Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Bottling Success: Waterloo Container Grows with the Region’s Wine Industry


Timing is everything, they say. It certainly was for Bill Lutz, president and owner of Waterloo Container.

The company he created with his father, Norm began by circumstance. They were in the warehousing business when one of their clients, a California wine bottle company, closed. The father-son team bought the inventory and started selling it to existing winery customers in the Northeast.

“It was initially only to use up some inventory that we were purchasing,” said Bill Lutz, “but then it became a real, needed asset in the area.”

In 1980, when Waterloo Container was founded, New York’s wine industry was starting to take off. The passage of the New York Farm Winery Act in 1976—allowing small wineries to sell their wines directly to consumers, and not just to wholesalers—kindled explosive growth in the industry.

That year, there were 19 wineries in the state; 12 of those were in the Finger Lakes. Today, the Finger Lakes is the largest wine-producing region in the state, with over 130 wineries.

As the industry has grown, Waterloo Container has too. It is now the largest stocking distributor of wine bottles in Eastern North America.

From grape and grain to bottle

Waterloo Container’s customer base has grown from 50 to 5,000. It also supplies bottles and closures to craft brewers and distillers, in addition to wineries.

Locally, customers include well-known names such as Glenora Wine Cellars, Bully Hill Vineyards and Swedish Hill Winery.

As a family-owned company employing 53 people, Waterloo Container is known for its personal service. While many customers buy truckloads of bottles, the company is also able to sell as few as one case, said CEO Rich Swinehart.

“We have many large customers, we have thousands of small customers, and we try to treat them all equally,” he said. “We’re known for service above all else.”

In addition to stocking domestic and imported glass bottles, Waterloo Container can also create a custom mold of a bottle and send it to be manufactured. It is one of the few companies in the industry to work with American manufacturers to purchase and make its products.

As the variety of wines has grown, so too has the range of bottles and packaging. At one time, Lutz explained, customers could choose among 10 different bottles. Today, there are upward of 500 options, in different shapes and colors.

New introductions over the last several years have included synthetic corks, screw cap bottles and packaging such as printed bottles (with the label printed directly on the glass). As a result, Waterloo Container is producing a lot more items to meet consumer demand.

Leading the way by putting customers first

Bill Lutz, President and Owner of Waterloo Container

Bill Lutz, President and Owner of Waterloo Container

Swinehart, a former Seneca County District Attorney, joined Waterloo Container in 2013 after doing legal work for the company as a private attorney.

“After a couple years, Bill suggested I consider working with him exclusively,” said Swinehart. “I’m having the time of my life. It’s a great family, it’s a great company, and they run the company like a large family.”

Bill’s wife, Annette is co-owner and part of the executive management team. They have three daughters whom they hope will join the company after college.

Many of Waterloo Container’s customers are family-owned businesses, too. The company has built a reputation as a trusted partner in their growth.

For example, start-up producers often can’t take on certain expenses, such as having a forklift and loading dock to take delivery of supplies.

So Bill and Norm helped develop a special closed trailer that could hold a moffett, or three-wheeled forklift, on the back to offload glass bottles from the truck to the customer.

“The industry really didn’t have anybody to service this type of business and to help with the growth,” said Lutz. “We did it from day one when we bought the right equipment we needed, and that’s really how the growth has taken off. There weren’t any companies like us that would carry the inventory and do the service work.”

The ideal place to grow its business

Being located in the Finger Lakes puts the company close to major metropolitan markets and gives it a competitive advantage.

“Our trucks can travel from here in the Finger Lakes to Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia and turn around and come back the same day,” said Swinehart. “This is where you want to be if you’re going to manufacture and distribute products for the East Coast.”

The company is planning to hire up to 20 new employees as it completes a 37,000-square-foot addition to its facility on State Route 414 in Waterloo. The expansion includes more warehousing space and the purchase of new packing machinery to improve the speed and efficiency of operations.

“In recent years, the company has grown more than I ever thought it could, and we’re looking to do even better in the coming years,” said Swinehart.

Lutz credits employees for the company’s impressive growth.


“It’s a testament to our employees,” he said. “Most of them are from the area and we enjoy hiring local people. The talent is here and these are the people who make the company what it is today.”

Waterloo Container has succeeded by staying true to its roots as a family business grounded in personal service, honesty and integrity.

“Most of the business, even today, is done with a handshake,” said Lutz. “We certainly have agreements with customers but for the most part, it’s done with a handshake and we move forward from there.”

Last year, the Finger Lakes was named America’s top wine region in a nationwide poll conducted by USA Today.

“It’s been amazing to see the growth in the wine industry,” said Lutz. “It’s billions of dollars in industry that’s grown in less than 30 years. I can remember 15 years ago, they said it was completely tapped out, and it’s tripled since then. The Finger Lakes has a lot more to give. We’re just thankful to be a part of it.”

Waterloo Container

2311 State Route 414
Waterloo, NY 13165

Krista Gleason is a contributor to the Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal. She is a freelance writer and owner of Gleason Writes in the beautiful Finger Lakes.

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