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May 2009 Issue of Wines & Vines
 
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How Light Can You Get?

Economy dictates that bottles decrease in weight and price

 
by Suzanne Gannon
 
 
Saint Gobain Bottles
 
Saint-Gobain in April began producing its Eco Series, which looks like a traditional glass bottle lineup but uses 15% less raw materials and is of lighter weight--potentially saving shipping costs.
 
    HIGHLIGHTS
     

     
  • New technology is making lighter-weight bottles a more attractive option for wineries that are both cost-conscious and environmentally aware.
     
  • Reduced-weight bottles cut manufacturing and winery carbon footprints, transportation expenses, and they are easier on those who lift wine cases.
     
  • Super-premium wines will likely retain their classic heavy bottles and deep punts; mass-market brands are already switching to newer models.
     

In response to a collective clamor from wineries for more competitively priced bottles with greater environmental sensitivity, several glass manufacturers are "light-weighting" -- introducing bottles that weigh (and cost) less, without sacrificing style.

"Light-weighting is basically a technology innovation in glass redistribution across the manufacturing process," said Joe Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute, the trade association for glass container manufacturers in North America. "Now you can lighten up the glass, but maintain the strength by reducing the wall thickness and removing the punt."

Cattaneo believes that light-weighting really began to gain traction four or five years ago in Europe, but he said the current economy has been the tipping point, adding that reducing glass usage by 14% to 16% can lead to cost savings of as much as 10%.

Environmental benefits

At the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Calif., in January, Saint-Gobain Containers headlined with its new Eco Series, which began rolling off the production line in April.

"We have designed a container that has the same attributes and shelf presence, but we use 15% less of the raw materials," said Bob Parise, vice president of sales and marketing for the Muncie, Ind.-based manufacturer. Parise explained that fewer raw materials equates to cost savings across the entire production and distribution chain. "These bottles will use a whole lot less energy for transport, but give the same appearance."

Produced through corporate initiatives internally identified as Vision4GlassSM (in which Saint-Gobain works with customers from conceptual drawing through production) and Vision2SustainSM (the company's commitment to sustainability in best practices), the collection includes three new products, using 15% less raw material--sand and soda ash--and a greater proportion of recycled glass known as cullet, to arrive at the finished product.

Bordelaise
 
The Bordelaise Eden and Bourgogne Marquis models by Saverglass have a deceptively strong appearance for their light glass weight.

Revolution, a 750ml bottle weighing in at 10.5 ounces (and allegedly the lightest of its size in the world), is available in a claret silhouette in champagne-green and flint, and a Burgundy bottle in a color known as dead leaf. Neither has a punt, which is one of the most effective means of achieving less surface area and thus less weight in glass.

At 14 ounces, Evolution is available in both a 750ml claret (champagne-green and flint) and Burgundy (dead leaf only), and features a mid-sized punt, while the full-punted Inspiration bottle is available in the 750ml claret shape in three colors including champagne-green, antique-green and flint, and the Burgundy in dead leaf. It weighs 16.5 ounces.

The environmental benefits of a switch to bottles like those in the EcoSeries can be seen in the calculations made by Hopland, Calif.-based Fetzer Vineyards, which since September of last year has been packaging all 23 million bottles of its Fetzer Valley Oaks brand in a lightweight bottle manufactured by Owens-Illinois Inc. of Perrysburg, Ohio.

The new bottles (17 ounces on average for the new, compared to 20 ounces on average for the old), are roughly 14% lighter, and collectively the line has reduced its glass usage by 2,100 tons.

Consequently, the carbon emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting wine have been reduced by roughly 14%, or 2,985 tons. The winery equates the emissions reduction to the planting of 70,000 trees and growing them for 10 years.

"We didn't even think about the social implications of this decision," said Ann Thrupp, Fetzer's manager of sustainability. "But another great benefit for everybody is that the lighter boxes really make a difference for everyone who's lifting them: salespeople, distributors, retailers."

As a result of this and other sustainability initiatives the winery has pursued since the 1980s, Fetzer Vineyards, which produces 3.5 million cases annually, was awarded its second Governor's Award for Environmental & Economic Leadership in late November.

"We've pulled off a triple achievement on our bottom line: economic, environmental and social," said Thrupp, who added that the winery pondered the move for nearly a year before making the decision. Fetzer did not have to make any significant modifications to its bottling line, although it did have to purchase new molds.

Manufacturing innovations

Owens-Illinois Inc. is betting big on success stories such as Fetzer's. In early March, the company unveiled the O-I Ideation Center, a customer-friendly creativity hub where O-I engineers, designers, research and development teams, and marketers collaborate with customers to achieve "breakthroughs in glass packaging."

