It’s no secret that both retail buyers and consumers are paying closer attention to sustainability.

At Waitrose, initiatives to list more sustainable lines include moving small format wines into cans and removing neck foil from its Loved & Found wine bottles.

During a talk at this week’s Wine Paris event, called How Waitrose is making its wine portfolio more sustainable, Barry Dick MW, the supermarket’s BWS sourcing and sustainability trading manager, joined consultant Clem Yates MW who also makes and sources wines for the UK.

The main thrust of the talk concludes that the wine industry must continue to adopt sustainable practices, such as exploring bulk, alt formats and reducing single-use plastic, to reduce its carbon footprint and meet consumer demands.

The speakers emphasise the importance of experimentation and innovation, as well as understanding consumer perspectives. While there are some concerns about the economic viability of sustainable practices, the speakers agree that sustainability should be exciting and innovative, rather than a burden, and that the industry must work together towards a more environmentally friendly and responsible future.

Dick says Waitrose customers are “really interested in the ethics and sustainability of what we do as a business and the products that we sell”.

He highlights the supermarket’s Loved & Found project, which he says was borne out of a strategy to reduce carbon footprint and use more sustainable materials. The 12-strong range is largely free of neck capsules, and Dick says the range also champions cork as a “positive material for the sustainability credentials”.

“We’re possibly challenging capsule makers to think about the materials they use. We are quite happy to put pressure on and nudge the industry as well as present a slightly different offer to our customers.”

 Yates follows on by saying that profound changes are necessary for the industry to become more sustainable.

“One of the dangers in the BWS category is that we’re quite slow to recognise some of the issues that we have,” she says. “We rely on agriculture for our industry and climate change – and the temperature change – people are seeing that in the vineyards and in the wines. So, if we don’t make changes to the end product, we are going to be really struggling to grow grapes in the future. It’s as simple as that.”

She adds that in order to make changes, the industry has to make decisions in terms of what is the most sustainable packaging to offer consumers and “almost feed the market”.

Dick adds that Waitrose champions bulk shipping to reduce carbon emissions. Though he notes that for some producers, shipping in bulk isn’t a viable option – and there are also geographical limitations.

“We need to have, say, a couple of containers per annum of volume – so that’s 50,000 litres per brand. And some of the studies have shown that the carbon footprint really only starts making sense at the outermost reaches of Europe, into the UK. So, you’re really looking at what we call the deep-sea producers of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, California, that make a lot of sense from a carbon footprint point of view.”

Yates also talks about the total holistic picture of sustainability, taking into account human sustainability and the potential loss of jobs in bottling halls or overall employment in often rural locations.

As part of this holistic lens, she cautions that sustainability is a complex message, especially as many consumers don’t necessarily think of wine as being an unsustainable product.

“It has a very natural look and feel, everyone has the perfect idea of a vineyard,” she says. “We have to be careful not to damage that joy and love for the wine category, but we need brand owners and retailers to get on board when it comes to using more sustainable methods to get wine on the shelf.”

The pair discuss reusable bottles and while there are practical implications, Dick says that if there was the right infrastructure, he’d look at the concept.

Looking forward, the pair consider whether traditional appellations, where bottling must take place within the region, would get left behind.

“This is happening – the Systembolaget in Sweden put pressure on certain regions to say that they want to sell the wine but in bag-in-box, for example.

“Those traditional regions are going to have to face the same challenges that we’re all facing. There will be some that drag their feet – they’ve got big heavy bottles and will just move slower. My attitude is that we’ve got to take a leadership position – we’ve got to crack on and work with regions who want to get on and push in the right direction and those more traditional ones will just get left behind.

“This is going to become a huge part of our buying decisions.”

Yates adds – and Dick concurs – that it’s important to still have choice and differentiation on shelf.

“I don’t think jumping straight into bag-in-box and having everything in 390g bottles is going to turn the consumer on at all – and we’re going to put people off category,” says Yates. “I think there’s an extra challenge and how you become more sustainable but still keep that differentiation.”