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Make Closures Consumer-Friendly

August 2012
by Jim Gordon
Regular readers of Wines & Vines will recognize headlines like this: Natural Cork TCA Incidence Drops; Synthetic Corks Most Consistent in Oxygen Transfer; Does Glass Make the Ultimate Closure?; Screwcaps Claim Low Carbon Footprint, etc.

However, most of the heated debate about closures and other parts of the wine package dodges a very simple and very important question: What does the consumer want? Or, to put a finer point on it: What would the consumer like if it was placed in front of her? I think that too few wineries are asking this question.

As someone who interacts daily with wine bottles as a consumer, I can easily find inspiration for this topic. One example came from a consumer-friendly bottle of Chardonnay waiting for me in the fridge after work one hot evening in July.

The convenience scenario
When I came home from the office, I wanted a glass of wine and looked in the refrigerator to see if anything was chilled. As luck would have it, my wife had bought several bottles of Kunde Estate Chardonnay, and there was one of them, nice and cold.

I reached for it and realized that it had a screwcap. A feeling of happiness and almost relief came over me. Seriously. I was not going to find the capsule cutter and the corkscrew. All I would have to do is:

• Unscrew the cap

• Pour

It hit me that I welcomed the ease of this packaging. I still appreciate the pop of a cork, but I really just want to get to the enjoyment part of the wine. What other measures of convenience would we consumers appreciate?

Not alone anymore
If editors of wine industry magazines are the only ones with this view, then it’s no big deal. But look at how much wine consumption has changed. Two generations of Americans have now grown up with wine. More and more people choose it over beer as their go-to beverage. When the recession hit, consumption increased even more, and during the past year off-premise sales of domestic table wine have gone up 7%.

I am not alone anymore. The wine industry wanted loyal, weekly and daily wine drinkers in North America, and now it has them in the tens of millions. But so many wine marketers still act as if the packaging is stuck in time, that every bottle must appeal to Victorian tastes.

Regular wine drinkers already love wine. They know they’re going to drink it. They want convenience from the package, and they get the romance from the wine itself.

Too few people realize that quality wine doesn’t have to be hard to open. It doesn’t have to be too tall to stand on a refrigerator shelf or too easily breakable to take to an outdoor concert, because they’ve never experienced other packaging options.

Coca-Cola’s example
One speaker at the Wine Industry Technology Symposium in July had a good view about pleasing the customer. Jeff Tinker, a senior vice president for Wells Fargo, said the bank has been emulating an approach long used by Coca-Cola to understand its customers’ interactions with their products. “You follow the product home to see what the consumer does with it.”

Tinker gave the example of Coke looking at how people used their 12-packs at home. The company discovered that it was difficult for customers to fit the pack in the refrigerator, and even more difficult to pull out a can if they did fit it in. Coke redesigned the 12-pack to be slimmer and with a different opening so that it didn’t have to be dismantled for consumers to grab a can. Wells Fargo has applied the same approach, Tinker said. “When we’re building something today, there’s not a right way for the customer to use it.”

Give them options
I think the path is wide open for more wineries to discover how consumers prefer to interact with their products. I suspect they will welcome lighter packages that are easier to open and easier to store. The closure doesn’t have to be a screwcap; it could be something made out of natural cork that’s easy to pull, or a Zork or a glass stopper, or something else that hasn’t been invented yet. Container options such as 187ml plastic bottles, foil pouches, cartons, ceramic bottles and even cans are winning consumer acceptance.

It’s just smart for wineries to offer alternate package designs and see what consumers go for. Wine drinkers will recognize a good thing when they try it, but only if you give them the opportunity.

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