The answer to the second question, refreshingly, is yes — and perhaps sooner than we think.
Daniel Tripolitano, director strategy, innovation and insights, global marketing for Treasury Wine Estates, says a change is going to come. He isn’t quite sure when or what the change will be. But in an era when consumers are less enamored of romance and tradition and more concerned about convenience and sustainability, something different is almost inevitable.
Also worth noting: As baby boomers give way to younger wine drinkers, dinner becomes less important as an occasion. The bottle-and-cork isn’t as well suited to a picnic, boating, or day at the beach as is a can, box, or PET bottle. And what happens if you forget the corkscrew?
“That’s where the disruption is going to come,” says Tripolitano. “That’s the compelling proposition that’s going to drive [a change in packaging].”
And a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Spirited editor Alexandra Russell, who bought the story. She understands that trade magazine journalism doesn’t have to be dull and boring.
This week’s wine news: Tablas Creek embraces lighter wine bottles, plus wine thief gets 18 months and Sweden’s wine industry
• Lighter bottles: Jason Haas of the Tablas Creek winery in Paso Robles asks a question that has always puzzled me: “So, given that lighter bottles cost less and people seem to like them more, why are there still wineries using the heavy bottles?” The post, discussing the winery’s almost decade long switch to lighter wine bottles, is well worth reading. It offers insight into how wineries make marketing decisions – or don’t, as the case may be. Haas says the lighter bottles, besides the positive environmental impact, have saved the winery untold amounts of money. So what’s the answer to his question? Apparently, heavy bottles still denote quality to retailers and producers, if not to all consumers.
• Wine scam: William Holder, whose wine storage scam bilked wine collectors out of their wine and as much as $1.5 million, will spend 18 months in federal prison. He has also been ordered to make restitution. Holder charged collectors for storing their high-end wine, but then sold some of it to retailers and brokers around the country. Hence, when the customers came to collect their wine, it wasn’t there.
• Even in Sweden: David Morrison at The Wine Gourd writes about Swedish wine: The “main limitation of Swedish wines at the moment is that they are not good value for money” because of “high production costs associated with the small volumes.” We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? Morrison says quality seems to be good among the three dozen or so Swedish producers, despite the price/value problems. This is especially impressive since the Swedes have to grow hybrids that can handle the colder climate, and hybrids are notoriously difficult to turn into quality wine.
Something’s wrong here — not a cork or punt in sight.
Even the conservative and old-fashioned motor oil business realizes packaging matters. So why doesn’t the wine business?
Does this quote sound familiar?
“We are far more conservative in the marketing of our products. We are almost apologetic. While other industries focus on creating products that are distinctly different and stand out from the crowd, we do the exact opposite.”
So when Valvoline comes out with a truly innovative product – a five-quart, easy-open, easy pour, ergonomic motor oil bottle, what does that say about the wine business and its outdated and ridiculously stubborn reliance on the 750-ml bottle and its cork closure?
The genesis for this post came after talking to a friend about wine packaging. He described a trade show seminar where a packaging consultant told the audience that the dizzying array of wine bottles – their shapes, sizes, and closures – were expensive, inefficient, and hurt sales and profits. He couldn’t help them until they decided to get serious about wine packaging.
By contrast, how many times has anyone in the wine business said opening a wine bottle should be easier? Hardly ever. And how many times has anyone said the wine business should spend money to solve that problem? Even less than hardly ever.
The solution to this exists, by the way. There is a wine equivalent of the new Valvoline bottle – plastic, or PET, bottles. They have a smaller carbon footprint and weigh up to eight times less than glass, are almost unbreakable, use screwcaps, and fit on a shelf like a glass bottle. There was a push to use PET for wine about a decade ago, and you’ll see PET beer bottles, but the wine initiative never got anywhere. Is anyone surprised?
Can the idea that canned wine is the next big thing in wine packaging
People who are supposed to know these things insist that wine packaging is about to undergo a revolution – specifically, that canned wine is the next big thing and will sooner rather than later compete with bottles as the package of choice.
In this, they are wrong. Wine packaging has remained the same for centuries – a bottle with a cork – and there is absolutely no reason to believe that canned wine’s future is any different than screwcaps or boxes. It will occupy a niche, and lots of people will like it. But most of us won’t even notice it. The wine business in the U.S. has spent almost 100 years teaching us that we have to buy wine in a 750 ml bottle with a cork, and you don’t undo that overnight.
So why the enthusiasm for canned wine? First, because it has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, up 125 percent in the year through the middle of 2016. Second, it’s something that should appeal to the two generations of wine drinkers younger than the Baby Boomers, who grew up on canned soft drinks and juice boxes and who aren’t supposed to be as fussy about bottles as the rest of us. Third, because the people who do trend analysis wouldn’t have anything to write about if they didn’t find a trend, and it isn’t easy to find trends in an industry as old-fashioned as wine.
In fact, here’s what the prognosticators don’t tell you about canned wine:
• “After years of packaging innovations, the traditional 750 ml wine bottle is more important to the domestic wine industry than ever.” The number of 750ml bottles sold increased 41 percent from 2010 to 2014, which is the same period that overall wine sales in the U.S., as measured by bottles sold, was up just 11 percent. This is premiumization’s work; who is going to pay $25 for a bottle of wine in can or box? Meanwhile, sales have fallen dramatically for the very cheapest wines, which lend themselves best to cans.
