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36 Vermonters laid off as Keurig-style cocktail company shuts down

A person who appears female hands a person who appears male a glass, in front of a display with the word Drinkworks written in white letters.
Ross D. Franklin
/
Associated Press
A Drinkworks employee demonstrates the company's home bar system at a tech show in January 2020. The company announced it was shutting down in December 2021, resulting in the loss of 36 jobs in Vermont.

A total of 36 Vermonters are losing their jobs after a company that made a Keurig-style system for alcoholic drinks announced plans to shut down in mid-December.

It is the second time in recent years that Keurig Dr Pepper, which has operations in three Vermont towns, has failed in an effort to launch a cold beverage system.

Drinkworks operated a facility in Williston, where it developed and manufactured drink pods. Customers use those pods in the company’s “home bar” machines to make cocktails and other beverages, such as a cosmopolitan, mai tai, margarita or old fashioned.

Drinkworks was a joint venture of Keurig Dr Pepper and Anheuser-Busch InBev, the maker of Budweiser.

"Our Drinkworks joint venture with Anheuser-Busch enabled us to explore the possibilities of a single-serve alcohol drink system," said Keurig spokesperson Katie Gilroy in a written statement. "We look forward to applying the insights gained toward new beverage innovations throughout our core business."

Vermont’s Department of Labor received a letter from Drinkworks on Jan. 19, notifying it of the business closure. According to the letter, employees were told the business was shutting down on Dec. 15, and most Williston employees were let go on Jan. 31, with severance offers.

Some workers are staying on until the end of March, as the company winds down its operations.

According to a department spokesperson, Labor Department officials have met with Drinkworks employees and are working to connect them with other local employment opportunities “that match their skills and interests.” The department says there are over 14,000 openings on its job board website.

More from VPR: Vermont May Have Paid Keurig Millions Of Dollars. Where Did That Money Go?

Drinkworks, which was introducing new products as recently as October, has stopped selling its home bar systems and is offering refunds to all customers who purchased one of its appliances until the end of February.

The company, operating under the name Bedford Systems, was authorized for a Vermont Employment Growth Incentive (VEGI) award of up to $1.4 million in 2018. VEGI payments are doled out over several years, if a company meets job creation and capital investment targets.

Drinkworks received a portion of its VEGI funds, which will be recaptured by the Department of Taxes, according to draft meeting minutes of the Vermont Economic Progress Council, the government body that oversees VEGI. The exact amount the company received, and when it might be recaptured, is confidential, according to the Tax Department.

Drinkworks was Keurig’s second attempt to launch a cold beverage system to complement its eponymous coffee maker. The first attempt, known as Keurig Kold, was a joint effort with Coca-Cola. Pods for the Keurig Kold system were also manufactured in Williston. The product was discontinued in 2016, which led to the layoff of 108 workers in Vermont.

Keurig Dr Pepper, which has roots in Vermont’s Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, has significantly reduced its footprint in Waterbury in recent years, though it maintains operations in Williston and Essex Junction.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

Updated: February 4, 2022 at 3:51 PM EST
This story has been updated to include a statement from Keurig Dr Pepper.
Henry is a reporter covering business, the economy and infrastructure at Vermont Public. He's also co-host of The Frequency, Vermont Public's daily news podcast, along with Anna Van Dine. Henry came to Vermont Public in 2017, and worked as the station's host of All Things Considered until November 2021. Prior to that, he was a reporter and host of Morning Edition at New England Public Media in western Massachusetts. A graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Henry was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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