Tag Archive - packaging

I have seen the future of artisan wine, and it comes in a can

This may sound odd, but there is a link between packaging innovation and the increasing focus on biodynamics and ‘natural wine’, it just isn’t a simple one.

I am not suggesting that natural wine producers are better served choosing tetrapacks, paper bottles or aluminium cans for their wines (although they might), but sometimes the simplest way to define what you ARE about is to explain what you are NOT, after all:

  • a desert is that area where rain doesn’t fall
  • land is all that planet surface not covered by water
  • silence is the absence of sound

Wine in a can

Wine in a can

The wine trade expends a lot of effort arguing over differences between organic, biodynamic and natural wines for example, but almost none trying to find a way to differentiate between the real extremes of the wine market, namely between all of the above ‘artisan’ wines and those wines made to be sold in vast volumes through mass distribution channels such as supermarkets. In fact, you might be forgiven for thinking that the wine trade pretended that these wines in supermarkets didn’t even exist.

How do you explain to a consumer, in simple terms, what makes a bottle of Gallo Chardonnay different from a Gravner Ribolla Gialla? What ‘category’ of the market do they fall into? How is a consumer to differentiate between them when they both come in 75cl glass bottles, with similar corks and basic paper labels?  We need to develop a POSITIVE categorisation of these volume wines in order to have a meaningful conversation about the different needs and benefits of each part of the market.

ARTISANAL WINES

We may not all agree that ‘Natural’ is a fair category name, but we might all basically agree that the Gravner, and thousands of other small producers, are ‘Artisanal’ wines of some sort (read this great post by Robert Joseph on the subject of artist vs artisan).

Defining this is very hard however, so let’s take a “model” Artisan wine and say it probably comes from a small producer with their own vineyards, produced in limited quantities, that is different year on year, that has some taste characteristics that sets it apart from the vast majority of other wines (that not everyone will like) and is linked to the local ‘terroir‘, and that none of these factors are subject to change based on consumer feedback. Essentially, the wine is driven by the producer’s interpretation of what is ‘best’ from their vineyards, take it or leave it. Lots of wines will diverge on some of these points, but the general sense is there.

Artisanal wines are Producer driven (these are sometimes referred to as Terroir wines, but you still need a producer involved!)

The above is obviously not the driving motivation of the wines on offer in multiple grocers around the world. So, what do you call the rest?

  • Branded? No! Branding is very limited and not exclusive to this area.
  • Bulk? No, too negative and not necessarily true
  • Commodity? A good option, but it still implies a negative view of the factors.

How about a term like “Convenience Wines”?

CONVENIENCE WINES

The key features of these wines is that they are dependable, consistent, easy to drink, not overly challenging and widely available. All of these are driven by consumer demand, not producer preference. In simple terms, then, ‘Artisanal’ wines are wines that are NOT ‘Convenience’ wines.

Wine snobs may sneer at the quality of the “wine” in the bottle, but in fact this is only one aspect of the product that consumers are after. What’s the use of a “great” wine that I can’t afford, can’t find and may not even like? Great for whom?

Convenience wines are Consumer driven (to the extent that wine producers really understand their consumers).

The problem is that convenience wines still LOOK like artisanal wines.

If convenience is the key to this category of wine, then we have a reason to work to increase convenience by looking not just at wine styles, but also at packaging, branding & communication.

For example, glass bottles are great for longer term storage of wine, often benefitting artisanal wines. However, alternative packaging, such as bag-in-box, paper bottles or wine pouches for example, is logical in this context of convenience. It is potentially cheaper, easier to transport, more flexible for different drinking occasions, more flexible for branding and offers more communication opportunities. A wholesale move into alternatives would bring down their costs and remove a great deal of cost from the product, potentially meaning higher margins and/or cheaper products.

GreenBottle Paper Wine Bottle Alternative packaging has not really taken off in the UK compared to, for example, Scandinavia. One reason is that we treat ALL products of fermented grapes as “wine”, so the same communication rules are applied to all, resulting in an undifferentiated sea of “handmade” wines, from “historic vineyards“, made by “passionate” individuals that match any food you may choose to pair them with – whatever the truth might be.

