Glass long reigned the global market for alcoholic drinks and had a staggering 200 billion units in retail sales in 2012. But of course it is beer that rules the glass world with its 74% unit volume share. Wine traditionally bottled in glass accounts for only 11% of the global glass unit volume.
Although a number of packaging formats have tried to make an impact in the wine market, the traditional nature of glass has remained an asset. However with improvements in packaging technology and changing consumer habits and perception, wine in glass is increasingly being challenged.
In a developed wine region, as Western Europe, where half of all wine is sold in glass, it is, unsurprisingly, complex, when it comes to introducing alternative packaging choices. Although a traditional market, it is more and more ruled by a range of new wine consumption occasions and consumer needs.
Alternative packaging like beverage cans see growth amongst younger consumer groups through fashion-conscious, branded wine offerings. In contrast, the beverage carton (TetraPak, SIG) is favoured by price-sensitive wine consumers purchasing economy variants. And, surprisingly in France, the bag-in-box looks set to be more of a rival to the glass bottle. According to Euromonitor, its volume is expected to grow by another 27 million units in France alone, providing consumers with decent product quality for that daily glass of wine over a meal.
Let’s have a look at several recently introduced wine packaging and other related developments. First the variation in glass bottles.
The Glass Bottle from Round to Square
When the glass bottle was first widely adopted, it was used mainly to convey wine from the cask to the table. The traditional pear-shaped wine bottle, often dubbed as the “globe and spike” and the “onion”, changed in the run of the years in a model with high shoulders, as still is the norm for the wine industry only with some slight differences in colour en labelling. The thinner and longer shape enhanced the storage capability of the bottles.
To underline the importance of storage and shipment, the Dutch, in the mid-1600s, produced square wine bottles similar to some whisky bottles and traditional olive oil bottles of today. It enabled wine to be stored and shipped more efficiently. But the square wine bottle didn’t last long.
And so, over the centuries, the shape of wine bottles evolved into four basic sizes, each containing 750 ml (25.6 oz). Some daring wine producers introduced unconventional shapes for their bottles to attract consumer attention. In 2007 Voga Italia Wines turned the somewhat stuffy image radically around. A first contact with the name Voga Italia and the design of the stylish bottle might give the superficial viewer the impression of a new cosmetic brand. But the chic and, following good Italian tradition, fashionable stylish bottle represents the top of the Italian viniculture. The sleek cylindrical bottle is closed with a cork and topped with a resealable silver coloured cap.
And now we see the introduction of the California Square, designed for wine company Truett Hurst by Kevin Shaw of design agency Stranger & Stranger. Besides their functionality, the bottles are also wonderfully designed with vintage typography and glass embossing, while retro graphics and screen printed label hark back to old spirits bottles.
The California Square bottles take up less space on wine shelves and allow for savings on cardboard boxes, which are used during shipping and storage. The company claims, that “If the wine industry turned over to square instead of round bottles, almost a million trees in outer cardboard boxes alone will be saved. Not to mention savings in shipping and storage”.
Truett-Hurst is no stranger to unconventional packaging. Last year the estate wrapped its wine in recyclable paper, which proved an overnight success in the US off-trade. In addition to telling the wine’s story, the wrappers boast food pairings and recipes, which are often overlooked on conventional wine labels due to a lack of space.
The PET wine bottle
In recent years, we have seen many an effort to replace the glass bottle, which although being excellent at protecting wine from the ingress of oxygen, is heavy and has a tendency to break and therefore banned from large public events and festivals. Consequently there has been a shift to bag-in-box for cheaper wines, as well as more radical packaging formats as beverage cartons, stand-up pouches and aluminium cans.
Within these efforts to replace the glass bottle, we have seen some tentative introductions of wine in PET-bottles, mainly in the small 25 cl bottles for airlines, but never in a (almost identical to glass) 75 cl (standard sized) PET bottle.
The main driving force behind the adoption of PET is an environmental one, and it has to do with the weight of the bottles, which reduces their carbon footprint through savings in the transport chain. A 75 cl glass bottle weighs around 400 g; the same size in PET weighs 54 g, one-eighth of the weight. This makes transport more efficient.
That might all be right, but PET- bottles for wine have a cheap image, and it is doubtful that consumers looking for quality wines will switch to the plastic bottle. Furthermore plastic in general has a negative image in terms of environmental concerns.
But whatever the case, the PET-bottle, CPS International, the inventor, came up with for the Portuguese wine of Monte Dos Amigos, is proclaimed to be able to rival glass in a way that previous attempts have not. It is said that the skilfully used structure, graphics and positioning gives, at first glance, the look of an ordinary wine bottle.
Its shape, glossy surface and traditional green tint, allied with the graphics is supposed to indicate a genuine wine bottle with a shape similar to the Bordeaux shoulder, and that of southern European wine bottles generally.
The bottle is the same height as a standard 750ml glass bottle but with a subtle softening in the shoulder to maximize width, which is where the major size difference to glass is.
What didn’t change, however, is that the PET wine bottle cannot be used for premium wines that a collector would purchase and store. It might be an ideal solution for consumers, which purchase wine in a store or supermarket for direct consumption. The PET material will not shatter like glass and be lighter for the consumer to transport.
For our next subject we stick to the traditional wine bottles, as O-I and Amorim developed an innovative cork for wine bottles.
Innovative cork for wine bottles
Industry statistics suggest that around 70% of wines are sold in bottles with natural corks, around 10% with synthetic corks, a declining sector, and around 20% in screw cap bottles. These statistics, however, do not show that the number of wine bottles with a natural cork is in decline, due to the increasing importance of alu screw caps.
When it comes to wine, there has never been controversy amongst both (the so-called) wine experts and casual drinkers over whether the traditional cork or the convenient screw top should prevail. It was the convenience of opening and reclosing that counted.
The original wine cork, requiring a corkscrew, could, with the introduction of the new Helix cork, be ready for an interesting fight in the mass market.
The new ‘twist to open’ concept combines an ergonomically-designed stopper made from cork and a glass bottle with an internal thread finish in the neck, creating a high performing and sophisticated wine packaging solution. Helix combines all the benefits of cork and glass, quality, sustainability and premium image with user-friendly, re-sealable convenience. It can be quickly and easily implemented by wineries with only a minor adjustment to the existing filling lines.
In my next article about developments in wine packaging we will have a look at the recently introduced single-serve packaging for wine.