November 2012 Issue of Wines & Vines

Perk Up Your Packaging

Cool new options for bottles, pouches, labels and design

by Jane Firstenfeld
Every year for our November issue, Wines & Vines asks wine industry suppliers to send brief updates about their newest products and services, which we organize by category (see page 55.) This year, we pored through dozens of early submissions in search of fresh ideas to help readers considering changes to their wine packaging. Whether you’re contemplating a complete redesign or hoping to improve your existing operation, we hope these innovations will feed your creative instincts.

For details and pricing, please contact the suppliers.

Short runs for custom bottles
Glass bottles still dominate wine packaging, but traditional needn’t mean stodgy—or even standard. Verallia USA has developed new technology at its Seattle, Wash.-based glass plant that economically customizes stock bottles in quantities as small as 1,500 cases.

Working with Verallia designers, FlexRun clients can alter bottles with customized embossments, varied shapes, finish options or unique punt designs. The FlexRun service, according to Verallia, is ideal for product launches or market tests, commemorative or limited edition bottles. Clients can choose from antique green, Champagne green, dead leaf green or flint-colored glass.

Katie Gerber, Verallia’s wine sector marketing manager, said the first bottle run came off the line in June. She explained that Verallia’s redesigned equipment means that changing bottle embellishments requires only two sections of iron for the mold vs. the traditional eight, reducing costs accordingly. Clients pay a premium to create the mold, but molds become their property, so the cost can be amortized over time and multiple runs. “The sections last for a long time,” Gerber said.

How would you adorn your bottle? “I think most wineries would want to add their brand name,” Gerber said. An AVA might add its name to a bottle, allowing member wineries to share the cost.

Once the design is approved, the customized bottles are quickly produced. “Believe it or not,” Gerber said, “it’s exactly the same as any custom bottle time: It actually takes less time.”

PET, please
It’s ironic that the wine industry in the United States remains reluctant to adopt packaging innovations until they become established in the Old World. Like screwcaps and bag-in-box, PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) wine bottles and single-serve packages took hold in the European market more quickly than they did here.

Amcor Rigid Plastics of Ann Arbor, Mich., which claims to be the largest supplier of U.S. beverage bottles, already dominates the soft drink market. Amcor hopes to take advantage of wine industry interest in lightweight bottles and recycling by bringing PET to the table as a legitimate packaging option.

PET bottles are about one-sixth the weight of glass, a fact that airlines already have embraced by opting for 187ml PET bottles for in-flight service. Napa’s Sutter Home Family Vineyards began using PET as a glass replacement for airline wines in 2005; as of 2011, the label switched its entire 187ml production to plastic, with projected sales of 2.2 million cases, according to Amcor sales manager Kerry Drewry.

Larger bottle sizes have not yet won notable market acceptance on this side of the pond. In the May 2008 issue of Wines & Vines, Peter Mitham reported: “Artisan Wine Co., a sister company to Mission Hill Family Estate winery of Westbank, B.C., is releasing two of its Painted Turtle wines—a Semillón-Chardonnay blend and a Cabernet-Shiraz blend in 750ml PET.” The experiment was short-lived: Within two years, the Painted Turtle bottle had reverted to glass.

In 2011, Air Transat, a major charter airline in Montreal, Canada, switched to 1-liter PET wine bottles for in-flight service, at one-eighth the weight of the previous glass containers. Vin Internationale LTEE of Laval, Quebec, fills claret-style bottles with its various internationally sourced brands including Costabella, Viejos Robles, Massaria and Bergerie du Loup, according to a news release from Drewry.

Practically speaking, PET packaging is really available only to major players: Bottles are ordered by the truckload, not the case, Drewry said. The good news is that bottling is relatively simple: “Plastic bottles accommodate easily onto existing glass bottling lines,” she explained. “No major change parts are needed, and you can use the same labels and labeling equipment.”

Sealed with aluminum screwcaps, PET bottles do require a change of springs on the capper. “You need less pressure. Some wineries are concerned about getting a secure fill, but because the finish on the PET is injection molded, it has better tolerance and doesn’t need as much pressure,” Drewry said. Because the bottles are lighter than glass, belt speeds must be adjusted, too.

