has recently introduced its new spiked seltzer called Arctic Chill. “We think it’ll be fun,” said Mr. Crowley, “we worked closely with Harpoon Brewery to make it happen.”

“In the 1970s, we had to differentiate ourselves from Coke and Pepsi,” said Mr. Crowley, “and knowing that the little guys, like us, need big friends we established relationships to become the local bottlers/suppliers for companies like 7Up, Snapple, and Nantucket Nectars. But the deal I’m most proud of happened just this year and that was our partnership with Keurig/Dr. Pepper. Our objective was to go national without selling our company. Can you imagine a little company in Worcester poised to make $1.2 billion by 2025 (per Goldman Sachs)?  If my dad had ever heard this, he’d be jumping up and down right now.”

Mr. Crowley described Polar’s open-door culture: employees are welcome to visit him in his office. “We couldn’t be more proud to pass this business onto the next generation of our family,” he said. 

“For our recent expansion here in Worcester, we had decided upon an additional 250,000 square feet of space but we need about 1 million square feet now. There is a great highway system in Auburn and the greater Worcester area has the best work force. Our workers here have the highest pride in their work and a great work ethic.”

Mr. Crowley noted that “we try to source our materials locally, buying our plastic from the Springfield area and our cardboard from the Kraft family. Our cans were purchased from a plant in Lawrence that has since closed.”

Regarding coping with COVID, he said “We have spent $123,000 on Personal Protective Equipment for our people. Twenty-nine of our employees tested positive for COVID-19 with one requiring hospitalization and three out of work. We have plenty of masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and thermometers for testing our employees at the start of each shift.”

The pandemic brought about a shift in customer buying habits, with a large increase in purchases for consumption. Unfortunately, high demand has created a shortage of aluminum cans, to the tune of 10 billion. For this reason, Mr. Crowley stated that the company has not promoted cans since Memorial Day weekend.

“Polar Park is our company’s way of giving back to the greater Worcester area,” said Mr. Crowley. “A major sponsor was needed so we stepped up. We look forward to and are excited about the 2021 season of the WooSox. This project has also brought in two major hotels, an office complex, 400 condominiums, and a grocery store opportunity. It also shows the commitment and enthusiasm our community has.”

The company employs about 750 people in the Worcester location and another 200 in its Brockton and Holyoke plants. Its environmental footprint includes the company’s commitment to “get every bottle back,” Mr. Crowley asserted. “The bottles we use can be recycled over and over. Our goal is to get to 25% recycling by 2025.”

He also remarked about the well-known island of floating trash in the oceans, stating that it’s the Third World countries’ populations who throw their trash into rivers and then the runoff flows into the ocean. “The USA plays a small role in this but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to educate all people about this situation.” 

The Auburn Chamber’s President, Steve Londregan, co-owner of Chuck’s Steakhouse, gave his annual report and indicated that in 2020, the Chamber had added another 12 members. He thanked all board and committee members and ended his comments by saying that we should all support our local businesses. “Think and buy local!” said Mr. Londregan.

For more information contact the Auburn Chamber of Commerce at (508) 753-2924.        


Janet can be reached at [email protected]