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Cider-making tanks at Wild State Cider's new processing plant in West Duluth. Submitted photo.
First there was the craft beer evolution/revolution, which became goofily sidetracked by evermore ridiculous American IPAs. Then we were inundated with a dizzying number of hard seltzers. And now one of the oldest of beverages is realizing phenomenal growth – cider.
For most of 2022 the owners of Wild State Cider at 2515 W. Superior St. were trying to come to grips with the thought they were rapidly outgrowing their space with the ability to make a respectable 100,000 gallons of cider annually.
Wild State CEO Adam Ruhland said he and business partners Andrew Price and Allison Longley were honestly surprised by the success of the business they opened in 2019.
“It's rather weird times we've had over the last couple of years,” Ruhland said. “You know, you're almost like, oh, I can't believe it. We're doing what we said we're gonna do. It's worked out. Well, I have to make sure it's really happening.
“So we started thinking, you know, should we put a tank outside, which is very expensive? Or should we just try to move everything?” he said. They went with the latter idea, finding a large building just three miles away at South 59th Avenue West. “We purchased a building that had some other tenants in it, and then a big chunk of space for us that we can slowly grow into as other tenants leave, and hopefully we continue to grow. And it's just three miles from our current taproom location. So that location stays as sort of the retail establishment. And then just down the highway is this other building.”
The $2.9 million investment in the 60,000 square foot building formerly owned by shipping box maker Superior Packaging will allow Wild State to make up to 500,000 gallons of cider annually, which catapults the cider company into the top 20 alcohol producers in the state.
“Well, the biggest thing is just that, you know, we're thankful for the support we've gotten locally and statewide in the products we're making,” Ruhland said. “I always pinch myself and the other owners pinch themselves. You think about how big of a risk it is to do all these new, expensive things that we're doing and continue to grow and be successful.”
And with the shelves oversaturated with beverages, how does Wild State intend to continue to stand out?
“I think ultimately the product has to taste good and be consistently what people expect,” Ruhland said. “And then with that there needs to be a strong team and brand behind it that keeps people interested, engaged and helps them find some meaning in what they're choosing. We just make a clean, low intervention, natural cider that's appealing to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. And it's, it's grown in the way you want it to, which is organically – people telling their friends, people discovering it themselves. And, you know, thankfully, we haven't had to invest tons into our marketing and to promote our stuff because people just sort of have learned about it over time and continued to support us. That's great.”
Moving all the cider tanks to the new building has freed a lot of space at the taproom.
“Yeah, if you go in there now, there's an extra 2,000 square feet in the main level,” Ruhland said. “And then the back warehouse, we've just sublet that out, temporarily, until we sort of decided to take on the next big project. And there's probably about 6,000 square feet over there that we could develop. We're pretty burned out in projects right now. So that's maybe a winter project to start thinking about next year.”
Production began at the new building earlier this month, but Ruhland admits it’s a work in progress.
“It's as we expected,” he said. “There's kinks and things to work out. Water pressure here is different. All the machines behave a little bit differently. But we are producing and sending stuff out now, it's just not as fast as we want to be.”
He and his business partners took a giant leap of faith to purchase the building, but it was based on a success they had built into the business. They just didn’t expect it to come after just four years in business.
“The furthest we sort of projected ourselves to be is about where we are right now. And we did that a couple of years ahead of the way the business plan was written,” Ruhland said. “You know, at the time, it was just numbers on paper, there wasn't a whole lot of thought. But it was just like, well, this is where we could be in five or six years. We're slightly ahead. But, you know, it shows that we did aim to grow from the beginning.”
And should Wild State need more production in the future, Ruhland said, “We can sort of build out our space where we can plug in more tanks to increase our volume without having to invest a lot more. We have a lot of growth here that we can do just by adding in more tanks. And we can add on more territories, more states more accounts, without having to have it be such a long-term problem, essentially, as we grow.”
Today the bulk of Wild State Cider sales are in Minnesota, but you can also find them in Wisconsin, the Fargo area, the state of Virginia (where Ruhland grew up and still has family) and southwestern Montana (where his sister lives).
“They're all good markets,” Ruhland said. “Virginia has a really strong craft market, and southwestern Montana sort of has that vibe of the brand that we've created, and an educated consumer. Those are places I was already going, so it made sense to, to try to get distribution in those areas that are already traveling.”
The company will eventually be looking into new markets for its cider, but first it has to get out of the production hole caused by the move.
“Because we had to move, essentially all of last year we were just barely hanging on to being able to produce the amount for the orders that were coming in,” Ruhland said. “And it never really dropped off enough for us to get ahead prior to us shutting down and moving all our equipment. So we kind of got into a little bit of a hole. And that's what we're trying to get out of now, where everyone's inventories are very, very low, and soon as we give them something, it's going away really fast. So I imagine it'll take about three or four more weeks to really get out of that, and then start to get ahead. That's where we can start to continue to have the conversations of opening new markets and new retail customers.”