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UK unlikely to buy into paper wine bottle

The UK’s reluctance to take to alternative wine packaging does not bode well for GreenBottle’s paper container, writes James Boulton, creative director at design agency Claessens International.

The latest packaging innovation to be making headlines in the drinks industry is seemingly the paper wine bottle, which is set to be launched into UK retail outlets this year.

The Suffolk-based company that produces the container, GreenBottle, has already had great success with its paper milk containers – tripling sales of Trewithen Dairy milk in Asda stores in the south east of England since it became available in January 2011 – so in many respects the progression into the drinks business can be seen as a natural step.

The paper bottle will consist of a fully recyclable or compostable paper casing in the same shape as a standard wine bottle, this will contain a plastic liner, comparable to those used in bag-in-box wines – and utilises around a third of the plastic required to make a conventional plastic milk bottle.

After use the bottle can be easily separated so that the paper element can be disposed of separately to the plastic.

While there is no cost incentive to producers as the GreenBottle costs the same as a standard glass wine bottle to manufacture, there will be obvious savings in transportation: a GreenBottle weighs 55 grams, compared to about 300-600 grams for a glass equivalent.

GreenBottle is also non-breakable and, the company estimates, has a carbon footprint of 10% of that of a glass wine bottle.

Despite this, I’m not convinced the wine purchasing public in the UK will buy into this in the same way it has with GreenBottle’s previous foray into milk bottling.

A few years ago an Australian wine producer trialled the sale of its wine in a PET bottle through one UK supermarket chain.

While I don’t have access to the sales figures, nothing much more has been made of this, and most tellingly, you’d be very hard pushed to find a PET wine bottle now.

We have worked with wine brands in other countries to produce packaging that moves away from the traditional glass bottle, most notably in Canada where tetra packs are a normal sight on-shelf and in Italy where PET is common at the lower end of the wine market.

Also in Scandinavia it is common to see spirits and mix drinks in tetra packs and bags in boxes, and in other countries PET packaging for beer is relatively common.

Often this is down to lifestyle choices and how the various products are consumed – so for example if the product is being sold in an area where a lot of boating takes place then wine in a bag or in a box is likely to be more popular.

Aside from the success of wine in a box, the UK wine market particularly has been much more resistant to moving away from glass bottles. Image-wise it is a more difficult fit and just doesn’t fit into the lifestyle of people who are consuming the product.

There is still a competitive advantage to be had from using glass bottles, particularly in the wine sector where look and feel are intrinsically linked with perception of quality and winemaking knowledge passed down through generations.

Any move away from this could be seen as devaluing a brand and with the wine market already struggling to guide drinkers through the myriad of choice currently available and the failure of other repackaging attempts in the UK market, it will take a brave brand to make the first foray into this new packaging.

While there are undeniable sustainability benefits associated with moving to new bottle packaging such as this, that alone is unlikely to be enough to convince the UK’s wine buying public.

While this may have an impact on price it is likely to take strong and powerful branding to get over the perceptions around quality that a move away from glass bottles will have on the market.

On top of this, we lose sight of the fact that until relatively recently, glass was considered the ultimate recycleable container.


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