Wines packaged in boxes flew off the shelves in 2020 as consumers switched their buying habits for more convenient, sustainable and bulk-buy options.
Bag-in-box wines are perfect for those looking to shop less often, while new premium additions in the format have attracted interest from consumers looking to trade up to recreate a “restaurant quality” experience at home.
However, while these are positive signs that consumers are embracing new packaging formats for wine, this is still a very small segment of the market. Are we set to see more interest in bag-in-box and other formats for wine, such as cans and recycled plastic bottles? Will sustainability and convenience continue to drive acceptance of these products? Or was this increased demand just an anomaly in an unprecedented year?
Pierpaolo Petrassi MW, head of drinks at Waitrose, believes the growing interest in new packaging is here to stay and demand will increase.
He says: “Consumer awareness of the ethical credentials and sheer convenience of alternative formats has never been more prevalent.”
Petrassi says Waitrose is seeing more customers embracing different types of packaging, and in response introduced the country’s first “wine in tube” concept in 2020.
Looking to other countries it’s clear there is potential for more growth in the UK. At present bag-in-box is between 2% and 5% of the wine market, whereas in Scandinavia it is in excess of 60% of total wine sales, although this is dominated by monopolies which determine the formats. In France, where sales are not driven by wine monopolies, bag-in-box wines now reportedly comprise 40% of the supermarket sector.
Rob Malin, chief executive of the When in Rome boxed wine company, says he saw a huge surge in UK demand last year, which was “way ahead” of the general surge in home drinking caused by restrictions on hospitality.
He says: “Bag-in-box is so perfect for home drinking. A great example is Ocado, whose BWS has grown by 40% year on year, while sales of alternative wine formats have grown 54%.
“It follows that, in an age of increased environmental awareness and reduced incomes, there is huge potential for growth still in the UK.”
The original inspiration for When in Rome as a brand came from Italy, where many Italians buy good quality wine direct from producers in reusable containers.
Malin says: “The carbon footprint of bag-in-box compared with single-use glass bottles is around 10 times smaller, and both cans and our new eco flat bottle also have an environmental impact way below single-use glass.
“Our premise from the start has been that high-quality everyday drinking wines should be enjoyed in different ways from different formats better suited to each occasion, whether that’s moderate home drinking, parties, picnics or train journeys.
“Sales have been strong, especially of late thanks to the pandemic and the endorsement of respected names in the wine industry such as Phillip Schofield and The Wine Show, but it’s undoubtedly been a slow and expensive journey to change consumer perception.”
Another producer with plans to revitalise and premiumise bag-in-box is Laylo, whose first wines hit the market last November.
Sales and feedback have been so good that the two founders have been able to make Laylo their full-time jobs. A round of seed funding is due to close soon and a new wine will launch in the spring.
Laura Riches, co-founder, says: “For us, boxed wine represented a smarter way to drink. It stays fresh for six weeks from opening, so is perfect if (like us) you enjoy the odd glass. But it undoubtedly has an image problem, with consumers associating the format with cheap plonk from student days or the Aussie goon bags.
“With Laylo we have set out to change that, by putting premium wines from independent winemakers into boxes they’d be proud to have on their countertop. Our first wine launched on November 4 with a limited-edition run. Within two weeks we needed to place a second order to ensure we could continue to trade through to Christmas. It’s fair to say sales have exceeded our expectations.”
Riches says to date the customers that have been buying Laylo are not wine aficionados actively seeking alternative wines and formats, but mainstream drinkers looking for an alternative to glass that better suits their lifestyles.
She adds: “With the increase of in-home restaurant dining experiences driven by lockdown, consumers now expect to be able to enjoy their favourite treats midweek. This includes a glass of wine without having to open a bottle.”
Another premium newcomer is Bowl Grabber, which recently brought its wine to market in bag-in-box and bottles, because it believes alternative formats “won’t – and shouldn’t – replace a bottle”.
Barry Dick MW, co-founder, says: “It’s about freedom of choice. The original idea my business partner had for Bowl Grabber came when looking at a very nice bag-in-box from St John with naïve eyes and asking why all designs were so basic. Nothing stood out. Our idea was to celebrate the canvas of a bag-in-box more like a magazine cover, something you would be proud to have on display in your home or have out when you had friends and family over.
“This category hasn’t really presented itself too well in the past in the UK. It has almost been embarrassed of itself.”
Dick notes that lockdown not only forced people to drink at home but changed the frequency with which they were drinking throughout the week.
Others have also reported “significant” sales of bag-in-box for 2020.
Kingsland Drinks saw a spike in sales for its variants, and believes some of the consumers who were new to this format will now remain in the category, while others are still discovering the benefits.
Jo Taylorson, head of marketing and product management, says: “Many consumers have moved back to the big weekly or two-weekly shop rather than topping up as they go, to reduce the amount of time they spend in stores. Bag-in-box offers excellent value for money, convenience and a fresh glass of wine on each pour for up to six weeks.”
Rosé wine specialist Mirabeau extended into cans in 2019 and in November 2020 it launched a bag-in-box format.
Stephen Cronk, co-founder, says: “Today’s lifestyle demands products that are portable while remaining beautiful and solid in terms of quality and provenance.
“Our Mirabeau Belle Année is a good example of this trend and carries the advantage of being easier to transport and the perfect size to fit in your fridge door as a 2.25-litre bag-in-box, compared to some of the more traditional versions found on the continent.
“Its design is also quite fun and playful, with a pop art feel.
