The fast pace of innovation in the food industry is unrivalled by most other sectors. Over the past few years we have seen gluten-free rise from a handful of products to become a well-established and multi-million pound category, while other free-from sectors have also emerged. This year vegan products look set to take centre stage. Consumers are already flocking to stores with glee, happy to try out fishless fishfingers and dairy-free brownies, alongside Gregg’s much-publicised vegan sausage roll.

It’s clear that Veganuary might be a more favourable diet for some than the traditional January calorie counting.

But how does this translate into the drinks industry, and more specifically to wine?

Innovation at a rapid pace is clear when we look at the meteoric rise of both craft beer and gin. These categories are now rife with new variants and flavours, as well as innovative packaging and label designs.

It proves the BWS sector can act quickly and that consumers respond favourably when presented with strong and quality-led NPD. So can the wine industry follow suit and inject some life into the category with some brave and bold NPD?

Liz Cubbold, Broadland Wineries’ marketing director, has set this as one of her key tasks for 2019. She joined the company last April, and says she is bringing learnings from her previous role at Adnams, where she saw growth in both craft beer and spirits.

She says: “It’s fair to say that there is an opportunity to be more innovative in wine, which is very exciting. We are seeing a number of crossover products between the BWS categories – for example gin and wine fusions – and these are vital to bring new consumers to the category. Some of the lack of innovation comes from the importance of tradition and consistency which has been the main marketing message for premium wineries.

“Innovation will come from new producers, such as English winemakers, and wineries like Broadland where experimentation with flavours and formats is much more within their control, as it is with craft breweries and distilleries.”

Rachel Archer, new product development manager at Off Piste Wines, notes that the wine category has always retained a more traditional feel, and this has held NPD back. She says: “When you have so much history and tradition – and some might say pretention – associated with the product then it can be difficult to reposition it as modern and exciting in the mainstream. “It is important not just to innovate for the sake of it. There has to be a tangible benefit for the consumer, otherwise there is no point.

“Times are definitely changing, albeit slowly, and the introduction of new, consumer-friendly formats is one of the best ways to get everyone enjoying wine, which is the crux of the matter.”

Pete English, senior brand manager at Treasury Wine Estates, agrees that the wine industry is catching up on innovation.

“The wine industry has done a lot on consumer segmentation and, through the consequential mapping of consumer needs, it is leading to more innovation,” he says.

“We are always looking to develop plans around our category drivers and consumer occasions, essentially shifting from product-first to consumer-first to unlock innovation. Our Rawson’s Retreat low-alcohol innovation came from answering the consumer need for moderation.

“The Living Wine Labels innovation stemmed from the consumer need for discovery. Our vision was to disrupt the wine category and go beyond traditional approaches like neck-tags or paper-based point of sale, to engage consumers at the point of purchase using a digital platform that we know they like to engage with.”

Toni Ingram, head of marketing for Pernod Ricard UK, says wine isn’t necessarily lagging behind other drinks on innovation.

“Innovation within the wine category is flourishing with boundaries being blurred by an increasing amount of crossover products and new flavours,” she says.

“For example, Jacob’s Creek launched its Double Barrel Shiraz in 2014. After two years of trials, Jacob’s Creek winemakers found that maturing the wine in whiskey barrels brought added flavours to the wine. This was hugely innovative to wine industry. The product is doing well and currently up 27% in value and volume terms (Nielsen, year to September 8).

“Campo Viejo is an award-winning experimental winery that is used by the winemakers to trial new ways of blending and making wine.

“In 2016 Campo Viejo developed a unique take on Tempranillo by launching a white version. This variety comes from a natural genetic mutation of a red Tempranillo wine.”

The wine had a successful launch into the UK market, according to Ingram, with current sales up 20% in value terms.

Clearly there are segments within wine where innovation is making its mark. On page 66 we look more closely at three focus areas where we can expect to see more NPD in 2019.

Packaging and formats: the time has come for cans

Cans are now back in fashion in beer, but will consumers accept wine in cans?

Off-Piste launched its Most Wanted and Pinot Pinot canned wines in 2017, after research showed the success of the format in the US. It was the first company to gain national UK distribution for wine in cans, and coverage increased rapidly in 2018, according to the company.

New product development manager Rachel Archer says: “Feedback from consumers has shown that they embrace the convenience and versatility of wine in cans.

“Everyone wants products that suit their lifestyle, whether that is single-serve food and drink or more sustainable or reusable packaging.

“When talking to consumers, we have found very little snobbery around the idea of alternative formats and specifically wine in cans.

“There is undoubtedly some reluctance on the part of the industry to move away from traditional packaging but if the product tastes good, offers good value for money, is convenient and there is a consumer need for it then people will buy it.

