Wine Packaging: 1800s Coca-Cola to 2020 Bordeaux Futures to 2399 Star Trek Picard
Wine packaging has been a lively topic for wine lovers since Thomas Jefferson’s days. With climate change accelerating, more wine drinkers are questioning the validity of the glass wine bottle. Let’s explore the future of wine packaging.
Star Trek’s Lack of Imagination
Wine-drinking Trekkies can imagine sharing a bottle of delicious French wine with Jean-Luc Picard.
In the series Star Trek: Picard, Jean-Luc visits Raffi Musiker in the second episode, wanting to recruit her in the fight against the Romulans. He shows up dangling a suspiciously familiar wine bottle off his fingers. It’s the same bottle we use today: a 750-ml glass Bordeaux-shaped bottle.
Over the past centuries, people used many different things to hold wine, such as animal skins, qvevris, amphora, tinajas, wooden barrels, and more. Glass wine bottles became viable only in the 18th century.
But, you would think by 2399 we’d see a completely different container for our beloved beverage!
The Coca-Cola Company may have something to teach us in the wine business. Both wine and soft drinks come in similar packages.
Coca-Cola delivered many packaging innovations over the past 135 years, including the iconic original 6 oz. glass bottle in 1915.
The glass wine bottle has been used for 200 years longer than the Coca-Cola Company has existed.
A few of Coca-Cola’s many innovations:
- 1960: cans
- 1993: PET plastic bottles
- 1996: contour PET bottles
- 2005: aluminum contour bottles
- 2009: 30% plant material bottles
- 2015: 100% plant bottles
A side note: NASA flew the Coca-Cola Space Can on the STS 51-F mission in 1985.
In the on-premise side of the business, the original soda fountain lasted until the development of the bag-in-box (BIB) in 1955.
In 2009, Coke introduced the Freestyle fountain machine, which uses concentrated flavor cartridges in place of BIB syrup.
Millennials Break Everything
The arrival of Millennials put pressure on the glacially slow-to-change wine industry to innovate. Millennials wanted smaller, more convenient, sustainable, and lighter-weight packages.
While Millennials are not big on wine, when they drink it, they drink it right away. Most show no interest in aging wine.
Their massive adoption of hard seltzer in cans was a perfect fit. Cans are smaller, very convenient, recyclable, and lightweight.
Wine producers jumped into cans with 250-ml (sold in 4-packs) and 375-ml (sold individually.) These single-serve sizes allow consumers to drink what they like and waste nothing.
Other appealing packages include the 500-ml Tetra Pak and the shareable, low-cost BIB (1.5 and 3-liters.)
The newest trend is a small 100-ml glass tube, convenient for tasting or drinking just a glass without wasting wine or money.
A growing number of bars have implemented wine in stainless-steel tanks, like beer. Maybe soon we’ll fill our “growlers” to drink at home.
Pandemic Wine Packaging
Before the pandemic, changing demographics were already impacting the wine trade. Boomers ordered high-end wine in restaurants, while Millennials preferred food trucks with hard seltzer and cocktails.
During the pandemic, most wine was sold in glass bottles because most wine comes in glass bottles. A superior package for wine, consumers believe glass bottles hold higher-quality wine. However, in terms of environmental impact, costs are high.
Over the past year by far, the highest-growing package was the half-bottle, indicating a change in preference.
Younger consumers liked trying something new, drinking higher quality, drinking less, throwing less out, and spending less money. No surprise sales of boxed and canned wines also grew last year.
Bordeaux Futures Pandemic Wine Packaging
Most Millennials aren’t drinking Bordeaux, but many did enjoy virtual wine tastings last year. Wineries suffered the high cost of sending out full bottles for tastings, while some consumers poured wine down the drain.
In Bordeaux, the pandemic brought a new challenge. For the first time, Bordeaux was faced with releasing its famous wine Futures to no one, literally. They had to find a new way to send samples to critics at home.
When tasting a lot of wine, the standard bottle, a half bottle, and even the single-serve 187-ml bottle, can be too much.
Enter Tubes, a Dutch company founded in 2015 which provided châteaux with a small format tasting package, the 100-ml glass tube.
With this package, it was simple to send samples worldwide and critics had just the right amount of wine for tasting.
The company recently announced a new manufacturing plant for Bordeaux in 2021.
Does this signal the debut of a new hybrid En Primeur Bordeaux Futures campaign in the future? While in-person tastings will return, it’s cheaper to send samples than bring people to Bordeaux, so we’ll see.
Climate Change Drives Innovation
Environmental and climate change concerns are driving innovation, such as with these two new packages: a flat, plastic wine bottle and one made from paper.
Garçon Wines created a beautiful, flat 100% recyclable PET wine bottle. Imagine wine bottles arranged like books, standing side by side. These space-saving, eco-friendly bottles are much easier to transport and store while retaining the image of a traditional wine bottle, if not the classic shape.
Frugalpac created a 94% recycled paperboard wine bottle, lined with a food-grade pouch, called the “Frugal Bottle.” Consumers preferring sustainable wines will love this package, which has a dramatically lower carbon footprint.
The Future of Wine Packaging
What’s to come for wine packaging in the future?
Because people drink 85% of wine within a few days or weeks, it’s clear glass must go. Glass will remain for high-end wines and those meant for aging (the remaining 15%.) But the heavy bottles, the industry’s dinosaurs, need to go.
Reducing the use of glass will take time because consumers believe that wine in heavy glass bottles is better. In the long-term, though, the reality of climate change will dispel this perception.
Cans are convenient, cheap, and recyclable, with a lighter, though still high, carbon footprint versus glass. The retail market will resist adopting cans because the system was built for bottles.
Recycled PET seems a good alternative due to an even lower environmental impact, but it’s not yet widely used. This package isn’t helpful for aging because wines can start oxidizing in as little as 6 months.
Bag-in-box seems to be an ideal container. Wine stays fresher longer, but BIB remains a niche package among consumers even with much-improved wine quality.
To drive change, consumers must demand alternatives, large companies must adopt new packaging, and governmental regulation will likely be needed.
We’ll probably see all these packages in use for different wines and occasions. As alternative packaging grows, reductions in the use of glass will be a win for the environment.
Big Hammer Wines encourages new and existing wine drinkers to explore wine and different packages.