“With more premium wines being made available in these formats, there is an increasing curiosity and acceptance by consumers. The convenient packaging, freedom of consumption and now premium offering make it a desirable choice for consumers to have in the fridge for a chilled supply – perfect for that single glass or a dinner party or for that rosé-on-the-go moment.”
Cronk says the environmental credentials of bag-in-box, and also cans, was one of the appeals for Mirabeau.
“Both are lighter to transport with a lower carbon footprint and are protecting rosé from light damage. They also offer a more approachable price point for consumers looking to enjoy quality wines from the best rosé regions of France, as well as bringing a more youthful look and feel.
“The best thing the retailers can do is help the consumer understand that premium level quality is now available in these practical alternative formats, as well as emphasising their environmental credentials.”
The sustainable nature of both bag-inbox and cans as formats for packaging wine is also helping to draw in new, younger consumers, as Ben Blake, head of marketing at Treasury Wine Estates (TWE), notes.
He says: “Insight shows that, over the past two years, the bag-in-box category has recruited 40% more shoppers than it has lost, with new shoppers being much younger than those who have left. They are the key to unlocking the potential of this format and changing historic perceptions of bag-in-box.
“Interestingly, however, while sales in traditional 3-litre bag-in-box are in decline, it is in 1.5-litre bag-in-box that we are seeing triple-digit growth.”
Simon Cairns, head of drinks at the Co-op, says the retailer is also looking at the 1.5-litre format.
He says: “We definitely have to consider that this looks like a trend that is here to stay.
“But I also have to consider whether we can find the space on our shelves, and therefore I would question whether the 3-litre format is the right bag-in-box size for a convenience store, or if we can perhaps look at a slightly smaller unit like the 1.5-litre, which could be a better option for us.
“But certainly, I think the need is there and it is here to stay.”
TWE introduced the 1.5-litre bag-inbox for its 19 Crimes brand last year, and Blake says early signs are promising, with full listings in Tesco and Morrisons.
He recommends retailers promote this format around sharing occasions, saying it is “perfect” for such times and adding: “Obviously, when we move into a post-Covid environment, this will become an even bigger opportunity. Our bag-in-box format also speaks to consumers who are making more conscious consumption choices – the new format is more environmentally friendly than transporting glass bottles.”
Another format that is also helping to attract younger, more environmentally-focused consumers into wine is the flat PET wine bottle.
Norbert Jozsa, head of category & insight for Europe at Accolade Wines, says: “We know that 62% of customers say they want to buy from sustainable brands and 37% of global consumers are influenced by ethical credentials when purchasing alcohol.
“Younger consumers are overall more aware and concerned for the future of the planet. Therefore, Banrock Station’s move to using flat wine bottles is a big step in Accolade Wine’s environmental journey as we manage our business in a responsible manner from vineyard to the consumer.”
Accolade partnered with Garçon Wines to create the bottles and Banrock Station’s Merlot and Chardonnay were launched last October, initially in Co-op stores. The bottles, which are made from 100% recycled PET, require 75% less energy to produce and emit 79% less CO2 than a virgin PET bottle. They are also 87% lighter than the average glass bottle. Eleanor Brooker, marketing manager for Garçon Wines, says new packaging formats are the best way to respond to evolving consumer behaviours.
She says: “As an example, in the UK, the first lockdown resulted in a staggering increase in demand for our Letterbox Wine, which offers seamless, contactless delivery of wine bottles into the home.
“At a time when consumers were looking to access and enjoy wine from home or send as a gift to a loved one, the key priority was ensuring minimal contact with the outside world, so our packaging offered the ideal solution.
“The spike in alternative formats this year has been driven by lockdown and occasions that revolve around enjoying wine from the comfort of one’s own home, but that’s not to say that new habits and preferences won’t stick.”
Amelia Dales, the company’s commercial director, says volume sales in 2020 were 22 times higher than in 2019, which was double the volume of its launch year in 2018. She says: “We are scaling rapidly and are highly motivated by this as the more our bottles are accessible to consumers, the more our planet and industry benefits from sustainable wine packaging.” Among a number of new wine brands launched in alternative formats last year is Copper Crew, which is focused on sourcing and blending South African wines specifically to be canned.
Oli Purnell, co-founder, says: “For us, cans over bottles was an obvious choice. All of us are under 25 so, rather than being an option, sustainability was a necessity.
“The 100% recyclability of cans, their lighter weight and increased shipping efficiency meant from a sustainability point of view they were an easy choice.
“We also wanted to create a wine brand which was fun and approachable, but serious about quality, and we felt that cans were a good match, especially considering the success of canned cocktails and hard seltzers.”
Purnell notes that the moderation element, the fact that consumers are “simply limited to 25cl”, has resonated with customers looking to reduce but not eliminate their wine consumption.
Sipful Drinks also entered the market last summer. The cocktail and wine brand focused on authenticity and balance of flavour, using only natural ingredients, and all packaged in a can. Co-founder Darius Darwell says: “Using cans as our packaging method was always the right choice for us. I’m excited to see how we can continue to innovate this packaging format to make it even more sustainable, while retaining such a high-quality product and convenience for the consumer.”
The first wine in the portfolio is an organic Spanish sparkling wine, which is also used to create canned cocktails in the range – Classic Mimosa, Blood Orange Mimosa and Peach Bellini.
The UK’s canned wine market is estimated to be worth more than £3.6 million, having increased 125% in the year to August 2019.