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Modern Approaches to Alternative Wine Packaging

By: Alyssa L. Ochs • The Grapevine • November - December 2020

Long gone are the days when wine only came in standard bottles. For some traditionalists, this is a tragedy, but for many wine enthusiasts, it’s an exciting time for innovation in the industry.

Modern technology has paved the way for wine to now be packaged in cans, boxes, bags and pouches. There are pros and cons to each packaging method, yet single-serve portability is a top priority among wine consumers, driving growth in the alternative packaging industry.

Types of Alternative Wine Packaging

One of the main bottle alternatives on the market today is wine in cans. Aluminum cans are a popular option because they are recyclable, easy for on-the-go consumption and offer a single-serving option for enjoying wine. Wine boxes, also known as bag-in-the-box, feature an air-tight bladder inside a paperboard container. This type of packaging is cost-efficient for the manufacturer and the consumer, and it’s easy to pour and reuse for multiple wine-drinking sessions.

Tetra paks are mostly made from recyclable materials, making them an eco-friendly wine choice with air-tight seals for long-lasting wine. Another option is lighter-weight glass bottles, which reduce the thickness of the glass wall and remove the indentation from the bottom of the bottle. Flat wine bottles were first introduced as novelty gifts, but they are also viable alternatives for taking up less space, reducing transportation costs and reducing a wine producer’s carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, kegged wine has been growing in popularity as an on-premises option and offers by-the-glass pours at restaurants and bars. The next wave of wine products is getting even more creative with wine packaged in tubes, triangular- shaped bottles and other eye-catching specialty shapes that capture the imagination.

Pros & Cons of Packaging Options

As with all aspects of winemaking, there are pros and cons to the various wine packaging options available to wineries today. Many alternatives weigh less, don’t break as easily and produce fewer greenhouse gases than traditional bottles. Alternative packaging allows for more experimentation opportunities for wineries curious to try creative flavor profiles in single-serve portions.

Tim Orr, the president of TORR Industries in Redding, California, told The Grapevine Magazine that some alternative packages are beneficial because they offer more advertising space than glass bottles, which only have a few inches of space for branding. Founded in 2007, the TORR Industries management team has over 50 years of combined experience in filling bag-in-box, stand-up pouches and shelf-stable extended shelf-life food products, as well as bulk aseptic packaging. TORR designs and manufactures wine filling, packaging and dispensing solutions in its Northern California facility.

Alternative packaging options typically succeed better than bottles at allowing the same container of wine to be enjoyed over multiple days. However, wine may not age as well in alternative containers, which is a problem for certain types of wine. Glass bottles excel at keeping oxygen and microbes out of the wine and preventing it from going stale or growing mold while retaining the best flavor. Although attitudes are changing, the perception still exists that wine in alternative packaging is of lower quality than wine in glass bottles.

Cost Considerations

Although style is important when choosing wine packaging, the ultimate decision often comes down to cost. Bag-in-box wine is economical, and by putting more premium wine into boxes, a producer’s profit margin may increase. Transportation costs can be lower for alternative packaging because lighter loads without heavy glass are cheaper to carry, especially when shipping wine across the country or overseas.

However, packaging costs may increase if a winery chooses to switch gears entirely and buy expensive equipment to accommodate new packaging strategies. This is especially true if a winery is still in the experimental phase of package design and isn’t yet sure if the packaging style will resonate with consumers or maximize product quality over time.

Life Expectancy Considerations

The amount of time that wine stays fresh should always be a top priority when choosing a packaging strategy. Glass bottles are known for their long shelf life and can last for decades because glass does not chemically react with the wine.

Wine packaged in cans should have adequate acidity to maintain the freshness of flavors and help it last longer. There have been considerable strides in technological improvements for both oxygen control and bag films. Ten years ago, consumers would often find bag-in-box wine to have inconsistent taste and quality. However, this is hardly a concern today, thanks to the high-tech fillers propelling this industry into the future.

Machinery for Different Packaging Strategies

When a winery decides to change packaging types, it often needs to upgrade its equipment to handle new demands or outsource packaging to a specialized company. The machinery required to make a switch may include canning machines and filling equipment.

Delkor Systems has recently developed cutting- edge packaging machinery for the wine industry – Delkor’s Performance Case Packer with patented Intelligent Synchronization technology. Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Delkor makes case packers for bottled, pouched, canned and bag-in-box wine, as well as cartoning machines for canned wine and a bag-in-box closing machine. The Intelligent Synchronization equipment design is compact and new to the wine industry, offering two useful applications: the automatic cartoning of eight-ounce wine cans into four- and six-count paperboard cartons, and case packing of the paperboard cartons into boxes for shipment.

