This is the first of a two-part look at what's new with wine packaging. On Monday, I'll look in more detail about what might replace glass bottles.
Be prepared for some big changes in the way wine is packaged, and that doesn't mean more screwtops.
Yes, most wine is still sold in a traditional glass bottle with a traditional cork. But more wines are going to be packaged in more ways, odd though they may seem, over next couple or years – single-serve bottles, juice boxes, and even plastic and aluminum bottles.
Sales of single-serve bottles (like the ones on airlines) increased 12.6 percent in dollar terms in 2006, while sales of premium three-liter boxes (like the Australian Hardys and California’s Black Box) were up a stunning 46.3 percent. That was the biggest increase for packaging in the 2006 Beverage Alcohol Annual study, conducted by The Nielsen Company, which noted: “Vintners will continue to try new things in their product offerings and messaging to make wines less pretentious and more approachable to the mainstream consumer – e.g. packaging, pack sizes.”
That’s the rationale behind one of the most successful non-traditional brands, California’s Three Thieves. It sells well-made, affordable wine in jugs and Tetra Paks, the same boxes used for milk and juice. The jug pinot noir ($11 for 1 liter) is surprisingly good, fruity and quite drinkable. “We know our wines aren’t for everyone, but we’re OK with that,” says Charles Bieler,, one of the three men who run the company. “We want to bring something fresh to the packaging, something that’s new and interesting and that has a story.”
Dtour, a white French box wine where the container is an attractive tube, sold out in its first vintage, the equivalent of 5,000 cases, at about $12 a bottle. The launch was so successful, says Daniel Johnnes, whose New York company released Dtour, that it will do a red and a white next year. “We were really surprised about what happened,” says Johnnes. “We were shocked, really,”
But that’s not the only factor driving new packaging. Retailers, especially in Europe, want something more green than glass bottles. In Britain, the Sainsbury’s 490-store grocery chain is testing plastic wine bottles (the term in the trade is PET, for polyethylene terephthalate). It started offering store brand New Zealand sauvignon blanc (about $9) and Australian rose (about $8) in August, part of a project supported by the government-funded Waste & Resources Action Programme. It will introduce more wines if these are successful.
Sainsbury’s, says spokeswoman Melanie Etches, wants to cut its chain-wide carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent by 2012. A plastic bottle is one-eighth the weight of a glass bottle, which means more bottles can be shipped in the same bulk container, which means fewer containers are needed, which should reduce emissions. In addition, she says, plastic is easier to recycle than glass.
In the U.S., though, retailers aren’t as enthusiastic. Most stores, with their racks and shelves, don’t have space to carry more than a handful of non-alternative packages. Still, the glass industry is taking these threats seriously, even though plastic, aluminum and boxes comprise less than five percent of the U.S. market, according to the Nielsen study. The Glass Packaging Institute, as part of a marketing offensive in 2006, released a survey that found that 96 percent of American wine drinkers who expressed a preference preferred glass bottles, compared to less than three percent for paper or plastic containers.