King of Beers: Speed Read on Monarch Beverage Company

That brew you’ll chug at the 500 this month? It probably made a pit stop at Monarch Beverage Company first. May kicks off the busiest time of the year for the distributor, which handles so many bottles and cans, it had to go robotic.

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This place is seriously state-of-the-art. Monarch Beverage sales staff submits orders from the field on an iPad; back at home base, a 500,000-square-foot space on Pendleton Pike, machines immediately kick into gear assembling them via a semi-automatic custom Vertique system, one of just a few dozen in the country. It’s like a beer-and-wine vending machine that fills an entire warehouse. Cases of beer travel through miles (no joke!) of Rube Goldberg–style conveyor belts and take a ride down a corkscrew apparatus— picture a parking-garage ramp.

Monarch Beverage
One machine can sort up to 8,000 cases per hour, filling orders with perfect accuracy.

The future is now. A robotic arm that looks like something out of Star Wars acts as a mother hen, straightening and positioning each case on the conveyor belt as it heads for a pallet. Another robot stacks boxes to save the utmost space before they head out the door for delivery. 

No beer gets left on the table. For years, Monarch searched for a viable way to recycle its outdated beer products after pulling them from market shelves. (Depending on the brew, it’s good anywhere from 120 days to several years.) Quality Farms in Ohio came to the rescue, converting the beer into energy that’s used to run the farm. The rest gets fed to the pigs or used as fertilizer.     

Monarch is crafty. The company is mostly a MillerCoors distribution house, but also works with a slew of national craft producers (like Sam Adams) and regional artisan microbreweries (such as Sun King and Three Floyds). The craft beer demand has boomed so much in recent years that Monarch has had to expand its cooler space to accommodate it.

They make beer look even better. One Monarch department acts as a full-service ad agency. “What most people may not know is that the distributor is responsible for giving the product visibility and making sure it looks visually appealing,” says Monarch senior vice president Natalie Roberts. Case in point: a clever “Hop for Teacher” paper-airplane tap handle that creative director Jeff Brown designed for Fountain Square Brewing.

The company is a driving force. Monarch delivery drivers rack up almost 3 million miles a year making continuous loops around the state. Most of the truck fleet operates on compressed natural gas, fast-filling from a station behind the facility at a cost of about $1.25 a gallon. “We worked with Cummins, and ended up being one of 12 companies in the world to test these new compressed natural-gas engines,” says Roberts.

And a young one, too. Some 85 percent of the more than 700 employees are under the age of 40, making up a largely millennial workforce. Why? Work here can be physically demanding, requiring lots of standing and lifting, and the perks—like both an emphasis on wellness and a discount on beer and wine—tend to appeal to a youthful crowd.

Eat up! Just keep it healthy. If you’ve come to cherish your 2 p.m. candy-bar break or Coke fix, you’re out of luck—there’s nary a vending machine on the Monarch premises. What you will find, however, are bowls of fresh fruit, nuts, vegetables, and good-for-you snack choices.

There’s a doctor in the house. An onsite health clinic accommodates weird hours. “Seventy-five percent of our employees use [our doctor] as their primary care provider,” says Roberts. “Our No. 1 employee benefit used to be the opportunity to purchase beer and wine at cost. Now, it’s the clinic.”

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