“It controls product flow and pattern building, effectively reducing machine footprint, costs and changeover time,” Dale Andersen, the president and CEO of Delkor, told The Grapevine Magazine. “With Intelligent Synchronization, Delkor has been able to reduce the footprint of its wine can carton loader or wine can carton case packer to just a sixby- six-foot frame and reduce machine changeover to less than eight minutes.”

Andersen said that this technology would eventually replace current case packer designs because it does electronically what many machines currently to do mechanically. This “smart machine” eliminates guide work and other machine points that cause both container and label damage, so it is natural for use in the wine industry. In 2021, Delkor will be introducing a compact Performance Case Packer for wine bottles and one for bottle unloading – both with its patented Intelligent Synchronization.

Following What’s In-demand

While weighing the options of packaging types to use for wine, learn about what’s most in-demand with consumers right now and why. Currently, top priorities among wine drinkers, especially the younger generation, are portability, on-the-go usage and discretion. Alternative containers can also offer the benefits of being less breakable and having a different type of wine for your second glass instead of committing to an entire bottle of the same wine.

Bag-in-box wine has become increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic because of budget concerns and more time spent at home rather than going out to wineries and bars. Even before this, bag-in-box wine gained significant traction among younger drinkers between the ages of 21 and 35. Another consumer demand is a heightened focus on environmental sustainability, which can be addressed through packaging design.

Wine Packaging Trends

It may be essential to observe wine trends when reconsidering how to package wine. Right now, there is a movement to make wine more affordable and accessible to new consumers – often younger consumers who have different standards and preferences than wine drinkers who have been enjoying bottles for decades.

There is also a trend of putting higher quality wine into alternative forms of packaging, hoping to change the perception of non-bottled wine and open up people’s minds about what makes a good wine. These higher-quality offerings, paired with more creative marketing and advertising strategies, catch new consumers’ attention. That attention then propels alternative packaging products forward and opens up the market for new packaging players with innovative ideas.

Orr of TORR Industries has noticed a huge growth in the bag-in-box wine industry and much more demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that canned wine has seen a growth curve of around 1%, where bag-in-box packaging is closer to 20% of wine sales, up from approximately 15% a couple of years ago.

“I attribute this to the fact that the stigma of boxed wine is going away since this is a great option for not having to drink the whole bottle because coronavirus is leading to more home consumption and because of better techniques to control the oxygen.”

Orr said that his company is building and selling equipment to top wineries because it injects nitrogen and vacuums the bag to purge the oxygen before filling. In this way, his machinery gets oxygen levels down under 2% rather than the 20% standard that this packaging used to have with older technology.

Andersen of Delkor has observed that the movement of wine into cans is a significant change in the industry. He and Ryan Broughton, Delkor’s sales manager, told The Grapevine Magazine that what their customers in the beverage industry are talking about most is single-serve. Cans offer an alternative for a new class of wine consumers not focused on the quality aspects of glass bottles, but more on convenience. According to Andersen, “one could make the argument that this is a totally new market opportunity, so it is making the circle bigger rather than taking market share away from current wine sales.”

Choosing the Right Packaging

Each type of wine packaging has its benefits, so the choice largely comes down to the winery’s goals, budget and target consumer. However, different styles of wines do better in various types of packaging. For example, some wineries keep sparkling wine and aged red wines in bottles but put experimental and mid-range wines into alternative packaging to test it with their customer base.

To choose the right packaging for your wine, assess current customers as well as those you want to attract in the future. Consider how much and how often you ship wine to determine if alternative packaging can help save on shipping and transportation. Determine per-unit costs and ensure that new production costs will fit within your budget. Also, think about how a change in wine packaging may impact the perception of the winery’s brand. If using multiple types of packaging, it may be a good idea to keep a few things consistent – such as the logo or colors – across all forms, to keep your brand recognizable.

Orr of TORR Industries would advise a winery looking to try alternative packaging to “understand the market, look at the viability of bag-in-box, and look at the growth curve.” His other piece of advice is to find a winery that does co-packing and set up a small contract packing arrangement to test out alternative packaging for your winery.

For wineries looking to try packaging alternatives to glass for the first time, Broughton of Delkor suggested “looking for a system that has good capability, that can adapt to ever-changing needs and that can produce small pack and large pack counts.” Delkor’s Andersen suggested having a machine that can handle both traditional bottles and cans for single-serve. “Have a plan to address single-serve because demand is increasing, and your machinery must be able to keep up with this.”