Strict adherence
Some glass bottles are permanently etched or screen-printed (see “More Than a Label” in the October 2012 issue of Wines & Vines), but most still come clad in paper labels, as do all PET bottles. For some time, manufacturers have touted “scuff-resistant” and “waterproof” label stock. What exactly does this mean?

Labeltronix, an Anaheim, Calif.-based label printer, introduced two new stocks: Midnight Vellum and Arctic Shield, created to prevent potential deterioration of wine labels. Marketing manager Jill Sambol explained how they work.

Midnight Vellum, an uncoated, solid black matte-finished stock, achieves its scuff-resistance from behind: The self adhesive backing material is also black, so should friction fray the labels in transit or handling, flaws don’t mar the sophisticated look.

How do you print on all black stock? “Lots of layers of ink,” Sambol said. “First white, next red, and so forth.” Foil stamping and embossing are optional add-ins but, she said, in general the required lead-time is similar to any digital or flexo-printed label.

The winery’s label designer “must understand the process,” she stressed, and normal, flat images are cost effective for digital printing runs starting with a $500 minimum order.

For white and sparkling wines destined for service in ice buckets, waterproof labels are becoming de rigueur. Arctic Shield is a white, uncoated paper label stock in its first release. “We worked with our vendor” to develop the stock, testing labeled bottles in refrigerators and ice buckets. “We left bottles in buckets for as long as two days,” Sambol said. “When we took them out, they looked as good as new.”

Arctic Shield can be printed, foiled and embossed like any other stock, but it requires a little extra care during labeling to make sure it’s evenly and securely applied.

Like Midnight Vellum, Arctic Shield is more costly than standard label stocks, but Sambol pointed out that most wineries reserve it for their white and sparkling releases.

Getting in the boxing ring
Bag-in-box wines continue to gain respect within the industry and among consumers who like their convenience, economy and environmental advantages. But to date, they’ve remained the province of mass-marketed brands.

When Watermark Design of Charlottesville, Va., announced that it offers “wine box design,” we were intrigued. Even more so when we spoke with owner Darcey Ohlin Lacy and learned Watermark has, to date, designed exactly one wine box, for neighbor Virginia Wineworks.

According to Michael Shaps, co-owner with Philip Stafford, 20,000-case Virginia Wineworks is the state’s first and only winery to market a bag-in-box package, and it’s going gangbusters. “We were looking for ways to have Virginia wines compete with bigger brands in the value wine segment,” he said.

The current 4,000-liter vintage of boxed Chardonnay is already sold out at $36 per 3-liter box, and Shaps plans to double the volume this year of all his boxed wines (Viognier and Cabernet Franc), which remain available in bottles as well.

Sold at the tasting room and through a wholesaler, the boxed wines are especially popular in restaurants. Not only do they make by-the-glass programs less wasteful by preserving opened wine for as long as two months (as blazoned on the box), at least one restaurant sells the entire box to communal tables for a bargain $60.

So boxes aren’t out of line for smaller wineries. How did the Watermark designers handle the transition? Lacy described the design challenge: “The original design for the brand was very masculine and included two burly male winemakers tasting over a barrel. Statistically, women buy the majority of wine in the U.S., so this wasn’t appealing to the masses at the shelf.”

Wineworks’ distributor suggested a redesign to boost sales, and the winery tasked Watermark with creating a look that appealed to women without alienating men.

Eliminating the burly men but retaining the brand’s bold blacks, yellows and reds using an abstract pattern and sharp, sans serif fonts make it hard to miss on store shelves: less burly, not too girly.

“The box itself had its challenges,” Lacy recalled. “The design included tight registration, not as easy to print on cardboard.” In addition to addressing overprint issues on reorders, Wineworks made one major change, eliminating the vintage date to trim printing costs.

AstraPouch takes flight
When we first wrote about the AstraPouch package in our May 2010 issue, we deemed it “Too New to Be Trendy.” The concept of a compact, virtually indestructible envelope had earned acceptance in Europe, Australia and South Africa but was still unknown in North America.

