March 2018 Issue of Wines & Vines

Single-serve Packages Surging

Mini bottles are taking their share in glass, PET and other formats

by Jane Firstenfeld

 Once opened, 750-ml bottles pose a problem for many wine drinkers, who perceive that quality goes down when wine isn’t consumed within a day or two. Good bag-in-box (BiB) wine offerings are marketed as an alternative. BiB packages are known to preserve wines with their original flavor profiles for longer periods after opening, but brand and varietal choices are still limited. And BiBs, which normally contain 3 or 4 liters, may represent too large a commitment for casual consumers, although they are significantly less costly per unit than similar wines in 750-ml bottles.

This story began as a look into tiny bottles: 375-ml vessels and, almost incidentally, 187 mls. As it turns out, the tinier the better, according to wineries and bottlers we contacted. Hotel mini-fridges and airlines have made 187-ml packages more than familiar to travelers, and alternatives to the tiny bottles abound.

Winery POV
Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, Calif., produces 1.9 million cases of sparkling wine per year. Of these, about 105,000 cases (based on 9-liter cases) are packaged in 187-ml bottles, according to Margie Healy, Korbel vice president of communications. Given the complexity of méthode champenoise production, it’s not surprising that Korbel is one of just a few bubbly producers to bottle-ferment its wine in the tiny bottles.
     Healy said the market for this package showed its largest growth in 2012. To date, Korbel’s largest ship year was 2015. The winery last produced 375-ml bottles (the familiar Champagne “split”) in 2012, and final sales were in 2013. Korbel was producing some 10,000-13,000 cases of 375s annually but deemed the size untenable.
     “We were the only ones purchasing the glass from the supplier. We would have had to make a sizeable investment in glass mold costs to continue producing,” Healy said.
     And so, 187s became the standard. Korbel markets them in four-packs with a suggested retail price of $15.99. They are sealed with pry-off crown caps, which are reliable for pressure (think beer bottles). The caps are made by Pelliconi in Orlando, Fla., with materials imported from Italy.
     Bottles are sourced 50% from Owens-Illinois in Tracy, Calif., and 50% Ardagh Group in Madera, Calif.
     There are no neck labels on the 187-ml bottles. The back labels are square, and front labels are smaller than 750s, but other than that, graphics are very similar. Fort Dearborn in Montreal, Quebec, produces 70% of the labels, while Multi-Color Corp. in Napa makes 30%. The four-packs are assembled by Graphic Packaging in Oroville, Calif.     

Fetzer Vineyards also uses 187s for its Anthony’s Hill brand, according to Fetzer chief operating officer Cindy DeVries. The package size has proven to be a “stable” format for Fetzer, retailing primarily in convenience stores.
     The PET bottles come from Amcor, and the tiny size mandates single-piece labels that are smaller than the front/back labels on 750s.
     “These smaller labels retain key Anthony’s Hill brand visual cues and relevant variety and appellation indications, while eschewing more lengthy romance copy typically found on back labels,” DeVries said. Closures are roll-on pilfer-proof (ROPP) screwcaps.
     Treasury Wine Estates is a massive, multi-national company that includes many leading North American wineries. Seth Hynes, vice president of marketing, said that tiny bottles are a growing category. “Our sales team is always dying for them. There is demand and definite interest, but we have (in the past) avoided them: There are not many suppliers,” Hynes reported.
     Another big reason is wine quality, because the smaller bottles don’t last as long as 750s. It’s also hard to forecast demand. Still, Hynes said, “This is a category that’s going to grow.”
     Not-so-tiny 375-ml bottles are now on the market to showcase wines from various boutique producers on the Central Coast. The Boutique Wine Samplers six-packs are now on shelves at Costco and other stores in California. Brainchild of The Boutique Wine Club, the aim is to bring access to ultra-premium wines from small producers to consumers who might not be able to visit the wineries and sample all their wares. It “creates the platform for experiencing fascinating wines and learning the stories behind them,” said Boutique Wine Club co-founder Bob Sweeney. Suggested retail for the six-packs is $69.99.