• That 125 percent growth was from a very tiny base. All told, canned wine accounted for $6.4 million in a $55 billion business, or about one-tenth of one percent.
• Retailers don’t like canned wine. Store shelves are designed to sell 750 ml bottles, and canned wine doesn’t fit on the shelves. That’s what happened to boxed wine, which was supposed to be the next big thing a decade ago. Retailers could never figure out how to display it, and so they shoved it to the back of the store.
• Canned wine hasn’t solved the value/price problem. Much of it is more expensive than bottled wine, since we’re paying for convenience. But the quality of the wine usually isn’t worth the added cost. Much of the canned wine I’ve tasted was junk that would cost $4 or $5 for a 25-ounce bottle, not $5 for a 12-ounce can. Compare this to boxed wine, which has improved in quality and does offer value – and still remains a small part of the market, about three percent.
In the end, know that screw caps, which offer as much convenience as a can without any added cost to the consumer, have been around for decades. And they still account for just 20 percent of the market. How are cans going to do better than that?
Because the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular wine advice feature. Ask the Wine Curmudgeon wine-related question by clicking here.
Dear WC: I’m confused about all this talk about premiumization. I’m not buying more expensive wine, and none of my friends are. We’re buying the same price wine we’ve always bought. So where do they get the numbers that say we’re buying more expensive wine? Cheap and confused
Dear Confused: There is data that shows that the dollar value of U.S. wine sales is increasing and that Americans are buying less wine that costs $7 a bottle or less. Hence, premiumization. What is less clear is why this this is happening. Are we consciously buying more expensive wine? What’s the role of price increases? And what does it mean that the demographic that bought all that $7 wine is getting older and drinking less? No one has really answered those questions. To my mind, it’s not so much that the average price of a bottle of wine is increasing; it’s that the same numbers show wine sales are flat. So, in the end, it’s a tradeoff, and one that’s not good for wine.
Wine Curmudgeon: Why is so much inexpensive wine still sold in heavy, expensive bottles? You’d think that would add to the cost of the wine, and I don’t want to pay for it. I want to pay for the wine. The glass is not half full
Dear Glass: Because wine has to come in a heavy glass bottle with a punt and a cork, or consumers will think it’s crappy wine. Still. The good news is that, as glass and shipping prices have increased, more and more producers are switching to lighter bottles to keep their profit margins. So we’re seeing some change, albeit slowly.
Dear Not: Do I detect a little St. Louis Cardinals jealousy here? It’s a long baseball season, and the Cubs aren’t playing well after that incredible start. I’d love the opportunity to buy an expensive bottle to celebrate, but I’ve been a Cubs fan for too long to count on anything. Remember 1969?
• Even in Nova Scotia: The government in the Canadian province will spend C$3.5 (about US$2.7) to help vineyards and wineries, an almost unprecedented investment in a part of the world where one doesn’t think of wine. But the provincial government sees wine as a way to create create jobs and boost economic development, which is something progressive and far-sighted governments do (right, Texas?). In fact, there are 11 wineries in the province, and the modern Nova Scotia wine industry is 25 years old.
• More than just a bottle: Will wine drinkers ever accept anything other than wine in a 750-ml bottle? Can the wine industry meet that demand? This is a chicken and egg question, and particularly since experts and consultants insist wine drinkers want something else and consumers keep buying wine in the traditional bottle. The Wine Intelligence consultancy parses the issue, and realizes that “part of the issue remains one of cost. One [750-ml] bottle incurs less dry goods cost than four mini [187.5-ml] bottles, and price sensitive consumers have historically been reluctant to pay more (relatively) for less.” In other words, wine drinkers don’t want to pay more for convenience, and this doesn’t take into account that smaller sized bottles (as well as cans, boxes, and what have you) have usually been used for inferior wine.
• Total Wine changes: The man who runs the country’s biggest liquor chain is stepping down to go into politics. David Trone, who started Total Wine with his brother Robert and led it to almost $2 billion in sales and some 120 stores, is leaving to go into politics. He was an unsuccessful congressional candidate in Maryland this spring, and says he wants pursue a career in public service, which may include another congressional run or a presidential appointment. This is intriguing news, and not just because of politics. Trone, whom I have interviewed, is one of the smartest retailers I have met, and Total’s success owes much to he and his brother’s vision. If he isn’t there, can Total continue to grow?
? 31 Halloween wines: Seriously? Indeed, says GreatWineNews. All of the usual wines are there, like Phantom and Ghost Pines, plus some I’ve never heard of and some that seem like a stretch, including a rose. And the writing, much of which seems to be a cut and paste job from winery sites, manages to find almost every cliche, Halloween and otherwise: “With a name like River of Skulls, you know it has to be good ?”
? Seriously, though: Food & Wine’s Ray Isle does one of the best jobs among the Winestream Media in making wine accessible and interesting, and makes the same attempt with this slideshow (let’s juice up those page views) for Halloween wine. It’s not a recent list, though difficult to tell how old it is, but the wines included are still adequate for drinking. Maybe it’s the way my mind works, but I’ve written about d ?Arenberg’s The Dead Arm Shiraz several times over the past couple of years, and have never once thought of it in conjunction with Halloween.
? Do it yourself: I am about the least handy person in the world; my greatest accomplishments in that regard are using a corkscrew and tightening door knobs. So anytime anyone can do something crafty, no matter how silly, I’m impressed. Karen Kravett, an Internet crafting type, shows how to turn wine bottles into Halloween decorations. Again, something else that never crossed my mind.