Trends in Wine Packaging

Follow Consumer Awareness, Expected Use & Material Availability

By: Gerald Dlubala

Statistics prove that a well-designed, eye-catching package can set the tone for consumers’ perception of a product’s quality and desirability. But with all the different wine packaging options available, how do you know which is the right one for your wine? Demographics and the corresponding lifestyle can heavily influence your packaging choices. By recognizing your preferred market segment, you can choose the most appropriate product packaging to enhance shelf presence and heighten your product’s perceived quality and desirability.

  Glass remains the overall preferred choice because of its ability to hold the wine’s intended sensory applications better than the alternatives, sometimes up to twice as long when compared to plastic options. In addition, glass can be molded into endless eye-catching, distinctive shapes and sizes, making it accommodating for different uses down to single-serve glass bottles, presenting a modern premium feel and look. Alternative and more innovative designs might feature Stelvin, or cork finishes on the bottle.

  Single-serve wine packaging has grown due to the pandemic and continues, including single-serve cups and goblets, plastic bottles, cartons, aluminum cans and anything else that offers convenience and transportability.

  Cork for use as a closure remains strong due to being an original and traditional choice, now enhanced by improved and more cost-effective technical corks. Aluminum screw caps and plastic dispensing closures on some current packaging present the opportunity for resealing and recycling.

  Ultimately, containers and bottles that are aesthetically appealing and fit a consumer’s lifestyle are the products that will cause them to stop, take notice and pick up the package. Consistency in using that same packaging will build consumer loyalty and recognition of your products in the future.

Using Packaging Options to Appeal to the Consumer

  Alcoholic beverages rely on packaging to maintain the integrity of the content’s chemical composition. For example, packaged wine must maintain the intended aroma, flavor and appeal. Glass keeps the chemical composition intact and has no chance of reacting with the alcohol. Additionally, colored glass adds a layer of protection against changes due to light exposure.

  “Glass goes as does the economy,” said Bradley Tucker, Vice President of Sales for Encore Glass. “When the economy gets tight, companies look to cut costs. Unfortunately, it’s common for packaging to take the hit, whether switching to lightweight bottles, choosing more cost-effective labels, or changing shipping methods. Our shippers remain popular because they are cost-effective, lightweight and stackable, made from 99% recyclable materials, and are themselves 100% recyclable and biodegradable. We also distribute custom printed boxes, decorated bottles and custom molds to meet specific customer needs.”

  Tucker said that all current packaging options have their place and purpose. Still, he believes glass will always be the preferred choice, especially when bottling premium wines. “Glass provides an extended shelf life, providing a premium touch and visual aesthetic without changing the taste, aroma or overall quality of the wine inside. We see increased use in the smaller 375 ml bottles. And the smaller, single-serve bottles are another way to appeal to customers who love wine but drink it only occasionally or want to avoid waste. Honestly, the bigger issue in packaging right now is supply. Like everything else right now, supply channels are difficult to maneuver. It’s a constant battle just trying to get the amount of glass needed, and it’s not going to get better anytime soon. Again, it’s a global issue. Orders that used to be ready in three weeks might now take six to nine months, so some winemakers are just going with what they can obtain.”

  When asked if the glass shortage may be driving some producers to choose aluminum packaging, Tucker told The Grapevine Magazine that it might be accurate, but aluminum distributors are going through the same supply difficulties as everyone else.

  “The most important thing to do is choose a packaging supplier that also can provide a type of supply insurance. Encore Glass fulfills your order by offering great selections of glass bottles, expert preparation, and a commitment to get your bottles to you when you need them.”

Aluminum Brings Versatility into Focus

  Like glass, aluminum is a solid and cost-effective choice for overall packaging effectiveness and performance, but similar difficulty in sourcing can be an issue. Aluminum offers convenience, recyclability, maximum portability and, in some cases, the ability to be resealed. Canned wines gained popularity and broader acceptance during the pandemic and continue to be favored by following the successful methods pioneered by canned cocktails and seltzers. Aluminum is easy to handle and customize with uniquely designed sleeves for shelf appeal and is perfect for occasions where glass containers are not allowed or practical. In addition, aluminum packaging is much lighter to ship and can ultimately help cut price points on wine.

Polyethylene Terephthalate and Plastic Find a Niche

  The pandemic brought on the idea that consumers would more frequently look to purchase and drink wine at home. To support this, wine companies looked to offer minimal contact accessibility, and plastic provided a solution.

