Wine packaging is an integral part of brand identity and an important factor in influencing consumer purchasing decisions and ultimate satisfaction with the product. Consumers continue to exhibit an overwhelming preference for glass bottles, but their acceptance for alternative packaging is growing significantly. Consumer purchases of wine in alternatives to traditional glass bottles are motivated by perceived added value based on brand identity/image and price, convenience or occasion, and environmental considerations. This article will take a closer look at the most successful alternatives to glass in which to pack wine for the consumer: polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, bag-in-box (BIB), multi-layer cartons (Tetrapak), aluminium cans, and pouches.
PET bottles have a similar appearance and haptic to glass and invoke trust and feelings of familiarity in consumers. They are much more lightweight than glass (88% less for 0.25 l bottles and 50 g vs. 300 g for best light-weight glass for 0.75 l). The re-sealable screwcap closure is convenient and reduces the risk of TCA taint. The fact that PET bottles are shatterproof offers safety and convenience advantages for consumption in the outdoors, at swimming pools and when travelling. Despite their vast weight advantage and reduction in CO2 in distribution, PET is made from depleting crude oil resources. Recycled PET is rarely food-safe and is thus typically “downcycled” to make textile products. Despite multiple layers with an oxygen-scavenging layer either on the inside or between two PET layers, wines in PET bottles continue to have a limited shelf and storage life compared to wines in glass bottles. This packaging does not enjoy great acceptance among the fine wine connoisseur sector. It has the largest acceptance among aspirational consumers in traditional wine-consuming markets (according to Wine Intelligence 40% of UK wine drinkers would purchase wine in PET), newcomers in emerging international markets, and travelling professionals.
The bag-in-box (BIB) is a plastic (PET) or aluminium bladder in a cardboard box with a plastic spout. Its large surface area allows abundant space for images and information that are potentially useful and appealing to consumers. The BIB is inexpensive to produce and its stackability and high product volume to package weight make it inexpensive to ship – these cost reductions are passed on to the consumer. The large (usually 1.5 to 5 l) cubic format size and ability to remain fresh for up to 6 weeks after opening make it convenient for consumers to store in the refrigerator or cupboard for spontaneous by-the-glass consumption at home. Despite improvements in the less than satisfactory technical performance of the BIB in the past (flex cracking of some bags during transport and design flaws in spouts) the “cheap and cheerful” image remains. This appears to be slowly changing as higher quality wines are now being packaged in this format. Wine Spectator included numerous BIB wines in their review of best value wines awarding them scores of up to 88 points. The large (usually 1.5 to 5 l) cubic format size and ability to remain fresh for up to 6 weeks after opening, make it appealing to undemanding, but regular consumers of wine. Although all components can be either recycled, as soon as packaging is made from materials that need to be separated, the likelihood of this decreases dramatically.
Multi-layer cartons are made of thee or more materials which each contribute key properties: PET to hold liquids, aluminium for a barrier against light and oxygen, and paper for stiffness, strength and shape. The Tetra Pak Prisma is experiencing increasing market penetration for its 250 ml four-pack, its 500 ml and 1 l sizes for wine. They are light-weight, stackable, non-breakable and have re-sealable closures. Multi-layer cartons allow more space for consumer information on the pack and are 100% recyclable. Tetra Pak is cheap (10-25 US cents per unit) and these savings are passed on the consumer. Despite this, it appears that environmental friendliness is driving Tetra Pak’s growing acceptance among consumers. A peer-reviewed Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) conducted by Sweden’s monopoly Systembolaget showed multi-layer cartons to have a dramatically lower carbon footprint than both glass and PET bottles. According to Ulf Sjödin MW of Systembolaget, the majority of wine sold in Sweden is packaged in Tetra Pak. A good example of using packaging congruent to brand identity is Yellow Blue. This brand comprises a line of wines made from certified organic grapes packed exclusively in Tetra Pak.
Aluminium cans are the only alternative to glass in which sparkling wines can be packaged. Aluminium cans are lightweight, practically non-breakable, 100% recyclable and at 52% the most recycled beverage container. Their low consumer acceptance for wine is due to their reputation for lending beverages an unpleasant metallic taste although forms with a flavour protecting lining are available. Convenient single-serve sizes appear to enjoy the highest acceptance among consumers. An interesting new development is a lined aluminium bottle with a screw cap closure. The ability of aluminium cans or bottles to be chilled quickly is another positive attribute. An example of the use of aluminium can as an integral part of a brand is single-serve Sofia sparkling wine from Francis Ford Copolla that is targeted at female consumers.
Wine is now also offered in various PET pouches which are virtually bags without boxes. These packs come in various sizes including small, single serve units and are equipped with a re-sealable spout. Their large surface area offers abundant space for appealing imagery and information for consumers. Pouches can also be hung on a rack or display on an integrated cut-out handle opening – if they get bumped and fall, they will not break. This packaging alternative is appealing to consumers for informal and/or outdoor occasions. They have the advantage of flexibility and can be easily tossed into an icebox or picnic basket and can be quickly chilled in cold water.
Wine packaging will continue to change as the priorities for marketing communication, consumer experience, packaging quality and environmental performance evolve. Glass bottles continue to be the only suitable packaging format for long-term maturation after consumer purchase. How environmentally friendly wine packaging is will depend upon its impact on the environment during production, distribution and disposal or ability to recycle between the places where the product is packaged and where it is consumed. Alternative packaging has shown much better performance on LCA studies, yet the majority of consumers still perceive glass as the most environmentally friendly wine packaging. This image is due to the natural materials from which glass is made and the fact that consumers have become accustomed to recycling glass. Light-weight glass bottles and bottling at destinations are efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of glass bottles. The global wine market is now more open to the adoption of packaging innovation and change than in any time in the past. Matching the package to consumer expectations and wine style and communicating the advantages of this package for consumers will be a continuing goal for all wine producers in the future.