Feature: Packaging Innovations

Packaging Innovations for Wines and Spirits – from Exciting Novelties to Restyled Classics

Displays, tasting stands, ceiling banners and secondary placements are becoming ever more expensive as marketing measures. At the same time, advertising budgets are shrinking. For 80% of goods in the retail trade packaging is the most important instrument to attract consumer attention. “If there’s nothing to attract the eyes the feet will keep walking,” says Claudia Rivinius, Head of Corporate Communication at the STI Group, one of the leading firms in the field of packaging and displays.  The spectrum is also wide for wines and spirits.

Alongside the distinctive Frankish “bocksbeutel” or the classic Bordeaux or Burgundy bottles today wine is also presented in eco-friendly PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, practical bag-in-box packaging or in prize-winning designer bottles. The wine sector presents and discusses packaging trends and new developments every year at ProWein – the leading international fair for wines and spirits held in Düsseldorf. The past few years have seen interesting packaging alternatives, though with differing reactions from consumers.

Wine in PET Bottles
A break with tradition or an eco-friendly innovation? Although selling wine in PET bottles is now no longer a world innovation, it is still discussed in specialist circles – as is the introduction of PET bottles in the mineral water segment. What is clear here is that sales have risen for plastic bottles, especially in the wine sector. Initially, it was primarily airlines that served wine in PET bottles due to the need for security and the bottles’ lower weight.

A 0-7l PET bottle weighs just one tenth of its glass counterpart and thereby saves a considerably amount of kerosene and therefore also costs.  However, this alternative packaging could also be very interesting for the retail trade, as one example in Great Britain shows. One of the country’s largest supermarket chains Marks & Spencer switched its entire range of small bottles (0.25l) to a PET alternative.  In the USA lighter bottles are also very popular. In particularly high demand are 187ml bottles sold in a four pack.
Critics express concern that wine in oxygen-permeable PET bottles does not stay fresh for as long and that PET impairs the taste. However, these reservations are countered by modern processes which improve air tightness, as confirmed by research institutes like Forschungsanstalt Geisenheim. Using an elaborate procedure, oxygen-absorbing materials can be applied to the plastic ensuring both shelf life and also avoiding any taste impact on the wine through contact with PET.  According to Dr. Rainer Jung and Christian Schüssler, during the tests it was not possible to detect any significant difference between the air tightness of conventional glass bottles and that of the treated PET bottles. Under optimum storage conditions the PET bottle is certainly suited to long-term wine storage, say the researchers at the Geisenheim institute.  And there are no health risks either, as proven by the German Institute for Risk Research (Deutsche Institut für Risikoforschung).

Wine in a tube, tube in a box; what initially sounds like a terrible “environmental sin” is in fact an eco-friendly packaging alternative. This bag-in-box system is not new. Already back in 1955 US chemist William R. Scholle invented the plastic or aluminium tube with tapped spout contained in a box with a carrying handle; this system has been used as an option for wine storage for 30 years now. Alongside the huge number of variations for olive oil or dressing with capacities of up to 1,000l, bag-in-box packaging for end consumers generally comes in capacities of three to ten litres.  While bulk buyers are most likely to appreciate the space savings, lower storage and transportation costs for empties and the far lower initial outlay, the main advantage of the system for end consumers, say the manufacturers, lies in the longer durability of already opened boxes.  Thanks to the airtight seal and the “always full system” consistent wine quality is said to be guaranteed for up to six weeks after opening.

A sample calculation shows the saving that can be achieved using the bag-in-box system: the packaging here for 20 litres of wine costs Euro 1.70. In conventional glass bottles packaging for the same volume of wine costs around Euro 6.40.
While German consumers are still sceptical about the bag-in-box system, wine is already much more prevalent in this format in countries like Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and in Scandinavia.  With an over 50% market share the Nordic countries can be seen as pioneers of the bag-in-box system.  Whether this trend will catch on in Germany remains to be seen. Traditional producers like the members of German quality wine estates association “Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter” will in all probability continue to fill their wine into glass bottles – also because this is what their customers expect.

