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Sustainable wine packaging needs to be ‘more Tesla than Tide’

Lockdown has given ‘alternative’ wine packaging an opportunity to thrive in the UK, with bag-in-box sales in particular boosted by an increase in at-home drinking. But the industry needs to take heed of companies like Tesla if it is to challenge the glass bottle, believes one ambitious start-up looking to capture the next generation of wine drinkers.

Santiago Navarro, co-founder of Garçon Wines

Generally speaking, consumers have become more “open-minded” about alternative wine packaging formats over the past three years, with lockdown boosting this trend, says Wine Intelligence CEO Richard Halstead, calling the UK a “highly promising market” in terms of alternative packaging opportunities.

“Although the standard 75cl glass bottle remains the most well-known in the market, awareness levels for other formats are growing; with lesser known packaging types, such as pouches and cans, still known by almost half of the UK regular wine drinkers,” he said, following the publication of its September 2020 packaging report.

“These relatively high awareness levels, coupled with increasing consideration levels for most packaging types, are promising and portray a consumer who is open and willing to trial alternatives beyond the classic packaging formats.”

Convenience, “environmental consciousness” and value for money are key drivers of this trend, with 47% now open to the bag-in box format (2.5L), rising steadily since 2017, the report states, making it the fourth most popular packaging type behind glass bottles.

This year saw the launch of Provence producer Mirabeau’s first bag-in-box wine, Cuvée Belle Année, at Waitrose, which itself has reported a 35% uplift in bag-in-box sales this year, driven by lockdown.

With more premium wines being made available in this format, there is an “increasing curiosity and acceptance” by consumers of this “once cast aside format”, says Stephen Cronk, Mirabeau co-founder, which are lighter to transport and have a lower carbon footprint than glass bottles.

“We are all spending so much time at home right now, and Covid has challenged consumers to think differently socially, economically and environmentally,” he says. “With the rise in virtual aperitifs, search for value for money, and increasing consideration for sustainable options whilst maintaining quality, bag-in-box fits the bill and offers a great alternative to traditional bottles whilst also promoting more mindful consumption.”

Mirabeau launched its first bag-in-box wine at Waitrose this year

Glass bottles ‘no longer acceptable’ for the challenges of the 21st century 

But while the progress of bag-in-box formats is encouraging, it won’t be enough to challenge the glass bottle, says Santiago Navarro, CEO of Garçon Wines, which produces a 75cl flat wine bottle made from 100% recycled plastic, with the bottle itself also 100% recyclable.

“We are fans of the progress in bag-in-box. It’s highly motivating, but we also recognise that cans and bag-in-box will likely never challenge a better bottle,” says Navarro. “At the moment the round glass bottle is dominant, but in our view is no longer acceptable for the [environmental] challenges of the 21st century. For us it is about creating a better bottle that sets a new benchmark in sustainability, but also scalable sustainability. There’s a lot out there that’s sustainable, but not scalable.”

Navarro uses an analogy between electric car producer Tesla and US detergent brand Tide, which relaunched its packaging in an eco bag-in-box format in 2018, to highlight the need to prioritise beauty in the pursuit of a “better bottle”.

“You can go full out eco at the expense of beauty when you are doing laundry detergent, but do that in wine and you are probably not going to be the dominant format,” says Navarro. “Wine is similar to cars – both are emotionally driven. Elon Musk realised that electric cars shouldn’t look like golf buggies, but be beautiful. Sustainability decisions in wine also need to be beautiful, both in the eyes of the consumer and mother nature. ”

Garçon launched with a flat version of the Bordeaux-style bottle in 2017, with a flat Burgundy-style bottle now also in production. “There is no need to do away with the beauty of the world of wine in order to make the world of wine better suited to the 21st century,” Navarro says of his flat bottle innovation.

The wine trade needs to be more Tesla than Tide when it comes to sustainable wine packaging, says Santiago Navarro of Garçon Wines

Wine packaging for ‘Greta Thunberg’s generation’

This year Garçon’s volume is expected to grow “20-fold”, with production bases being set up in Australia and the US. This year Garçon launched a partnership with Accolade which has seen its flat bottles appear in UK supermarkets for the first time, with Banrock Station’s Merlot and Chardonnay initially available at the Co-op for £7.50 a bottle. “It’s more important for us to be addressing that value, mass market space where we can have the biggest impact,” says Navarro.

Garçon’s flat wine bottle, made from 100% recycled plastic, on-shelf at Co-op

The Banrock Station bottles are 87% lighter than the average UK glass wine bottle and half the size, meaning more bottles can fit on a shelf at any one time, as well as on the pallets that deliver them, improving the efficiency of the supply chain.

“We are producing packaging for Greta Thunberg’s generation when they come of age,” adds Navarro. “Those that care for the planet. There are many who will not drink wine from anything other than a glass, round bottle, but they shrinking in number. We are focusing on the area where we see the most growth, longevity and hope.”

In any case, the “existential threat” of climate change is bigger than packaging preferences, warns Navarro.

“There are entire communities that exist on the bounties of land and they may no longer be able to stay where they have been for generations – France, Italy, Spain. “If we create climate change migrants in the traditional parts of the wine industry that will be much more upsetting than a change in the round glass bottle. For me, it’s less important that it’s good for our business, but that it’s good for the industry, the planet and the economy.”

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