If we were to find a way to promote the specific attributes of Convenience Wine and differentiate them visually, in terms of branding and communication as well as style, the wine retail market could be made more straightforward for the consumer, to everyone’s benefit. Wine drinkers might no longer be confused about the difference between a simple wine for weeknight supping, and the experience of an artisan wine for special occasions.

Isn’t it in the interests of both ends of the spectrum to come to an arrangement?

Sometimes, the worst of enemies can find common cause, and in this case it is to fight consumer confusion and indifference.

I’ll raise a can of wine to that!

Wine labels done right, a discovery at VinCE

A couple weeks ago I found myself in Budapest for the VinCE wine event – An event that is more consumer focused than trade, but a place to discover new wines and meet new people. I have to admit that I rarely find myself discovering  a wine label, or bottle design, at such events that makes me stop and say, “hey, now that is a great idea!” The wine world is full of copycats and formulaic marketing that usually bores me or fails to reflect the wine that it is supposed to represent. The wine inside a bottle is often either represented by a horrific label with a fancy font and ridiculous food pairing suggestions; or the opposite, by a label that is itself a work of art, meant for a museum, while the juice inside is second rate at best.

This year, one winery did stop me in my tracks to exclaim, “Yes, now that is what I’m talking about!”

Dénes Pécsi-Szabó, a young man from the Janus winery in Villány region of Hungary came up to me after the Gary Vaynerchuck masterclass and asked me to try his wines. Needing a reason to roam around, I found his table in the back corner of one of the main tasting halls, and within minutes I knew it was a good idea. Dénes, having very little time left in the day, quickly showed me his wines and the new labels that he was in the process of switching his wines to. Colorful and patterned I thought nothing of it at first, another pretty label. After tasting one of the wines, I remember noting that at least the pretty label contained some good fruit.

It was at that point that Dénes started to explain the story behind the label and I proceeded to inspect it closer. Turns out the patterns on the label had meaning. I’ll let Dénes explain in his own words how he worked with a designer to create them:

We created them with Marton Kenczler, Art Director of Kirowski Isobar. I used to work with him in film productions, and I wanted to bring a designer to create our logo and labels from an outsider world. Marci…had no knowledge or experience in the wine business.

We thought, that the old label is a little boring, as it was created to try to please all consumers and also family members of Janus Winery. We wanted to do something, which we feel[sic] closer to us, looks nice and sticks out of the Hungarian label crowd…

We both felt that the long label hugging around the bottle is a good form for what we want to do. Then I said one or two words about all of our wines, and Marci reflected with the symbols.

Rosé: Fresh, girly
Portugieser: wine for everyday
Cabernet Sauvignon: royal grape
Cabernet Franc: King of Villány Wine Region
Merlot: soft
Syrah: eastern influence, Big body

Using Icons as the base of the design the two decided that each grape would receive its own, unique icon. Therefore, each wine could reflect what was inside the bottle with a few visual cues. By playing with the quantity of each icon, they could give the consumer an idea of what the final wine might offer.

What’s interesting is that this winery was not only branding grapes, but branding them in a visual way that overcomes language barriers. Combine this with fun, lyrical label messages that play with the character of the grape, leaving out any silly food pairing suggestions, and they’re onto something fun and different.

Now I’m not saying that Janus solved all major problem, or that these are the most innovative label designers and marketers I’ve come across, but they took a risk to think differently. They realized that people do shop by grape, and by relating these to visual cues, can create deeper branding. Additionally, they stepped out of the wine bubble to consult a designer who is able to see their world differently. Objectively.

Yes this is a moot point for the first time wine buyer. They are not going to know the “system” when they first pick up a bottle, but it is the “plastic bull” idea – where the consumer, if they like the wine, has an easier route to brand loyalty [Back in my wine shop, if a buyer couldn't find a wine for their pizza on friday night, they defaulted to the one with the plastic bull around it's neck]. These symbols, when first noticed, can create enough curiosity for the casual buyer to connect with them, and possibly seek out new combinations. Beyond that, they represent what is inside visually, and thus go much further than most wine labels who rely on fancy art or funny fonts.

