Giant Eagle invests in own products; reopens former LeNature's plant

PITTSBURGH Bottled water is being produced again at the former LeNature’s plant in Latrobe, Pa., thanks in part to Giant Eagle—and the new owners expect to add flavored water, iced teas and even soft drinks.

Currently the plant is producing Giant Eagle-labeled “Purified Water,” which is being shipped to area Giant Eagle stores. The plant plans to produce other bottled drinks for Giant Eagle, which comprises ready-made market of 158 corporate, 65 franchises and 138 convenience stores in the Pittsburgh region, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland and owns 1 percent of the operation, before branching out to outside customers.

The beverage plant had closed in November 2006, when LeNature’s was forced into bankruptcy. Giant Eagle bought the plant and its state-of-the-art bottling equipment for $22.3 million in September in a bankruptcy court auction, having outbid Cadbury Schweppes. Manufacturing its own products is a new direction for Giant Eagle, the region’s dominant grocer, moving from a competitive business to a more competitive field.

The 300,000-square-foot plant will make flavored waters by the end of the month, iced tea brewed from tea leaves in mid-February and carbonated soft drinks in March, according to Charley Price, company president. The company has not decided yet which flavors it will produce, Price said.

To bring the plant into full production, the company expects to spend about $4 million for clean-up, repairing and recommissioning the equipment, plus adding a line for soft drinks, Price said. He believes that, with the equipment on hand, running 24 hours per day, seven days a week, the plant could make nine million bottles of beverages per year.

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