  Garcon Wines acted on that new dynamic, finding that traditional bottles used in the wine industry no longer fit the dynamics of how and why most wine is purchased and consumed. With the growing belief that the existing carbon footprint of wine is unsustainable, they developed a 100% recyclable, 750 ml, flat Polyethylene Terephthalate wine bottle. It is designed to fit through mail slots and is manufactured from 100% food-grade, post-consumer recycled PET, saving energy and weight.

  When compared to the traditional glass bottles, they are 87% lighter and 40% smaller spatially. The flat bottles are a little taller than standard bottles and are stackable to save space. The taller profile helps them stand out and be a little more noticeable on a retail shelf. They pack tightly into shipping cartons without additional packaging, better utilizing the space on a standard pallet. Fewer deliveries are needed, and with more efficient loading and unloading times, the savings add up.

  However, under 30% of PET containers are recycled in the United States, so good intentions aren’t producing the proposed results. In 2023, Bacardi will begin using novel plastic for their containers that use seed oil rather than crude oil. The biopolymer bottles are made by fermenting canola and other seed oils that biodegrade within 18 months in any environment containing microorganisms, including compost bins and fresh or saltwater.

Alternative, Sustainable and Eco-conscious are Trending

  Packaging trends are moving towards more eco-friendly and sustainable options, thanks to shifting consumer ideology. Winemakers have found that the key to storing their wines in alternative containers is providing a tight seal. Among these options, boxed wines have been the most popular and recognizable, opening up new possibilities of how and where wine is consumed. Although it’s still a small segment compared to other packaging choices, bag-in-box wines are attractive to those who shop less and want to enjoy an occasional glass of wine at home without worrying about spoilage and waste. The inner pouch removes the need for glass, and the box shape makes them easy to store, transport and use without the chance of breakage. Additionally, they can offer a better price point, modern look and shelf appeal to consumers looking for more thoughtful, eco-friendly and sustainable options.

  With the pandemic driving consumers to drink differently and more often, boxed wine allows them that opportunity, staying fresh for six weeks after breaking the seal. Consumers continue to value convenient and lifestyle-friendly products—boxed wine answers that demand with a 2.25-liter box that perfectly fits a refrigerator shelf, saving space and offering on-demand accessibility.

Bag-in-a-bottle: a Paper Bottle

  Bag-in-a-bottle is an option for consumers who want all of those eco-friendly benefits but still yearn for the traditional bottle. Like the bag-in-box, the outer container is recyclable paperboard fused with water-based glue and molded with heat and moisture into a more conventional wine bottle shape. It is five times lighter than glass and is resistant to spillage, humidity and breakage, with a 12-month shelf life. Proponents believe a time will come where the paper bottle molding unit would be available for use on-site or near the winery for on-demand bottling. Five times more paperboard blanks than rigid bottles can ship at once wherever needed to be assembled and filled.

Return and Reuse: the Good Old Days

  Because only a little over 30% of glass wine bottles get recycled in the U.S., some distributors want to revisit the bottle deposit and return practice for use with wine bottles. The idea is that each glass wine bottle could be reused up to 10 times, allowing the consumer to experience the traditional and romantic experience of wine in a glass bottle while being eco-conscious. In addition, this practice hopes to appeal to those that still want to please those guests that are not comfortable with bag-in-box or canned wines. This business model would issue digital credits to distributors for returned bottles and help the winemaker build loyalty, communication and marketing contacts with participating distributors. The plan is to have the returnable program in thousands of venues, natural wine shops and participating big box stores in 2022, as a three-month pilot program in New York saw an 88% success rate.

  “Encore Glass started their business by sterilizing and recycling glass wine bottles to have an encore use, but with all of the current bottle shapes, sizes and custom structures, it would be nearly impossible to continue on a broad scale,” said Tucker. “I would have doubts about the feasibility of the program, including the willingness of consumers to continue long-term participation.”

Match Packaging to Consumer Awareness

  Creative packaging has always been one of the best and most effective ways to help a brand get noticed in a crowded market. But consumer awareness of a winemaker’s story combined with convenient options in packaging has never been more vital. Over half of consumers are committed to buying from sustainable brands when possible, and they are searching for more responsible behavior from the vineyard through the retail channels. Matching these behaviors with responsible packaging will help winemakers successfully differentiate their products and fuel their brand’s growth in today’s market.

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