Message In the Bottle
As all the forward-thinking players of the CPG market ramp up their efforts in reducing carbon footprint through packaging innovation, creating packaging that is fully recyclable, lighter and more locally distributed, the wine category in particular has seen some convention-busting changes in its presentation of late—and those may be here to stay…
Innovations of the Past Decade
Wine in a box is nothing particularly new, and as wine producers continue to improve upon the taste and premium marketing of boxed wine, the perception of the quality of these wines is improving. However, over the past five years the shape, the look, and even the weight of wine packages have received an overhaul—from PET plastic bottles with light-blocking shrink film (PETG-HY), to the widespread expansion and acceptance in the use of Tetrapaks, once reserved for juices and dairy. These Paks in particular have opened a much larger canvas for designers while providing the challenge of shaking the stigma of boxed wine’s cheapness in favor of premium persuasion.
Along with the upheaval in the shape and materials used for wine packaging, labeling for wines has gone increasingly digital, using eco-friendly, recycled labelstock and digital printing for lightning-speed print production of gorgeous photographic and graphic imagery. As digital printing technology continues to improve, so will the intricacy and distinctions in design.
Lately, even the glass wine bottle purists are looking to improve environmental impact using new 100% recycled glass, such as the Eco Series made by Saint-Gabon, and sustainable label facestock, made from 100% consumer waste paper and new, completely dissolvable adhesive created with Fasson technology.
Economic Factors and the Impact on Wineries, Restaurants
Without a doubt the economy had a serious impact on the wine industry in the U. S. Elsewhere, in such regions as Australia, droughts have become the major game changer and have strongly affected that country’s share of the seasonal market. But within the U. S. a blatant cut-back across the board of luxury goods affected not only the amount of fine wine bottles sold over 2008-2009, but also the price wine purchasers were willing to pay per bottle. At home and in restaurants, consumers were opting for less expensive wines and most certainly, fewer trips to wineries.
The impact on wineries is evident in their bottling practices and marketing. Wineries in California are receiving fewer requests for bottles from their long-distance distributors, which has resulted in producting and marketing more specifically to local consumers and restaurateurs.
The current retail environment is seeing improvement in sales, but mainly for less-expensive wines, while many restaurants are shifting to serving wine on tap using tanks or what the industry calls “Ponies,” which serve as wine kegs and allow for fresh wine by the glass with less product waste.
Taking this trend toward frugality into account and compounding it with trends toward sustainability across all CPG categories, the choices wine brands are making with new packaging are intuitive and offer up the opportunity of where wine can go next.
Changing Habits, Saving the Planet and Creating New Markets
For as much skepticism that a plastic wine bottle may receive, the move is undoubtedly in line with the green-trending habits of Americans. These 100% recyclable bottles have received praise for the capacity to hold 33% more wine per bottle and still ultimately being lighter and easier to ship. Their durability does away with excessive packing materials during shipment and even speeds up assembly lines at filling factories with no breakage. Some critics have even declared the bottles to be beautiful, as they almost perfectly mimic the classic look of glass.
Glass is still considered the hallmark material of a premium wine bottle across the globe, and this conception will be extremely hard to break. While the ecologically sound drivers may motivate sales to an extent there are also some very lucrative advantages to diverging from the well-worn path of glass that revolve expressly around increased market share. While plastic, and poly-paper blends may suffer pitfalls by taking away from the premium look of wine products, the simple quality of being unbreakable will take them into new drinking places glass has rarely gone.
In particular, wine now has the opportunity to head poolside, into sports arenas, onto airlines and safely into picnic baskets. By changing the locations of where wine can be carried, we are experiencing the change in occasion of when wine is consumed, and more occasion equals increased sales.
What’s New? What’s Fun? And What’s Actually Going to Shatter the Glass Tradition?
The New Class of Glass
For traditional bottle shapes that incorporate paper labels, the trends are to make them more interactive, get brighter and bolder, and incorporate the art of storytelling. Bottles that add a face to the name, reflect the winery’s history or tell you more about the land where the wine was grown will complement wine drinkers fanaticism for authenticity.
Aluminum: The New Premium
Increasingly, the material for alcoholic beverages of the future appears to be aluminum. Having spread rapidly among the major beer players, and having gone through a few prototypes and testing, the material is now gathering stronger acceptance in the wine category.
While sharing many sustainable and durable attributes with Tetrapak and plastic bottles, aluminum has several practical advantages over alternative materials. Aluminum holds claim to the longest shelf life at 2 years on average, the ability to be cooled 5x faster than other materials, the availability of a wide range of shapes and sizes, and no U/V damage to the product. Removable liners maintain the freshness of the wine in aluminum bottles and the elimination of paper labels with direct-to-bottle graphics and printing not only creates less waste, but also allows for some graphically stunning design results
With a metal material, we can expect designers to explore all manner of engraving and stamping. The lack of a label provides more room for experimentation with text-wrapping and using (or not using) every inch of space.
A New Audience for Wines, a New Frontier for Design
It’s hard to let go of something so conventional and classic as a glass bottle of wine. At this point in our lives wine served in a glorified can may still seem like a passing fad, as we’ve certainly seen some eco-trends come and go. The success of retail wine sales in the future will hinge heavily upon reprogramming consumers’ visual experience, exceeding taste expectation, developing a very different selling strategy for short shelf-life, and managing a higher turnover from traditionally-bottled wine. It’s new and it’s scary.
Repackaging wine with entirely new material to reduce costs and bring it to brand new arenas will provide a well-needed boost to a still-flailing category. It certainly provides an interesting opportunity for wine producers in seeking out uncharted palettes, and the shift in surface also provides a fascinating new challenge for artists in graphic design.