Is this lightweight, fully recycled bottle the shape of things to come? Younger consumers are likely to say yes; wine buffs might not be so sure.
A new eco-friendly wine bottle that has the potential to halve the carbon emissions of your favorite drop launched nationally last week. It is the Australian wine industry’s latest move away from environmentally damaging glass.
The flat-pack bottle, made from 100 per cent recycled PET plastic, eliminates one of the major drivers of wine’s carbon footprint. It is also fully recyclable.
“Beverages in general need to take responsibility for their environmental impact,” says Mike Bennie, co-owner of P&V Wine + Liquor Merchants in Sydney. “I think we’re well overdue with a reinvention of wine packaging.”
It’s estimated that glass packaging and transport contribute 68 per cent of the carbon emissions from each bottle of wine in Australia. Fossil fuels are burnt to make the glass, more fuel is needed to transport weighty bottles, and even the process of recycling glass releases carbon.
Packaging business Packamama created the bottle with these considerations in mind, launching in Britain in 2018, followed by European Union and Nordic countries.
The more association we have that wine from plastic bottles is good for you … the more likely that you’re going to accept it the next time.
Dr. Julia Low, RMIT
The company says studies in those markets showed the bottle had between 45 and 53 per cent fewer emissions than various glass bottles.
In Australia, the flat-pack bottle joins an assortment of canned wines, new-wave casks, pouches, wine on tap and other glass-free innovations adopted in recent years.
Coles’ liquor outlets, currently the only stockists of the bottles, say internal research showed a strong customer preference for sustainable choices, with one in two people claiming they change their behavior due to product packaging.
Along with large-scale South Australian wineries Banrock Station and Taylors Wines, Coles approached Packamama about getting the square bottle onto Australia shelves. After finding local manufacturer Visy, the eco bottle could be launched without further emissions from shipping.
While the bottle is only being used by Banrock and Taylors for now, it is suitable for up to 85 per cent of wine purchased in Australia, according to Packamama.
“Helping the [winemaking] giants is where we can have the most impact, “says Santiago Navarro, Packamama’s chief executive.
Airlines, including Virgin Australia, are also using the bottle, but Navarro adds that the technology is scalable for wineries of all sizes.
Winemakers can either send wine to a contract packing facility in Melbourne or purchase the eco bottles to fill at their winery. Packamama recommends a minimum of 12,000 liters be sent to its packing facility, meaning boutique wineries are better off using their own semi-automatic fillers.
Aside from its environmental benefits, the lightweight bottle also suits consumers taking wine camping, fishing or to picnics – basically, any setting outside the home.
Coles customer surveys show convenience is more important than traditional notions that wine must be in glass, says Mia Lloyd, Coles Liquor acting general manager for trade planning and insights. It’s another reason she’s confident the bottle will be successful.
But which drinkers will switch from good old-fashioned glass to a new-wave bottle?
Millennials are more likely to seek out sustainable packaging in non-traditional designs, says Sandy Mayo, chief marketing officer of Accolade Wines, owner Banrock Station. The winery’s label deliberately highlights the bottle’s eco credentials.
Dr Julia Low, a lecturer in sensory and consumer science at RMIT, explains that the more memories and associations a consumer has acquired about wine – an emotional purchase – the more difficult it is to overcome those.
Older wine connoisseurs, for example, may find switching to plastic more challenging.
But drinkers only coming of age now may have more familiarity with wine in materials other than glass.
“The more association we have that wine from plastic bottles is good for you, it’s good for the environment and it tastes the same… the more likely that you’re going to accept it the next time,” Low says.
Navarro is clear that the PET bottles aren’t suitable for wine that’s going to be cellared. The maximum shelf life is approximately two years.
Bennie agrees: “You can put extraordinarily high quality wine into this packaging. But by and large you should be drinking them in their youth.”
Bennie supports having a number of tiers of packaging for the different ways wine is consumed.
Casks are the top non-glass choice in his Sydney bottle shops in Newtown and Paddington, due partly, he believes, to people’s familiarity with how they work.
Riot Wine started offering keg wine for venues in 2016 and later added retail cans, both of which keep glass bottles out of the equation. Founder Tom O’Donnell says educating consumers about how wine in a can works is their No.1 challenge.
“It’s quite a traditional industry and we’re quite a traditional country. Quality will always prevail though.”
Riot’s wine-based spritzes, which are already cold and fizzy, are an easier sell than red wine in a can. But he says 20- to 35-year-olds across all genders are highly receptive to cans. “It’s getting far more adoption and I think it’s really ‘watch this space’.”
“There is an element of risk-taking on a new format, but the biggest risk in the context of a climate crisis is inaction,” says Navarro.
Packamama attended the Wine Tech trade event in Adelaide last week and plans to accelerate development of a second bottling facility in South Australia.