Everything to know about wine packaging beyond glass bottles

various examples of alternative wine packaging, images by Outshinery
12 min read

Alternative wine packaging

The traditional glass bottle has long been held as the gold standard for wine packaging. However, a seismic shift is underway in the wine industry as innovative and alternative methods of packaging are gaining ground.

This evolution is driven by numerous factors, including environmental sustainability, cost-efficiency, and consumer preferences. Emerging trends in wine packaging are disrupting established norms and compelling the industry to rethink its entrenched practices. From bag-in-box and canned wines to single-serve pouches and even kegs, these alternatives are redefining how we package, distribute, and consume wine, offering exciting possibilities and challenges for winemakers and consumers alike.

The growing popularity of alternative wine packaging

A recent study by Grand View Research reveals that the global market for alternative wine packaging is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.4% from 2021 to 2028. This trend is primarily attributed to shifting consumer preferences, with an increasing number of wine drinkers valuing convenience, sustainability, and value for money.

The Nielsen Report (2020) states that sales of boxed wine (3L) increased by 31.5% in the US market over the previous year, making it the fastest-growing wine category. Similarly, canned wine, though still a relatively small segment, has witnessed a remarkable growth of 69.2% in sales in the same period. This indicates a growing acceptance of non-traditional wine packaging among consumers.

The wine industry's environmental footprint is another important factor driving this shift. According to a study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, alternative packaging methods like Bag-in-Box (BiB) or Tetra Pak significantly reduce carbon emissions compared to traditional glass bottles. Moreover, the Wine Intelligence Report 2021 shows a growing consumer consciousness about sustainability in wine production and packaging. About 35% of regular wine drinkers in the US and 43% in the UK now consider the environmental friendliness of the packaging when purchasing wine, up from 30% and 38% respectively in 2020.

In conclusion, the data substantiates a clear trend towards the rising popularity of alternative wine packaging. Winemakers and retailers who adapt to these changing consumer preferences and environmental needs are likely to be at a competitive advantage in the evolving wine market.

Types of alternative wine packaging

[fs-toc-omit]Bag-in-Box (BiB)

Bag-in-Box, or BiB, has become an increasingly popular choice for wine packaging. The format consists of a strong bag typically made of multi-layered plastic, filled with wine and sealed with a spout. This bag is then placed in a corrugated box for protection and ease of handling. The key advantage of BiB is that it prevents oxidation of the wine, keeping it fresh for a longer period after opening. It's also lighter than glass, reducing transportation costs and carbon emissions. However, the perception of quality can be a downside; many consumers associate boxed wine with lower quality, even though the packaging has no impact on the wine's properties.

bag-in-a-box (BiB) imagery created by Outshinery
BIBs are currently gaining popularity in the US, while they have long been a staple in the Scandinavian market.

[fs-toc-omit]Cans

Canned wine is another emerging trend in the wine industry. The benefits of cans include convenience, lightweight, and single-serve portions. Cans are also recyclable and have a lower carbon footprint compared to glass. But like BiB, there are concerns over quality perception among consumers. Additionally, while cans are suitable for wines meant to be drunk young, they are not ideal for wines that need to age.

lineup of aluminum cans containing wine, CGI photos by Outshinery
Still wines, sparkling wines, and wine spritzers are gaining popularity as consumers embrace the convenience and appeal of single-serve formats.

[fs-toc-omit]Plastic bottles

Another popular alternative packaging method is the use of plastic bottles. These bottles are made from 100% PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a form of polyester that is both lightweight and recyclable. The benefits of using PET plastic bottles for wine include their resistance to breakage, lighter weight compared to glass, and lower shipping costs. They're also perfect for casual settings and outdoor events where glass is not suitable or allowed.

In this market, PET plastic bottles mimic the shape and feel of conventional wine bottles, helping to combat the perception issue often associated with plastic packaging. Moreover, they come with a screw cap, offering convenience and practicality, especially for those looking to consume the wine over multiple occasions due to its resealable nature.

However, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider with plastic bottles. Firstly, although PET is recyclable, the recycling rate is still relatively low globally. Furthermore, there's the issue of the perceived quality of wine in plastic bottles. Despite these challenges, companies are challenging the status quo, paving the way for more sustainable and consumer-friendly wine packaging.

alternative wine plastic bottles that are recyclable and better for the planet
Unapologetic plastic bottles represent an innovative approach to sustainable and recyclable wine packaging. (Left-side bottles feature a Novatwist plastic capsule for a 100% recyclable container.)

[fs-toc-omit]Aluminum bottles

Aluminum bottles are another alternative wine packaging option. They offer similar benefits to cans, such as being lightweight and recyclable, but with the added appeal of mimicking the traditional wine bottle shape which can help with consumer acceptance. Aluminum bottles are also excellent at preserving the quality of the wine, as they offer superior protection from light and oxygen.

aluminum wine bottles are an alternative and more and more popular option for wineries
Aluminum wine bottles have quickly gained popularity, particularly in North America. With their striking appearance and novelty factor, these bottles have become a recent trend.

[fs-toc-omit]Plant-based bottles

Emerging advancements in biotechnology have enabled the creation of plant-based or bio-based bottles. These bottles are made from renewable resources like corn starch and sugar cane, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels. They have similar characteristics to PET bottles but with a lower carbon footprint. However, the production process still needs to be scaled up, and the potential impact on food resources is a concern.

[fs-toc-omit]Reusable bottles

Reusable bottles, often seen in wine refill schemes or at wine fountains in certain regions, offer a novel and sustainable packaging solution. Consumers purchase a durable, reusable bottle and then refill it whenever needed. This significantly cuts down on single-use packaging waste. However, the implementation and logistics of such a system can be complex and requires consumer buy-in.

[fs-toc-omit]Paper bottles

A recent addition to the list of alternative wine packaging options is the paper bottle. This innovative solution is the result of several years of research and development aimed at reducing the environmental impact of wine packaging. A paper wine bottle is made primarily from sustainably sourced paper with a food-grade liner to hold the liquid. This design makes it lighter than glass bottles, leading to lower transportation costs and carbon emissions. It's also 100% recyclable.

Companies like Frugalpac have introduced paper bottles in the market, and some wineries have begun experimenting with this packaging format. For instance, the English wine producer, Chapel Down, launched its Chardonnay in Frugalpac's paper bottle in 2020. Despite the positive environmental impact, the challenge with paper bottles is ensuring that the wine's taste and quality are not impacted by the packaging. Initial consumer perception and acceptance will also be key factors determining this packaging format's future in the wine industry.

4 different sustainable wine paper bottles
Paper bottles offer captivating designs that effortlessly grab consumers' attention in both physical stores and online platforms. Their prevalence is steadily increasing, making them a rising trend in the industry.

[fs-toc-omit]Tetra Paks

Tetra Paks are lightweight, unbreakable, and easy to transport, making them a cost-effective alternative to glass. They also offer a large surface area for branding and information. However, as with cans and BiB, consumer perception can be an issue. Additionally, while the Tetra Pak itself is recyclable, it's more complex due to the combination of paper, plastic, and aluminum in its composition.

wine tetrapak product photos created in 3D by Outshinery
Wine packaged in Tetra Paks has been available for some time, but it is gradually losing its novelty appeal. Instead, alternative packaging options such as aluminum cans or bag-in-a-box are gaining popularity.

[fs-toc-omit]Pouches

Wine pouches, similar to the concept of a Capri Sun for adults, provide a modern, portable solution for wine packaging. They're lightweight, unbreakable, and perfect for on-the-go consumption. They also protect wine from oxidation. However, like other alternative packaging methods, they can be perceived as lower quality. There's also the issue of recyclability, as not all parts of a wine pouch can be easily recycled.

Australian wine bagnum, pic created by Outshinery
Bagnum, a packaging format known as the "magnum in a pouch," has gained popularity in Australia and is now starting to make waves worldwide.

