Winemakers lead the way on packaging developments within alcoholic drinks

Winemakers have woken up to the fact that packaging can make a difference to their offering, a fact that has been long exploited by soft drinks and food manufacturers alike.

Recycling concerns, costs of transport and raw materials, together with a need to generate some excitement for consumers and cater to individual lifestyle demands, have resulted in an array of new formats being launched. Catherine Mars, Euromonitor International's alcoholic drinks analyst, outlines some of these developments.

PET bottles, a winning formula?

The rising cost of glass bottles coupled with increasing momentum for corporate good citizenship and the push for recycling means that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and aluminium bottles may be the packaging formats to watch in the future. Given that PET bottles are designed to have the same aesthetic appeal as their glass counterparts, with the added advantage of being lighter and unbreakable, this bottle format is highly likely to meet with acceptance. There have been a number of recent launches of wine in PET bottles following Foster's October 2006 launch of Wolf Blass in the world's first full-size PET bottle in Canada. French companies are also catching onto this trend with Boisset Vins & Spiritueux, a wine and spirits company in the Bourgogne region, using PET bottles for its Yellow Jersey wine, which it has tested in North America and plans to launch in Europe in early 2008.

Aluminium bottles have previously been used by both beer and soft drinks manufacturers to differentiate brands (particularly in the on-trade) and inject excitement into the categories. For example, in 2005 Coca-Cola unveiled its limited edition M5 series of aluminium bottles: a year-long on-trade promotion featuring five aluminium bottles with cutting edge designs targeting urban trendsetters. While the company does not use aluminium bottles as part of an ongoing range, the viral campaign accompanying the M5 bottles generated widespread brand exposure among a select target group. This format has now been carried over to wine, with JMB Beverages the first to launch an aluminium wine bottle onto the Australian wine market. In early 2007, the company's new Brightlite range of wines were introduced in fully recyclable, shatterproof and lightweight bottles, with a modified screw-cap that is claimed to prevent cork taint. Aluminium bottles offer a striking alternative to glass and PET, and as with the traditional beverage can, have the benefits of quick chilling and easy recycling. Used for impact on one brand or for a limited edition, the aluminium bottle could prove to be a resounding success. Euromonitor International expects though that in the medium term at least, consumers will favour PET wine bottles as these more closely emulate traditional glass bottles.

Freshness is key to casual drinkers

New bottles aside, Euromonitor International has also witnessed a discernible growth in the popularity of bag-in-box (BiB). While BiB already has a high penetration in a number of countries, including Australia, South Africa, Sweden and Norway, it is currently being hailed as one of the drivers of volume growth in the fairly mature Danish market. Furthermore, BiB has now begun to take off in more conservative France in place of bottles and jugs (filled directly at the wine merchant's locale or at the winery). The French consumer is now starting to perceive BiB as a practical packaging format which allows wine to be stored for up to six weeks without the risk of spoilage, rather than as a down-market option.

Alongside BiB packaging, Euromonitor International has noted the introduction of various permutations of this offering including the pouch (bag without box) and carton (box without bag) formats. Like BiB, wine sold in cartons has been around for some years and is particularly popular in Italy, Chile and Argentina, but the wine quality and price are usually relatively low. That said, as the market becomes more accustomed to packaging variations for wine, liquid cartons and pouches are expected to become more commonplace. Recent examples of niche players using these new formats include Mont Tauch, a co-op based in the Languedoc region of southern France, which launched a new prism-shaped Tetra Pak for its Village du Sud range of Vins de Pays d'Oc in the UK last month and Versus, one of South Africa's top 10 best selling brands, now being offered in easy to carry, self-supporting 250ml and 1500ml pouches.

BiBs, pouches and cartons have a practical relevance that glass does not have for use outdoors, at parties and in other informal situations. Add to this the advantages of being re-sealable as well as keeping wine fresher for longer, the latter in the case of BiBs, they fill a need for casual wine drinkers who consume just a glass or two at a time. As such, these formats are expected to gain momentum in countries where wine is consumed regularly or even as a daily indulgence. With Scandinavia already leading the way, Euromonitor International has identified the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom (countries where off-trade consumption of still light grape wine by legal aged drinkers is expected to grow by at least 3 litres per capita over the next five years) as markets where these formats could also fare well.
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