“We have to be more open-minded and understand what the consumer wants.”

Pete English, senior brand manager at Treasury Wine Estates, points out that RTD spirit cans are in growth by 18%, presenting a clear opportunity for wine.

TWE launched 25cl cans of Blossom Hill Spritz in Elderflower & Lemon, Raspberry & Blackcurrant and Cherry flavours in aid to capitalise on this.

He says: “Smaller formats are great for occasions when consumers want to mix and match different wine styles, enjoy just one glass of wine during the week, or for those who want to try something new without the cost-risk of opening a whole bottle should they not like it. Cans also cater for the impulse shopper who wants to grab and go.”

Other packaging formats are also growing in popularity for wine.

Pernod Ricard UK says 18.7cl bottles are doing well for Campo Viejo and Brancott Estate and Broadland reports that Mini Vino has had good repeat purchase in a trial last year, leading to a launch in Sainsbury’s.

Label and pack design: Tech takes things on

An area that lends itself well to an injection of creativity in wine is the label itself, and a good example of NPD here comes from Treasury Wine Estates with its Living Wine Labels technology

The technology was first launched on its 19 Crimes brand, which tells the story of a specific list of 19 offences that existed in England in the 19th century and were punishable by transportation to Australia.

Each wine features a different criminal-turned-colonist, and by downloading TWE’s free Living Wine Labels app consumers can watch the characters come to life and tell their story.

Senior brand manager Pete English says: “We knew from research on millennials and Gen-X that wine choice is made from label, pack design or a quick mobile search. If we could capture the imagination and excitement of an adventurous drinker, we could be successful in compelling them to pick the bottle up and try the wine, and share it with their social group.

“The growth of augmented reality and virtual reality presented an interesting opportunity to connect with millennial-minded, mobile-first shoppers through immersive experiences.

“The popularity of 19 Crimes has gone from strength to strength and the brand now has a major presence across convenience, and listings in four of the five major grocery retailers. According to Nielsen, value sales grew by 221% in the third quarter of year one. The feedback on the technology has been exceptional and we have had more than 3 million downloads globally.”

TWE has now rolled out augmented reality technology across several of its brands in the UK, including Wolf Blass Yellow Label, Lindeman’s Bins and Lindeman’s Gentleman’s Collection.

Retailers have also been increasing their focus on innovation in wine. The Co-op has been looking closely at its own-label, in terms of both the wines themselves and their presentation.

Wine buyer Joe Turner says its Irresistible Chilean Carmenere is a case in point.

“I was really keen to champion Carmenere and I’ve been searching for a wine worthy of our Irresistible label for two years,” he says.

“My priority was to bring a wine of excellent quality so I held out for the 2017 vintage, which I knew was a good harvest for producing jammy, fruity reds.

“The label is very much centred around what Chile means to me: natural influences and wildlife, togetherness, fun, family and music.

“There are subtle call-outs in the label such as the foil triangles representing the Andes mountain range, the condor features [the national bird of Chile], the Hand of the Desert [a sculpture in the Atacama desert], the Pacific ocean in the background, a newspaper article from a publication on Chilean agriculture and the red, white and blue text to represent the colours of the Chilean flag. I love it because you see something new every time you look at it.”

Dietary trends: Vegan and low-alcohol to make more of a mark

Broadland Wineries introduced its Proudly Vegan wine brand last year to tap into the growing number of consumers seeking such products.

The clear labelling and the fact the product is 100% vegan – right down to the ink and glue on the labels – has been a big hit so far, according to the producer.

Marketing director Liz Cubbold says: “For 2019 we are bringing new products to the range including Prosecco, as the vegan consumer base continues to grow rapidly.”

Winemakers are increasingly veering away from using fining agents derived from milk, egg whites, or animal or fish proteins, instead opting for clay or charcoal-based alternatives to remove heavy tannins.

Retailers are also embracing this trend, with Majestic Wine making moves to add vegan and vegetarian symbols to the information for wines on its website, while Oddbins kicked off its January newsletter with a raft of recommended vegan wines.

Retailers are also increasing their line up of low-alcohol drinks, to tap into another big consumer trend. Examples in wine include the Sparkling Tea collection, introduced last year by Fortnum & Mason.

The drinks use a white wine base for the alcohol-free variants, to create a “completely unique tipple, with a depth akin to a sparkling wine”.

Also last year Aldi hit the headlines with its two non-alcoholic sparkling wine alternatives, to follow in the success of its low-calorie Featherweight collection.

Its Zero Point Zero Brut sparkling white bottles are also low-calorie and have no alcohol, retailing at £2.49.