Dave Moynihan, a former executive at Constellation Wines, thought North America was ripe for the bag-without-a-box and founded AstraPouch North America in Penfield, N.Y. His first client was Glenora Winery in Dundee, N.Y., and upstate New York remains a leading market, but the appetite is growing, notably in the outdoorsy Pacific Northwest.

The AstraPouch is fabricated from two layers of recyclable plastic with a one-way spigot to keep oxygen out. The standard 1.5-liter pouch measures 7 inches wide and 10 inches tall; the flat, stand-up bottom is about 2 inches wide. It chills quickly and contracts to eliminate excess oxygen. It’s the only wine package that can be hung like potato chips from a display rack, making it ideal for checkout line impulse purchases.

Moynihan is now expanding his line to include a 3-liter “party pouch,” the AstraPouch-ImpaQ. This summer, 200,000-case Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards of Hector, N.Y., ordered the 3-liter size for its Red Cat brand, then reordered twice within 12 weeks. Moynihan reported that according to distributor Southern Wine & Spirits, it’s the hottest new package in upstate New York.

Most current AstraPouch packages take full advantage of the full-screen billboard provided with colorful graphics printed on the under layer of the pouch and protected by the bonded outer plastic. These are produced at the AstraPouch plant and intended for the mass market: In just two years, Moynihan estimated, about 3 million units have been sold.

Moynihan is reaching out to smaller producers with customizable 1.5- and 3-liter “white pouches.”  Wineries can order these stock items and affix their own labels to the exterior. These labels may not be quite as durable as the “cooler loving” preprinted version, but they can be delivered in just a day; printed packages take about nine weeks, post-label approvals, depending on the season, Moynihan said. AstraPouch also makes a specialized filler, which retails for about $13,000.

4Parts planning
Every packaging story contains some sort of disclaimer advising winemakers that scheduling is vital: From label design and approvals to supply ordering and delivery, one slip can cause a smooth-running operation to founder in expensive last-minute substitutions and mistakes.

The biggest producers may hire logistics people to track the supply chain, but the vast majority of wineries cannot afford that luxury. Enter PakTrak, a brand new (official debut: January 2013) service from 4Parts Design, a Sausalito, Calif., firm headed by David Hanson-Jerrard, a former executive with Gallo, Trinchero and Lafitte Cork & Capsule.

PakTrak is a software-based program to track key packaging materials. It’s designed to help wineries “avoid excess inventory, supplemental bottling costs, associated materials.…See the status of all moving parts from label design to glass and everything in between.”

The concept is based, Hanson-Jerrard said, “on many conversations with wine executives all over the country about their struggles with suppliers—boxes of capsules, labels ordered in excess—because for the person in charge, it’s not their primary responsibility. They’re winemakers; ordering and logistics is not the way they work.”

4Parts spent 18 months developing PacTrac, testing with one major client with multiple brands and bottlings. “We developed a system, trying to work through all the problems and enhancements. Some software packages have tried to include this as an adjunct. PacTrac is unique, developed by industry people. We had to go through a whole bottling cycle to test it,” Hanson-Jerrard said.

For smaller wineries reliant on mobile or commercial bottlers, that cycle can be a “major bugaboo,” Hanson-Jerrard pointed out. “If they forget to order the right materials, the financial consequences are huge. The capsules don’t fit, so they have to use stock capsules: This affects their brand integrity.”

PakTrak is offered with two service options. 4Parts can maintain the winery-packaging database, acting as the “center of the wheel” by contacting and coordinating with all vendors and keeping the winery advised. This can be an especially efficient option, since 4Parts may be in touch with the same vendors for multiple clients.

For option two, wineries might prefer to cultivate personal relationships with suppliers. PacTrac will provide reports to both winery and suppliers.

“One of our unusual components, clients have told us: Our pricing works. They pay a set amount by brand; it wouldn’t be fair for us to bid it like a subscription,” Hanson-Jerrard said.

“We are the opposite of tech people. The best word to describe our work: milestones.” Whether your packaging logistics could use a kick in the pants, or you just need a gentle tap on the shoulder, this new service can provide reminders to keep you on track.

Time to go shopping
Perhaps these previews have sparked your interest, or maybe you’re in the market for something specific. We recommend you visit the packaging suppliers listed on page 55 for more inspiration.

The time is right: Mind your milestones.  

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