Monday, 26 February 2024

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An Exploration of Wine Packaging

In the village of Jiahu in Henan province, a group of archaeologists uncovered the earliest chemically confirmed evidence of human alcoholic consumption. Pottery jars, dating back as far as 7000 BCE, revealed evidence of early alcoholic production and consumption. Examining the liquid remains in these jars, researchers concluded that wine had been stored in some of them (McGovern et al.).

 

Wine is a fermented drink made from grape juice. Used in celebrations, ceremonies, and feasts, wine has served significant social and cultural functions across multiple millennia and geographies. The practice of producing and consuming wine continues to this day. In 2021, 1.1 billion gallons of wine were consumed in the United States alone, according to the Wine Institute ("US Wine Consumption"). From the pottery jars discovered in Henan province to boxed wine found in modern supermarkets, the way wine is stored, transported, and packaged has evolved tremendously. Progress in scientific understanding and technological advancements has changed the landscape of wine production and consumption today. This landscape is as intricate and meticulously crafted as the wine itself. We will explore the wine packaging landscape from the barrels used to the final package lining the supermarket wall.

Between fermentation and bottling, barreling wine is a key process in the development of complex flavors. The barrel aging process may last between 6 and 30 months (Wine Barrel 101: An Introduction to Barrel Aging Wines). Different barrel materials express wines in subtle ways and must be chosen carefully. For instance, wood is a porous material that admits bitter tannins and oxygen, which, when controlled, can deepen a wine's complexity. For this reason, red wines and Chardonnay are typically aged in oak barrels. On the other hand, unlike wood, stainless steel does not impart bitter tannins and seals off the wine from oxygen. White wines aged in stainless steel barrels have a crisp, light, and fresh quality, highlighting the fruity aromas. Alternatively, white wines may find themselves in concrete barrels, which are porous but do not impart characteristic oak flavors. Instead, concrete barrels impart an earthy quality into the mix. Clay barrels, which were used in ancient wine making, are infrequently used today. Clay, like wood and concrete, is porous and is used for both white and red wines. Wines aged in clay have a silky texture and a more pronounced fruity taste.

Getting the produced wine to a global audience requires sophisticated transportation. Historically, wine was stored in jars and barrels, then loaded onto ships and trains for transportation. Today, more advanced containers carry wine in bulk. One such container is the Flexitank, a 24,000-liter bag that can fit inside a standard shipping container (Liquid Logistics: The Fine Art of Wine Transport). Lined with an aluminum barrier and three layers of polyethylene, the Flexitank eliminates cross-contamination and prevents oxygen from leeching into the wine, maintaining its quality during transportation (Why You Should Use Flexitanks to Transport Bulk Wine). In contrast to transporting bottled wine, the lighter Flexitank minimizes wasted space in the shipping container and has no risk of shattering, making it more environmentally friendly. Once shipped, the wine is drained from the Flexitank at the destination, where it is bottled.

Bottling serves the purpose of maintaining and preserving the wine. How the bottle is sterilized, colored, and stored is carefully considered. Before being filled with wine, the glass bottles are sterilized and flushed with CO2. Wine rapidly fills the bottle. These measures reduce the amount of oxygen the wine can interact with (Aging and Bottling). Even the color of the bottle impacts the wine's quality. As wine is exposed to light, chemicals inside the wine react to the light, altering the wine's aroma profile and resulting in what is called light-struck wine (Carlin et al.). The tradeoff between a more aesthetic clear bottle and a lower quality sensory experience must not be taken lightly.

The bottle is the interface through which consumers interact with and experience wine. Part of this experience is opening the bottle. Two styles of wine closures have gained prominence: the cork and the cap. The wooden cork had been the primary method for sealing the bottle's opening. The porous wood allows a small amount of oxygen to enter and mingle with the wine, adding complexity for some wines. But as wooden corks age, trichloroanisole, a musty-smelling chemical, can form (Parr). Caps, made from plastic or aluminum, form an airtight seal, and do not generate unpalatable aromas, helping to preserve the wine longer than wooden corks. The airtight seal complements wines drunk young, which do not need oxygen to develop their taste. In the minds of some consumers, wines with caps are perceived as lower quality or less premium than those with corks (Parr). This perception is unfounded, according to experts, but the ability to signal higher quality through the wine's closure can be a relevant factor from a marketing perspective.

In the wine packaging landscape, bottles are not the only option. Alternative forms include boxes, cartons, and cans. Boxed wines come in cardboard boxes enclosing a plastic bladder with a plastic tap attached. Sustainability is the primary advantage boxed wine has over bottled wine. Boxes are less intensive to produce, easier to transport, and better able to maintain freshness (Doman). These advantages enable wine producers to attach a lower price tag than bottled wine. The better value and more robust form factor have made boxed wine popular at large events where many people must be served (Ngo). Adjacent to boxed wine are cartoned and canned wine, which share many of the same advantages of boxed wine. Tetrapak is one such company offering carton packaging. Cartons and cans offer compact, single-serving-sized wine that is appealing to consumers who are on-the-go and seeking to control their consumption ("The Role of Beverage Cans in the Winery Industry"). However, associations with better value play into consumers' stigma against these alternative packages (Ngo). Wine producers must consider their balance of sustainability and value with consumer perception of quality when evaluating different wine packaging.