[fs-toc-omit]Kegs

Wine kegs, while not a new concept, are gaining traction as a sustainable packaging option, especially for on-premise consumption in bars and restaurants. Kegs can keep wine fresh for up to six months, significantly reduce packaging waste, and offer cost savings in terms of packaging and shipping. However, they require specific equipment to serve and are not suitable for retail distribution.

aluminum keg and PETkeg visuals rendered by the 3D team at Outshinery
Kegs are not directly consumer-facing, it is worth mentioning the noteworthy innovations happening in the keg industry. One such example is the advent of lightweight and plastic PETainer kegs, which have emerged as a viable option.

[fs-toc-h3]Environmental impact and sustainability

The environmental benefits of alternative wine packaging hold considerable potential for creating a more sustainable wine industry. Traditional glass bottles, while classic and aesthetically pleasing, come with a significant environmental cost. Their production requires a substantial amount of energy, and their weight contributes to higher carbon emissions during transportation.

In contrast, alternative packaging options like aluminum cans, PET plastic bottles, and Tetra Paks, offer a more environmentally-friendly solution. They are lightweight, reducing the carbon emissions associated with transport. More impressively, these materials are also highly recyclable. Aluminum, for instance, can be endlessly recycled with no loss of quality, making it an excellent choice for sustainability.

Moreover, innovative packaging solutions like plant-based bottles and paper bottles push the boundaries further. Made from renewable resources or recycled materials, they have a lower carbon footprint than traditional packaging materials. For instance, the manufacturing process for paper bottles results in a 84% lower carbon footprint than glass.

Additionally, reusable bottles and wine kegs provide unique solutions that eliminate single-use waste entirely. This not only reduces landfill waste but also the energy and resources required to produce new bottles.

While the transition towards alternative packaging formats is not without challenges, especially regarding customer perception and acceptance, the environmental benefits are compelling. Embracing these sustainable packaging options represents a significant step towards a more eco-friendly wine industry, contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.

[fs-toc-h3]Quality and preservation

Maintaining the quality, taste, and shelf life of wine is of paramount importance, regardless of the packaging format. One common misconception is that alternative packaging options, such as cans, pouches, or Tetra Paks, compromise the integrity of the wine. However, substantial evidence contradicts this belief.

Various studies have shown that the quality of wine stored in alternative packaging is preserved equally well as in traditional glass bottles. For example, the Journal of Wine Research published a study that found no difference in the sensory or chemical properties of the same wine packaged in glass bottles and in aluminum cans after six months of storage.

In some cases, alternative packaging can even enhance the shelf life of wine. PET plastic bottles and Tetra Paks, for instance, are excellent at keeping oxygen out, a critical factor in wine preservation. Wine in aluminum cans or in Bag-in-Box (BiB) has an extended shelf life after opening, as these packages limit the wine's exposure to oxygen.

Furthermore, the wine industry itself is a testament to the quality preservation of wine in alternative packaging. A growing number of respected wineries and vintners are choosing to package their wine in cans or Tetra Paks, including world-renowned vineyards in regions like California, Australia, and France.

While taste perception can be subject to individual preference and psychological factors, it's essential to note that the packaging material does not interact with the wine and alter its taste. Any initial skepticism or reluctance from consumers is generally due to unfamiliarity and the perceived novelty of these packaging formats in the wine industry. As alternative packages become more prevalent and consumers become more accustomed to them, these perceptions are likely to change, much like they did for screw caps, which were once viewed with skepticism but are now widely accepted.

In conclusion, when it comes to quality and preservation, alternative wine packaging stands on equal ground with traditional glass bottles and, in certain aspects, might even offer additional benefits.

[fs-toc-h3]Convenience and portability

Alternative wine packaging champions the philosophy of convenience and portability, perfectly aligning with the lifestyle of the modern, on-the-go consumer. Imagine enjoying your favorite vintage at a beach picnic, a hiking excursion, or an outdoor concert, without the hassle of carrying heavy glass bottles or needing a corkscrew.