The new 2,500-square-foot facility at the Perrysburg headquarters consists of several display kiosks that showcase new innovations through glass prototypes, photo-realistic imaging and samples from the company's other markets around the globe, as well as a conference center and lounge for brainstorming discussions and focus groups.

"We're lifting up the toga a little bit and highlighting innovations we have in the pipeline," said Mike Lonsway, O-I's director of product development in North America. "We are attempting to be more proactive, to bring innovations to the customer, rather than letting them bring us the ideas; taking advantage of our global footprint and leveraging our knowledge around the world."

The company, which operates 19 plants around the country, has marketed a 10.5-ounce wine bottle elsewhere in the world for roughly 10 years.

Luxury-light

Targeting the luxury sector, Demptos Glass has introduced a new bottle called Strada. "Strada is relatively heavy compared to the really lightweight bottles currently on the market, but because it's manufactured in Mexico, its cost is significantly lower than European imports," said David Schwandt, director of sales for the Napa-based distributor, a division of Saxco. Schwandt estimated the price differential at 30%, and underscored the additional savings that can be achieved as a result of shorter transportation distances.

Owens-Illinois
 
The new O-I Ideation Center at the Perrysburg headquarters of Owens-Illinois consists of kiosks that display the production process from glass prototypes to samples from other global markets.
 

"In early 2008, it became apparent that customers were interested in a package of this kind, and even more interested in reducing their carbon footprint," he said. Modeled on the Bordeaux silhouette, Strada originates from a proprietary mold owned by Demptos and features a deep punt. It takes a standard cork and is available in an antique dark brown.

Schwandt said he has already received substantial orders from wineries in Napa and Sonoma, but he declined to identify them because their purchases will require a conversion from other suppliers.

Not immune to the competition from North American manufacturers, Saverglass in June opened a new $90 million plant in Arques, France. With a capacity of 80,000 tons, it boosts the company's overall production capacity by 40% and features six production lines, with plans for a seventh in the offing.

Because it produces only flint-colored bottles, it frees up capacity in the company's other two facilities to produce "antique" glass year-round, according to sales and marketing manager Jyll Castangia. "The new plant allows us to offer very competitive pricing on large volume orders," Castangia said.

New this quarter are four new Bordeaux bottles--Grand Apparat, Vino Santo, Bordelaise Eden and Bordelaise Icon--and a Burgundy silhouette dubbed the Marquise. Both the Eden and the Marquise are lighter weight options that Castangia said makes them ecologically sound choices.

"Producing heavier glass takes longer and consumes more energy," she said. "But when these bottles are full of wine, they have the same look and feel as a heavyweight bottle."

She added that they cost approximately 20% less than their predecessors. Icon, meanwhile, is an in-between weight, and Gran Apparat and Vino Santo are heavier and geared toward super-premium reserve wines. All of the bottles have punts, and the ring on the finish is evident through a capsule.

While the ultra-premium wine segment may remain enamored of the heavyweight class of bottles, it seems higher volume producers, at least for now, are inclined to tune in and make a bet as the lighter-weights duke it out in the ring.

Sprayed-on color
 

 
Attuned to vintners who want to experiment with colored glass but also want a cost-conscious alternative, Kelman Glass in Glenshaw, Pa., has developed a proprietary technology that entails spraying a clear glass bottle in its entirety, punt and all, with an organic coating.

Kelman
 
Using an organic coating, Kelman Glass makes it possible for wineries to custom-choose the color of their bottles.
 
"We've created a one-stop shop," said owner Bill Kelman. "Flint, green and amber are fine, but if you wanted a black or a blue or a red wine bottle, you'd have a tough time getting it made at a decent price, because nobody is running a red tank."

He added, "The end-user cannot tell the bottle was sprayed. Our clients are thrilled. Unlike other spray applications, which can be damaged when bottles collide on the filling line, this one withstands the scratch of a knife. This is a way for wineries to differentiate and really make a bottle pop on the shelf--the value more than pays for itself," he said.

Kelman does not require a minimum order, and cost is contingent on volume. A single gross of bottles (144 pieces) would net out to between 40 cents and $1.25 per bottle for spraying, depending on bottle size. Custom colors require an additional investment of about $1,000 for mixing and set-up. Kelman said he is rapidly ramping up capacity to meet demand, and he expects prices to come down as he does.

S.G.


Based in New York, with a background in wine marketing,
Suzanne Gannon writes about travel, culture, food and wine. For the past four years, she has reported on a variety of topics for Wines & Vines. Reach her through edit@winesandvines.com.

 
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