The shelves of supermarkets and wine stores are lined with a motley of different wine packages. But this is not the only way customers see wine packaging. This distribution model is challenged by the growing trend of shipping wine directly to consumers. In the first two months of 2020, Naked Wines, an online wine retailer, saw over 80% year-over-year revenue growth (Barth). Small wine producers benefit from this trending distribution model. Protecting the wine and establishing positive customer relations through packaging are on the minds of wine producers. Cardboard inserts of various designs cushion delicate wine bottles from shocks and provide blank canvases for branding opportunities (Wine Packaging). Gift boxes and bold showcases can cement positive impressions. Packaging is also an opportunity to express the brand's commitment to sustainability through labeling and the choice of packaging material.

How consumers perceive a wine through its packaging must be taken seriously. Perception and presentation cannot be dismissed in the world of wine. Studies have shown that sensory experiences leading up to the drink (Franz and Intagliata), preconceived judgments of value (Eplett), and even background light illumination (Franz and Intagliata) affect consumers' evaluation of the wine, despite these factors bearing little to no relationship with the actual wine taste. How wine is bottled, labeled, and designed significantly impacts perceptions of value (Chamorro et al.). By one estimation, almost 45% of consumers' preferences are formed from these factors. Label design also influences the perceived taste of the wine and how consumers envision themselves drinking the wine (Uncorking Consumer Perception of Wine Label Design). Wine is no exception. Branding matters and memorable packaging connects consumers to the product, influencing how they judge the final product.

The packaging landscape for wine is as complex and nuanced as the wine itself. Packaging decisions made throughout the entire wine-making process affect the final taste, a company's environmental impact, and consumer perceptions. Trade-offs between these often-conflicting objectives must be carefully weighed. The ability for wine producers to juggle these decisions is worthy of a toast.

References

Aging and Bottling. https://www.britannica.com/topic/wine/Aging-and-bottling. Accessed 6 Oct. 2022.

Barth, Jill. “A Year Into The Pandemic, The Wine Delivery Landscape Continues To Evolve.” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jillbarth/2021/02/27/a-year-into-the-pandemic-the-wine-delivery-landscape-continues-to-evolve/. Accessed 6 Oct. 2022.

Carlin, Silvia, et al. “Flint Glass Bottles Cause White Wine Aroma Identity Degradation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 119, no. 29, July 2022, p. e2121940119, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2121940119.

Chamorro, Antonio, et al. “Study on the Importance of Wine Bottle Design on Consumer Choices.” British Food Journal, vol. 123, no. 2, Jan. 2020, pp. 577–93, https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-03-2020-0244.

Doman, Erin. “Boxed Wine vs. Bottled Wine.” WineCoolerDirect.Com, 21 Oct. 2015, https://learn.winecoolerdirect.com/boxed-wine-vs-bottled-wine/.

Eplett, Layla. “Grape Expectations: Price, Presentation and Perception of Wine.” Scientific American Blog Network, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/food-matters/grape-expectations-price-presentation-and-perception-of-wine/. Accessed 6 Oct. 2022.

Franz, Julia, and Christopher Intagliata. “How Does a Wine’s Color Affect What We Think of Its Flavor?” The World from PRX, 24 Sept. 2016, https://theworld.org/stories/2016-09-24/how-does-wines-color-affect-what-we-think-its-flavor.

Liquid Logistics: The Fine Art of Wine Transport. Mar. 2022, https://www.dhl.com/global-en/delivered/globalization/the-art-of-wine-transportation.html.

McGovern, Patrick E., et al. “Fermented Beverages of Pre- and Proto-Historic China.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 101, no. 51, Dec. 2004, pp. 17593–98, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0407921102.

Ngo, Hope. “The Untold Truth Of Boxed Wine - Mashed.” Mashed, 4 Jan. 2021, https://www.mashed.com/306620/the-untold-truth-of-boxed-wine/.

Parr, Devin. “Corks vs. Screw Caps: Your Complete Guide to Wine Closures.” Wine Country, 12 July 2021, https://www.winecountry.com/blog/cork-vs-screw-top-wine/.

“The Role of Beverage Cans in the Winery Industry.” Wine Industry Advisor, 20 Aug. 2021, https://wineindustryadvisor.com/2021/08/20/beverage-cans-winery-industry.

Uncorking Consumer Perception of Wine Label Design. 27 Jan. 2021, https://www.irondesign.com/2021/01/27/uncorking-consumer-perception-of-wine-label-design/.

“US Wine Consumption.” Wine Institute, https://wineinstitute.org/our-industry/statistics/us-wine-consumption/. Accessed 6 Oct. 2022.

Why You Should Use Flexitanks to Transport Bulk Wine. 25 Aug. 2020, https://siaflexitanks.com/news/flexitanks-for-bulk-wine-transport.

Wine Barrel 101: An Introduction To Barrel Aging Wines. 10 Jan. 2020, https://cgtwines.com/wine-barrel-101-an-introduction-to-barrel-aging-wines/.

Wine Packaging: 10 Innovative Ways To Ship Your Wine Products. https://www.smurfitkappa.com/newsroom/blog/wine-packaging-10-innovative-ways-to-ship-your-wine-products. Accessed 6 Oct. 2022.

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