Mountaintop Beverage is a state-of-the-art packaging facility with a strong side mission of doing good.
High on a hill in the Morgantown Industrial Park, the packaging facility you’ve probably heard about has been under construction for over a year. Now a quarter-mile long with over seven miles of stainless steel pipe, Mountaintop Beverage started operation in April with more than 100 employees and an inspiring view of the future.
It’s something completely new to this area. Mountaintop Beverage goes beyond pasteurization to give dairy-based and other beverages longer shelf-life. Pasteurization heats milk to 170 degrees F for 15 seconds, explains CEO Jeffrey Sokal—Mountaintop Beverage heats it to 290 F for five seconds to commercially sterilize it. Pasteurized milk keeps for 21 days, but commercially sterilized milk is good for 70 days in ultra-clean packaging, refrigerated, or up to a year in aseptic packaging without refrigeration.
You’ve seen aseptic packaging before—it’s those foil-lined cartons that many specialty milks and plant-based beverages come in. It reduces storage costs, increases shelf life, and makes it possible to distribute dairy to rural schools, food banks, and other places that have limited refrigeration.
One of a couple dozen shelf-stable packaging facilities in the nation, Mountaintop Beverage produces milk-based products as well as coffee drinks, protein shakes, and plant-based beverages in ultra-clean and aseptic packaging under contract to name brands.
The company had to move a mountain just to be here, Sokal likes to say: Unlike other locations he and his partner, Doug Jantzi, considered, Morgantown did not have a large, flat site that was ready for building. But the central location appealed to them, as did the potential to make an impact. “Elsewhere, it’s just another factory,” he says. “Here, it really can make a difference in people’s lives.”
That difference lies not only in the 200-plus good-paying jobs anticipated this year or the potential 400 by 2025.
It’s in the commitment to maximize the ripple effect of the $200 million it will spend each year at full production by sourcing regionally. Milk, yes, but also pallets from near Charleston and cleaning chemicals from Martinsburg. Corrugated boxes from Coal Center, Pennsylvania. Plastic bottle “preforms” from just over the Ohio River in Ohio. Bottle label sleeves from Kentucky.
It’s in work with Kent Leonhardt and Joe Hatton at the state Department of Agriculture to reverse the decline of dairy farming—from more than 100 farms in the state in 2009 to fewer than half that in 2019, and falling. “The key to a thriving dairy industry is a value-added processing facility like this one,” Sokal says. “We’re talking with folks about how to create an environment where people can get educated around dairy farming and have access to the technology to do it successfully.”
And it’s in a baked-in intention to feed kids and families by directing a significant part of production toward backpack and food pantry programs.
When Morgantown magazine toured the facility just before it opened, employees finishing installations and running final tests expressed enthusiasm. Sokal did, too: “It’s a great business for this state and the local community,” he said. “We’re all just hard-working, genuine people, and it’s exciting to be doing this here.”