Polar CEO Ralph Crowley Addresses Auburn Chamber Annual Meeting

Polar CEO Ralph Crowley delivered a virtual keynote address to the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Nov. 10. The Chamber also named its slate of officers and directors for the coming year.

Polar CEO says company will stay true to its roots

Steven H. Foskett Jr.

Telegram & Gazette

Ralph Crowley | T&G Staff/Rick Cinclair

AUBURN — Polar Beverages exponentially expanded its reach over the summer when it reached a long-term franchise agreement with Keurig Dr. Pepper.

But President and CEO Ralph D. Crowley Jr. told the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Tuesday that Polar isn’t going to follow the trajectory of many other beverage companies that scaled up only with the intention of being sold.

“Most of the companies that go national have one objective: to sell,” Crowley said in a Zoom forum organized by the chamber.

He said companies like Snapple, Vitamin Water and others expanded only to be gobbled up by industry giants. Despite the Keurig Dr. Pepper deal, which will boost distribution of Polar sparkling waters in 34 states, Canada and Mexico, Polar remains under local ownership, and plans on staying true to its local roots, Crowley said. He said the next generation of the Crowley family is already involved in the business, and he said he wants to pass the business on to them.

The Worcester-based beverage company has expanded next door to Auburn in recent years, and operates nearly 2 million square feet of manufacturing space in Massachusetts, New York, and Georgia.

Still, Crowley said the Worcester-Auburn area “can’t be beat.” He said its proximity to the highway system and its workforce are crucial drivers at the company.

“Worcester-area people have the best work ethic,” Crowley said.

That work ethic, and the company’s strategy, have been put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Crowley said the company’s diversified offerings have helped it accommodate shifting consumer trends.

He said sectors like businesses and restaurants are down, and the industry has had to shift away from cans due to a worldwide aluminum shortage, but sectors like e-commerce sales and liquor store sales are up.

“Tonic water is up 100%,” Crowley said. “People are mixing their gin and tonics at home.”

He said personnel have not been immune to the virus. He said 29 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. One required hospitalization in Georgia, Crowley said, but the 74-year-old man recovered.

He said the pandemic has shifted travel and entertainment budgets to personal protective equipment.

Crowley said the “category where we really live” at Polar is sparkling water and seltzer, and he said the company has been well-positioned as consumers have moved over. He said sugar-sweetened beverages have been on the decline or showing slight growth in recent years, but the seltzer market has been posting double-digit increases.

He said the company has still managed to have some fun. He said the company recently had its own election alongside the U.S. presidential contest, and more than half a million people voted for the next seltzer can flavor (ginger mule won). And he said the company remains excited to have Polar Park open next year in Worcester as the home to the top minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.

He said the last thing Polar needs is to be better known in the area, but he said getting involved in the ballpark project was the company’s way of giving back. He said it will be transformative for the city.

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