Aluminum cans, PET plastic bottles, wine pouches, and Tetra Paks are not just lightweight and compact, but they are also unbreakable and easy to open. This makes them ideal companions for all your outdoor adventures. Wine kegs, while not portable for individual consumers, offer convenience for venues, ensuring a constant flow of fresh wine, eliminating the need for incessant uncorking of individual bottles. Embrace the freedom and flexibility offered by these alternative wine packaging options - they fit not just in your bag, but also in your dynamic lifestyle, making wine consumption a seamless part of your everyday experiences.

[fs-toc-h3]Market differentiation and branding opportunities

Alternative wine packaging presents a golden opportunity for wineries to differentiate themselves in a crowded market and establish a unique brand identity. In a sea of conventional glass bottles, formats like aluminum cans, Tetra Paks, or PET plastic bottles are likely to stand out on the shelves.

Moreover, the flexibility of these materials allows for creative, eye-catching design possibilities. Vibrant graphics, innovative shapes, or bold typography can make the product visually appealing, drawing attention and piquing consumer interest. This allows wineries to tell their brand story more effectively, connect with their target audience, and build brand recognition.

Furthermore, alternative packaging can help wineries position themselves as forward-thinking and environmentally conscious brands. By choosing sustainable packaging options, wineries can align with the growing consumer preference for brands that prioritize environmental responsibility, thereby enhancing their brand image and appeal.

Additionally, the choice of packaging format can also help wineries cater to specific consumer segments. For instance, single-serving cans or PET bottles can appeal to millennials or Gen Z consumers who value convenience and portability, while wine kegs may appeal to event venues or restaurants seeking efficient service solutions.

In essence, alternative wine packaging is not just a functional choice; it is a potent branding tool that can help wineries carve a distinct niche for themselves in a competitive marketplace.

[fs-toc-h3]Alternative wine packaging, in summary

Making the switch to alternative wine packaging is not just an eco-friendly initiative; it's a strategic, forward-thinking decision that caters to modern consumer preferences, offers your brand a unique differentiation avenue, and potentially unlocks untold market opportunities. As the world leans towards sustainability and convenience, it's time to embrace this innovative approach.

Align with the future, redefine your brand identity, lead the charge in your industry, and let your wine shine in every format. Adopt alternative wine packaging today, and let's toast to a greener, more convenient, and vibrant future for the wine industry. The world is changing, and your wine should too.

Alternative wine packaging suppliers:
  • Amcor Limited: This Australian packaging company offers a variety of innovative and sustainable wine packaging solutions, including PET plastic bottles and wine pouches.
  • Ardagh Group: Based in Luxembourg, Ardagh Group provides an extensive range of metal and glass packaging solutions, including aluminum wine cans that are lightweight, portable, and recyclable.
  • Berlin Packaging: A global supplier of packaging solutions, Berlin Packaging offers a diverse range of products, from glass containers to Bag-in-Box packaging, catering to various needs of the wine industry.
  • Ecolean: This Sweden-based company specializes in lightweight packaging solutions. Their line of products includes eco-friendly and easy-to-carry wine pouches.
  • Packamama: Packamama offers eco-flat wine bottles; flat-pack bottles that are made from 100% recycled and recyclable PET, saving space, weight, and energy to slash emissions.
  • Scholle IPN: A global leader in Bag-in-Box packaging solutions, Scholle IPN provides sturdy, oxygen-barrier wine bags that ensure the product's freshness and longevity.
  • Tetra Pak: This multinational packaging company offers wine packaging in their signature Tetra Paks, which are lightweight, recyclable, and excellent at preserving the quality of the wine.
  • Trivium: Trivium provides a wide range of metal packaging solutions for the wine industry, including aluminum and steel cans that offer durability and sustainability.
  • Vinventions: Specializing in wine closure solutions, Vinventions offers a range of products, including synthetic corks and screw caps, that ensure the quality and longevity of the wine.
  • WestRock: A US-based company, WestRock offers innovative wine kegs that are perfect for venues looking to serve large quantities of fresh wine efficiently.
beautiful unoaked chardonnay wine label up close on an angle that was 3D rendered by Outshinery
Laurie MillotteYana

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