I have yet to taste the full range of Janus wines. This will be remedied soon, but I will say that the couple wines I did taste at the end of a long day were showing great potential. Wines that I would buy, without a doubt.

Wine marketing is a challenge in a sea of copycats. Thinking ‘different’ can be hard to do, but the rewards can be great. Congrats to Janus on their efforts.

Cheers!

Note: This label shown here has a music note icon. This icon has been added as this wine is the official wine of the Pannon Filharmonics Orchestra. In their mind the wines grapes blend with the music so they are shown together.

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Send me a wine postcard, I’m thirsty!

On the subject of wine innovation, one thing I forgot to post was a very quick video shot of Patrick Schmitt, Editor of The Drinks Business, sampling a new form of single-pour packaging, called OneGlass at the Fine Wine Fair.

The concept is a single pour of only 100ml, which is actually less than the smallest small glass of wine in the UK (currently 125ml), in a tear-away package that requires no corkscrew, and probably no glass!

The package is meant to look like a cardboard cut-out of a bottle, and  is so thin it could probably be taken for this. I imagine it would be really easy to take on travels, picnics, or even into those places that might usually frown on alcohol being consumed.

It’s almost like getting a wine postcard!

Interestingly, although I had no idea how long it had been in this package, nor how it had been handled, the wine was not tainted, and pretty much delivered what it promised – a drinkable Italian Sangiovese.

What more can you ask of a pack?

No idea how many producers will use these, nor how consumers will adapt to the package or the serving size, but it is certainly a brave concept.

Update: there is a limited amount of further information, and a lot of marketing spin, on the producer’s website at http://www.oneglass.it/:

The materials are apparently:

Oneglass, made of paper (75%), polyethylene (20%) and aluminium (5%), is a packaging that can either be entirely recycled or used as a bio-fuel.
In the former case, it is disposed of with waste paper and then its elements are separated and re-used, in their raw material state, respectively in the paper and plastic industry. As a bio-fuel, however, the paper is burned cleanly, the polyethylene is transformed into water vapour and carbon dioxide, while the aluminium becomes aluminium oxide, a substance that is then used to produce paper.  Two different ways for 100% recyclability.

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Packaging: think green, but what about the wine?

I’ve often looked at innovations in wine packaging on the blog. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Innovations might appeal to the imagination of consumers and give them new reasons and opportunities to explore wine
  2. The wine business, like all others, needs to move with the times and ‘go green(er)’
  3. (and I quite like checking out new things .. oh, wait, that’s 3!)

When producers innovate with their packaging, moving away from heavy glass towards recyclable plastic or tetra-pack containers, or using new closures such as screwcaps or glass stoppers, we should applaud them for their concerns and their commitment.

But what about the effect on the wine?

Would you drink wine from a plastic bottle, can or carton?

Sample bottles

When it comes to some changes, such as the use of screwcaps instead of cork, research has already demonstrated the many potential benefits to the wine itself (in certain conditions). It has actually also helped to improve the cork business and fostered innovation there too.

However, plastic bottles are another issue, and one that has not been explored scientifically until now (that I know of).

So, why use ‘plastic’ bottles? The main arguments are:

  • They are MUCH lighter, so transport costs (and therefore the ‘carbon footprint‘ of the bottle) are much reduced
  • Certain plastics are less energy intensive to produce and recycle than glass
  • The demand for recycled green glass is not high (in UK), so let’s focus away from it
  • Usually used where wine is shipped “in bulk” to modern plants near where the wine will be bought, and not in inefficient small lots in wineries around the world
  • Better from a health & safety perspective (fewer bits of broken glass)

If all else was the same, then it would seem sensible, right?

The problem, all else does not seem to be exactly the same, but until now wine experts could be accused of being ‘snobbish’ about these bottles if they criticised them. However, the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin (ISVV) in Bordeaux are conducting a long-term study on the effect of different wine containers on the same red & white wines.