Wine in Designer (Glass) Bottles
In general, the classic glass bottle still dominates on the German wine scene. However, not all bottles are the same. In addition to traditional versions like the Frankish “bocksbeutel” and Bordeaux, Burgundy or hock style bottles  the trend is now increasingly heading towards unusual and appealing designer versions. A pioneer in this field is Germany’s largest wine winery: Peter Mertes.  This winery’s BREE range was the first wine in food retail to win a “red dot award” in 2009 – the world’s largest and most important design prize – in the “Communication Design” category. “As a rule, in the wine business tradition is a top priority. With many wines lined up on the shelf looking fairly similar we decided to design a bottle that would make our wine stand out from the crowd,” explains Michael Willkomm, Partner at Mertes. “BREE bottle design is particularly appealing to women,” Willkomm continues. “Women impulsively pick up the bottle to take a closer look. The satinised finish feels pleasant to the touch and this, in our experience, together with the unusual visual appeal acts like a strong inducement to buy.” A glance at the sales figures indeed shows that this wine sold in its designer bottle has become a sales hit – now selling at several million bottles per year with the higher sales cancelling out the somewhat higher production costs. ProWein exhibitor Mertes also aims to focus on innovative design in future: “We have now developed some new bottle shapes and designs, this time with a focus on innovative bottle seals.”

Also with their eyes on design are the five young vintners Knut Fader, Thorsten Krieger, Stefan Meyer, Marius Meyer and Christian Heußler from Rhodt unter Rietburg in the Pfalz region. Together these creative minds have put together a stylish wine six pack where each of the five is responsible for one wine (Riesling, Chardonnay, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé). The sixth bottle, a Gewürztraminer Cuvée, comes care of all five. The background to this lies in the fact that Rhodt is home to the oldest vineyard in the world still only cultivated with this variety.  The Pfalz six-pack is something special in a number of ways. It groups together six different wines in a user-friendly 0.25l size and, unlike conventional wines, the bottles are sealed with a crown cork. The striking design heavily influenced by the Pop Art of the 1950s and 1960s underlines the young and uncomplicated nature of the packaging.  This, say the manufacturers, makes the Rhodt variety pack a great eye-catcher for parties or an ideal basis for your own wine tasting at home.

Pull-Open Schnapps
New packaging systems do not stop at spirits either. Probably the most unusual example comes from the USA and goes by the name of Pocket Shot. Whiskey, rum, vodka, gin and tequila are offered here in 50ml pouches that at first sight look like hospital drip bags. The inventor Jarrold Bachmann sees a number of advantages in the robust and flexible packaging. It is lighter, more eco-friendly and also less noticeable than the classic glass bottle – which, according to Bachmann, makes it the “ideal companion for older golf players and young extreme sportspeople”. Manufactured in Switzerland the pouch consists of three membranes: a special inner layer that comes into contact with the alcohol, another that makes the pouch tear-resistant and finally a top layer that can be printed on giving the packaging its shiny finish. In future, Pocket Shots will also be offered on the market in different flavours, with mixed drinks and in different sizes.  Whether – and if so when – this packaging idea will also take hold in Germany remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the varied packaging options and innovations are and remain an exciting topic for the wine and spirits sector and will continue to occupy the minds of experts at ProWein in the future. Every year in March some 4,000 exhibitors and 40,000 visitors from throughout the world meet in Düsseldorf and transform the metropolis on the Rhine into the “wine capital of the world” for three days – next time from 24 – 26 March 2013.

ProWein is organised by Messe Düsseldorf and is the leading international trade fair for wines and spirits. Every March it is the meeting point and business platform for the international wine and spirits sector. 4,000 exhibitors from internationally relevant wine-producing nations showcase themselves in Düsseldorf to over 40,000 specialists from throughout the world.

Picture Credits:
• Bree Chardonnay : ©Peter Mertes
• Bree Merlot: © Peter Mertes
• Pocket Shots 1-4: © Pocketshot.net
• Rhodter Vielfalt: © Rhodter Vielfalt

List of Sources:
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• Schweizer, Ulrich: Weinwissen. FALKEN Verlag, Niedernhausen/Ts., 1999. pp. 73f.
• Trauthig, Julian: “Boomender Bag-in-Box-Markt. Wenn Wein gezapft wird”. In: Spiegel Online (ed.), available at: http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/boomender-bag-in-box-markt-wenn-wein-gezapft-wird-a-646380.html [03.09.2009].

ProWein Press Contact:
Corinna Kuhn/Brigitte Küppers (Assistenz)
Messe Düsseldorf GmbH
Stockumer Kirchstraße 61
40474 Düsseldorf
Tel.: +49 (0) 211 4560-598/929