Buy some tiny bottles
Sourcing small bottles can be problematic, but John Kellogg, chief sales and marketing officer for glass-bottle producer Saxco, said the smaller sizes can be a marketing tool.
     “As competition increases within the entire beverage market, we have seen wineries looking for more creative ways in which to reach potential consumers and differentiate their brands. One way is with smaller volume packages, which carry with them challenges related to consumer adoption, supply chain availability and higher packaging cost,” he said.
     Saxco produces a few proprietary 187-ml bottles for its sake customers, but volume is much larger for 375-ml bottles, according to Kellogg. Demand has remained consistent for the past five years.
     Closures are split about 50/50 between corks and screwcaps. Sales of the 375s are mostly on-premise at restaurants, plus airlines and passenger railroads.
     Using smaller bottles can be a bit more expensive for wineries, especially those that maintain their own bottling lines, Kellogg noted. They may not have equipment to run 375s, and may need to bring in mobile bottlers.

Can the bottle
Wine in cans has become more popular in recent years, with packaging and transportation costs vital considerations. Treasury is already dipping its toes into cans to solve the challenge to wines that craft beers present, Hynes said.
     Putting its iconic Napa Valley Sterling brand in “silver” 375-ml flasks is one way to meet the challenge. The flasks are resealable (and reusable). These cans provide the convenience of a single-serve vessel sold from a refrigerator case, Hynes said. They’ll appear in retail markets this year. Treasury’s Upper Cut varietals already are being packaged in cans.
     Canned wines are not just for summer, declared 100,000-case Tangent Wines in San Luis Obispo, Calif., which brought canned wines to market this winter.
     The Sauvignon Blanc and rosé wines are the same quality as in Tangent bottles, the company claims. Both wines are made with 100% estate-grown fruit from the SIP-certified Paragon Vineyard in Edna Valley, Calif.
     Available nationally, 3,600 cases were produced of each wine. Suggested retail price for the 375-ml cans is $7.99. Ball produces the cans, and Free Flow Wines fills them. The package was designed by Makers & Allies.

Plastic fantastic
Treasury is now working with Zipz Packaging Technologies, a plastic single-serve design in which Kevin O’Leary, “Mr. Wonderful” from ABC’s “Shark Tank” series, fought to invest. Napa’s venerable Beringer Vineyards is sponsoring Major League Baseball teams and selling Zipz filled with Beringer wines in stadiums, according to Hynes. Treasury is also looking into Tetra packaging, which Hynes termed “great from an environmental standpoint.”
     Unlike the Zipz “glasses,” StackTeks do not include a snap-on stem. These 187-ml items are normally marketed in cohesive stacks, but Constellation is currently selling them as single units. Constellation's brand team said they provide a single serving of Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi wines in a “convenient and portable, shatter-proof cup.”
     Consumers can peel the top off for a serving of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. The single-serving wines are sold nationally for $2.49 each.
     StackTek in Anaheim, Calif., was founded in 2010, and its first “bottle” was sold in late 2011. In addition to Woodbridge, Mark West, Simi and Electric Sky Wine are using the package.
     Pricing for the package varies with customer needs and configurations, said co-founder Jodi Ryan. The company maintains a fully automated bottling line in Modesto, Calif., and labels are applied during the process.
     Reusable and recyclable, a four-stack of StackTek wines is about two-thirds the weight of a single glass 750-ml bottle, and about the same size (it fits in the fridge). The containers are made in California.

How do you sell these things?
Wine displays have not changed much in recent decades, but these small packages are forcing retailers to make adjustments to capitalize on the new market.
     Curtis Mann, director of wine, beer and spirits for Sacramento-based Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, offered his expert impressions. “We do have some free-standing displays of cans, but the key is to get them in the cold box. Customers want an immediate consumption option,” he said. “The other items are just placed in our (wine) set, and we will run promotions on them periodically.”
     Mann considers cans a hot segment, showing big growth from brands like Oregon’s Underwood. Coppola and Precept both promise to introduce “exciting releases” in the next few months. Rosé is the best-performing flavor for wines in cans, according to Mann.
     “The important thing is that the wine in cans is at least of moderate quality with low tannins. If you do not hit that equation, there is very little repeat purchase,” he said.
     Mann also has observed a comeback in 375-ml glass bottles. “I think people are looking to drink less but better, and they may not want a whole bottle during the week. Some of the classic premium producers (around $30 for a 750) are doing well in 375 format.”
     He’s seen less innovation among 187s and Tetra-packaged wines, but these continue to grow steadily.
     Adjusting to these new formats and sizes is not an easy process, and as always with packaging, wineries must plan well in advance and do their research to meet the challenges.

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