Winemakers look for profit in pouches

PERSUADING consumers to drink anything other than bottled wine is an uphill climb. Glass bottles are the gold standard, so newer brands are turning to sleek, eco-friendly containers and promoting them through social media to reach younger wine drinkers.

PERSUADING consumers to drink anything other than bottled wine is an uphill climb. Glass bottles are the gold standard, so newer brands are turning to sleek, eco-friendly containers and promoting them through social media to reach younger wine drinkers.

Those in the millennial age group, aged 21 to 34, are the target because they have grown up drinking from plastic and are less wedded to traditional wine rituals. And some 51 per cent of them drink wine at least once a week, according to data from the Wine Market Council.

Already on some shelves is wine in boxes, aluminum cans and in plastic.

Last month, a wine shop began selling wine blends in aluminum containers. Constellation Wines is offering its Black Box brand in mass-market outlets such as Costco.

As the industry broadens its offerings, some of the innovators are not vintners, but packaging experts.

In the spring, Stacked Wines, based in California, introduced individually packaged, stemless plastic cups, which stack vertically and contain chardonnay, merlot and other wines. Matt Zimmer, a mechanical engineer who worked in the bottled water industry for more than six years, came up with Stacked Wines' packaging.

"We see an industry trend to more convenient packaging," said Zimmer, Stacked Wines' chief executive.

Another entrant in the wine business, Eric Steigelman, a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, drew on his background in flexible product packaging to design a pouch for his Bonfire Wines.

"Millennials are interested in convenience and availability, and some areas like soup and baby foods have been moving to pouches," Steigelman said.

The biggest challenge to gaining consumer confidence has been overcoming the perception that wine should come only in a bottle. Wine in other packaging has long been lumped into the undrinkable or barely acceptable category, although some boxed wines are becoming more popular.

Wine drinkers tend to be explorers and frequently decide what to buy while in the shop, unlike buyers of other alcoholic beverages, who settle on their brands in advance, according to a study released this month by Nielsen North America Consumer Group.

New brands emphasise packaging for people who want lightweight, portable and easily consumed wine.

Stacked Wines' consumers simply unseal the package and drink, with no wine glasses or corkscrew required. The four sealed portions, made using the company's trademarked Vinoware, fit atop one another. Each holds the equivalent of a glass of wine, and the four combined equal a 750-millilitre bottle. There is no spoilage because the wine is packaged in individual amounts. The company charges about $US15 for a stack.

For Bonfire Wines, Steigelman chose a pouch — which prevents air from oxidising and spoiling wine — made from federally approved food-grade materials. The pouches are black with a broad stripe of vibrant colour running horizontally, and were designed by Planet Studio, a design and marketing company in Atlanta. Gene Keserica, Planet Studio's creative director, said his team chose fluorescent colours because "we saw that as a way for the packaging to be eye-catching — if you can make someone pause, that gives you a split second to get your message over".

The label's look "can have significant influence on a purchase", said David Turner, president of Turner Duckworth, a brand identity and packaging design agency in San Francisco and London. "Beverage packaging is not purely functional, but a way of reaching your buyer."

Bonfire Wines is highlighting the portability of its pouch for those who like to share the experience of drinking wine. To enhance interaction, Steigelman added a "quick-response" code to each pouch for mobile phone-carrying buyers to react to what they are drinking and keep in touch with the brand.

The Bonfire wines are produced by Kevin McGuire, a California winemaker, said Steigelman, who has not yet set a price for them.

After tasting Bonfire's Ember sweet red wine blend or its Ignite sweet white wine blend, buyers can register preferences for the next type of wine the company will offer.

Engaging the buyer is important because, with such a profusion of label choices, buyers can be influenced by samples, promotions and advertising, according to a Nielsen study.

Brands such as Stacked and Bonfire - which is not yet on the shelves - have tiny marketing budgets they are focusing on tastings at locations such as local arts and music festivals, and on social media.

After spending more than a year choosing his wine, packaging and design, and obtaining his liquor licence, Steigelman is missing this year's top alcohol sales period and will not sell his pouches until the northern spring. "So few companies manufacture pouches," Steigelman sighed, "and, for now, they are all booked up."

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