Wine has been associated with a glass bottle for centuries, but even that long history can’t save the stately staple from a shake-up. Thanks to changing consumer attitudes toward wine and some adventurous brands willing to ditch the conventional classic, the bottle is making room for boxes, cans and cartons, ushering in a new wave of alternative packaging.
The bottle first emerged as an optimal packaging option in the early 19th century, when winemakers discovered that a corked glass vessel allowed the wine to age, while keeping enough oxygen out to extend the shelf life of the product. Their use spread, until the packaging format reached the near ubiquity it’s enjoyed.
But the glass bottle has also seen its share of problems. The screw cap closure, for instance, first entered the market as an answer to some of the limitations of the cork, including cork taint and leakage. While ditching the cork for a screw cap once carried some negative connotations, an increasing number of upscale wines are opting for the security afforded by the closure and now, wines topped with a screw cap now represent around 15 percent of the global market.
Boxed wine got its start in 1965 when Australian winemaker Thomas Angove designed a resealable plastic bag that could keep wine fresh for weeks, extending its shelf life even further. Angove’s bag-in-box model eliminated the age-old problem of what to do with an opened, but unfinished, bottle of wine. Like screw cap closures, boxed wine has also attracted wineries willing to package a higher quality vintage in something a little less traditional than a bottle.
Wineries making the switch the alternative packaging have found that boxes, cans and cartons preserve wine just as well as glass bottles. Aseptic cartons, for example, offer the same protection of a glass bottle in a variety of convenient sizes for consumers looking to move their experience out of the dining room to a more exotic locale, like a concert or picnic.
A typical 750ml bottle of wine can weigh anywhere from two to three pounds. Thanks to its lighter weight, a 3-liter box of wine generates just half the emissions of a typical glass bottle and requires only one-third of the energy to produce. Stats like that matter to Millennials, who are more likely to pick up products with environmentally friendly packaging.
Consumer attitudes toward wine have been steadily changing. A 2015 trends survey by Gallo found that 85 percent of frequent wine drinkers said the beverage is just as suited for casual settings as it is for formal occasions. Boxed wine—and its canned and cartoned counterparts—is a natural fit for those casual get-togethers since it’s generally less costly for consumers than the bottled variety.
The survey also showed that one third of those surveyed identified themselves as adventurous wine drinkers, eschewing the title of “wine snob.” And, perhaps owing that adventurous spirit, 37% of respondents called boxed wine a convenient option and 1 in 5 have tried wine in a can—a compact alternative to glass that’s also picking up steam.
Brands just need to look overseas to see that, globally, the attitude toward boxed wine has been shifting for decades. Boxed wine accounts for half of all wine sales in Australia, Sweden and Norway. America is already seeing that attitude shift, as sales of carton wine grew by 21.7 percent in 2016.
It’s clear that even time-honored packaging choices aren’t immune to changing times. Brands looking to target an increasingly bold consumer base need only to look at the rise of boxed wine as inspiration when considering their own packaging choices.