The ISVV packaged the same wines in large & small bottles of glass, two types of plastic bottle (single PET and multi-layer PET) and also in a 3L Bag-in-Box. It is still early days, but there are some key and obvious results already after 12 months. If you are interested, the overview presentation is included here (but I list some key observations below)

For white wines, the cheapest and lightest plastic (single-layer PET) shows dramatic deterioration compared to glass. This is confirmed by the ISVV tasters observations and scientific analysis (and my own tasting). In fact, for the smallest bottles (187ml) the damage starts after only 3 months with oxygen levels increasing (oxidation) and the protective SO2 (sulphur dioxide) levels decreasing rapidly after 6 months. In summary, it would seem that these bottles are really not suitable for white wines for more than a few weeks, not months.

The situation is not much better for more expensive multi-layer PET or bag in box, but in any case there is a marked difference of all alternatives compared to glass.

The results are less conclusive for red wines – so far. It does look like a similar pattern will hold true, but it takes longer to be noticeable on red wines I guess.

The ISVV could not include other alternatives such as tetra-pack or wine pouches as they could not put the same wine they used in the study in these formats.

I can’t say any of these conclusions comes as a great surprise to me, but it is good to have some sort of numbers and ‘evidence’ to point to. Thinner plastic bottles that flex more are more likely to create opportunities for gasses to get in/out of the bottle, and wine is a very delicate product. Smaller bottles will suffer proportionally more as the volume of wine is smaller. A delicate white wine will suffer from oxidation faster than a more robust red.

So, should we simply stop experimenting and stick to glass?

Not at all. We need to continue to innovate and look for opportunities to make changes that will help consumers, be better for the environment and be better value for producers. However, the wine itself should not suffer.

So, next time you are shopping for wine (for example, see below for announcements by M&S), will you be tempted by the plastic bottle? What would make you try them?

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Value of social media tools: a wine label example

Do you doubt the ability of Twitter to offer valuable and tangible business benefits? Then check out this little example.

I was at the Wines from Spain tasting today and I met Sarah. In fact we were already “friends” on twitter in our various alter-egos as @thirstforwine and @bottlegreenltd but had not really met in person. In any case, this twitter-enabled chat encouraged us to taste some of each others’ wines, and in the process I was asked what I thought of this label:

Knowing that such things are subjective, I thought I’d ask for wider input, so I shared the photo with twitter. Within 20 minutes, I had 15-20 responses to be able to gauge a more general view. In this case, unlike my own personal luke-warm stance, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Check out some of the reactions below (some are not included as the messages are private):

  1. JohnG
    quaffability @thirstforwine I do like. Very nicely executed. But my first reaction is that it’s vermouth, and I think that is a problem.
  2. ryanopaz
  3. Duarte Da Silva
    wineboffin I like it. RT @thirstforwine: http://twitpic.com/17xb65 – A new ‘retro’ Rioja label. What do you think? Like?
  4. Justin Liddle
  5. Fields Morris Verdin
  6. Champagne Warehouse
  7. Somewhere is Jeannie
  8. Joanna Harris
    joanna_h85 Love them!! RT @elliott_people: @thirstforwine – Bottlegreen are a great company, fab people and product!
  9. Golly Gumdrops
    GollyGD @thirstforwine It’s attractive, but at first glance I’d think – ooo is that Cafe Rouge’s new house wine label?
  10. Seven Springs Wine
    7SpringsWine @thirstforwine Yes I like it, different, standoutish on the shelves, looks a bit ‘devilish’. Tim
  11. Emma Blackmore
  12. Laura Lindsay
  13. Int'l Wine Challenge
  14. Àlex Duran
    AlexDuran_ Fine! RT: @thirstforwine: http://twitpic.com/17xb65 – A new ‘retro’ Rioja label. What do you think? Like?
  15. Richie Roberts
    RichieWine Great label… RT @thirstforwine: http://twitpic.com/17xb65 – A new ‘retro’ Rioja label. What do you think? Like? (via @wineboffin)
  16. Nayan Gowda
    vinosity @WineChallenge @thirstforwine I would say more Nouveau than Deco, but I also like it a lot.
  17. Chris Carter
    ccarter126 Classy RT @thirstforwine: http://twitpic.com/17xb65 – A new ‘retro’ Rioja label. What do you think? Like?

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How about that for value for business? With a properly planned out strategy for getting input and feedback from fans, friends and consumers in general, twitter and other social media tools can be very useful without being complicated or time-consuming. And they can be fun too!

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