When it comes to the carbon footprint of wine, it’s no secret about what puts the most stress on our environment. It’s the packaging. A definitive study commissioned by Alko, the national alcohol monopoly of Finland, outlined the detrimental extent of wine packaging on our environment. The most significant carbon impact comes from the extraction and production of raw materials, followed by transportation. In the Alko lifecycle analysis from the cradle to the grave, bag-in-box (BIB) wine had the least environmental impact, with the wine pouch not far behind.
Both formats of eco-friendly wine packaging operate in basically the same way and often fall into the same category. The main difference is that a BIB has two separate components, the inside bladder and the outside cardboard. In contrast, the wine pouch stands alone. After opening, they both keep the wine airtight and fresh for up to four weeks. The carbon footprint of these formats is up to 80% less than glass. The outside cardboard of the BIB is recyclable, as are the bladder and pouches, depending on your local recycling systems.
Countries Leading the Way
The Scandinavian market leads when it comes to alternative wine packaging formats. The BIB format holds a 55% market share of total wine sold at the Vinmonopolet in Norway. In Scandinavia, not only is it culturally acceptable to buy wine in this format, but overall, there is less accessibility to wine in the monopolized system. Generally, there are fewer choices and not as many stores to buy from.
The BIB and pouch formats are also commonplace in Europe. In France, BIB represents 44% market share of all wine sold in grocery stores, up 10% between 2020 and 2021. Using a wine pouch or BIB makes sense for wines made for immediate consumption, which is most wines. In Europe, consumers trust these alternative packaging formats, and there is even an International Best Wine in Box competition.
The New Era for Eco-Friendly Wine Packaging
The BIB and wine pouch are being embraced in the UK, which is the fastest-growing market according to a study by packaging leader Smurfit Kappa, in collaboration with Wine Intelligence. It also found that BIB wine sales boomed during the pandemic. Specialist retail stores and e-commerce sites that focus on these packaging alternatives are now readily found across the UK.
Rich Hamblin of More Wine specializes in bringing wine to the on-trade in these alternative formats. He also found that consumers were seeking them out during the pandemic, which opened up a new market for him.
More Wine offers eco-friendly wine packaging formats from a 1.5L pouch, up to a 10L BIB, and canned options. Priority is on high-quality, low intervention wines from small sustainably-focused wineries. Concentrating on alternative packaging for these wines is a natural step in producing a truly eco-friendly product. It also creates a collaborative relationship between winery and retailer.
“One of our producers can fit 900 liters on a single pallet of 10-liter BIBS; A normal pallet of glass bottles would contain only 450 liters (600 x 750ml). Once you explain that, along with the fact that all BIB packaging arrives flat-packed at the winery, most consumers are intrigued,” says Hamblin.
Collaboration is the Way Forward
In the spirit of collaboration and to bring awareness to the critical issue of wine packaging, the ‘Wine Traders for Alternative Formats’ or WTAF was formed. It brings together like-minded brands to tackle environmental issues associated with wine packaging. The collective includes More Wine, BIB Wine, Canned Wine Co, Copper Crew, Graft Wine Company, and When in Rome Wine. They launched the alliance with an event at The Institute of Masters of Wine in November 2021, and in attendance were the likes of Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson. “Any single one of the small importers who make up the WTAF might not generate enough interest or awareness on our own. So for now, it makes more sense to work collaboratively to grow the alternative format sector in the UK market,” says Hamblin.
Wines made with an environmental focus, such as organic, biodynamic and low intervention, are becoming more commonly packaged in these formats. Like More Wine, Weino BiB in the UK also specializes in this, along with Let it Bib in France. Both of these e-commerce companies offer an extensive range of these styles of wine from a diverse range of European producers, delivered locally.
Environmentally focused wines packaged sustainably are a way to engage with younger consumers. The generation is vividly aware of climate change and is looking for ethical ways to consume. A report released by Sainsbury in the UK showed that during the lockdown, the BIB category saw a 41% growth from the previous year. More than 28% of buyers were between the ages of 25 to 34, and the organic wine sector boomed.
An Eco-Friendly Future
The North American market is slow to change its ways. There is a cultural difference in wine consumption, and the reputation of BIB wine has been poor. Once packaged, the wine in BIB and pouches have a lifespan of between three to nine months. And there is a risk of spoilage if the stock on retail shelves is not rotated. But, as we see more high-quality European wine put into these formats, along with technological advances to produce more sustainable packaging options, there is no reason why North America can’t follow the UK’s lead.
One Canadian producer that now includes wine pouches in its lineup is Traynor Family Vineyard, located in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. Following low intervention winemaking practises, two sizes of wine pouches are available, 1.5L and a single-serve 187ml.
Mike Traynor, owner and winemaker, notes that the single-sized format allows the creation of sampler packs that accommodate the tourism market. And, they already have some dedicated customers to the pouch format. “Wine is about sustainability, especially if you’re buying local wine. If that is important to you, either as a winemaker or a consumer, this direction makes sense. You’re reducing your carbon footprint and your costs,” Traynor says.