There’s no question the wine market has changed dramatically since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. When wineries were forced to halt in-person tastings, travel tanked, stores shut down, restaurant dining became a memory, and normal channels for commerce became dead ends, solutions deviating from the norm had to be investigated.
The bottom line was that consumers still wanted their wine. With all those pandemic months stretching ahead of them and little social interaction, wine often became a necessity. Wineries with an eye to the future quickly jumped on Zoom to host virtual tastings and, as shopping online seemed to become a bit of a sport for those stuck inside, wineries with a bit of hustle saw better sales figures than ever by targeting consumers, building an online presence, offering value such as free shipping or discounts, and honoring club members and loyal followers.
But this shift in experience created its own challenges. Aside from the product inside the bottle, packaging is the only way to reach the consumer and stand out from the crowd. These days, discussions center around design, weight and sustainability in packaging. With so much wine being shipped to consumers, weight and shipping costs are top of mind when considering a packaging change.
Learn From Spirits
How your product looks on the shelf — both the literal retail shelf and the virtual shelf — has to stand out and encourage a consumer purchase. It’s about the whole package. To this end, wine producers should look outside their industry for ideas.
“The spirits business is miles ahead of the wine industry in presentation,” says Dennis Sones, vice president of sales and marketing for ByQuest, a full service design and packaging company. “Wine companies don’t take full advantage of the real estate on the bottle and tend to remain in traditional bottle shapes, whereas spirits come in bottles of all shapes, sizes and colors.”
Somes works with major clients that, he says, “keep the lights on,” but the company’s raison d’etre is up and coming brands and those willing to think a bit out of the box — or in the box — for the sake of presentation. “Consider 19 Crimes with its talking criminals via augmented reality. Truth is, these Aussie-based wines are in cheap bottles that are simply frosted to look richer.” Don’t let Martha and Snoop Dogg get wind of this strategy.
Sones points out that on a true retail shelf, texture stands out and creates engagement with the consumer. Research shows that texture attracts and, once a buyer picks up the bottle, they are 80 percent sold.
The good thing, Sones says, is that there’s plenty of packaging work to go around and plenty of ideas to play with. Cans, boxes, kegs, refillable bottles, plastic bottles, lightweight glass and recycled bottles are all on the table (figuratively and literally) when it comes to wine.
Ed Rice, executive director of Affinity Marketing Group, says new types of popular packaging, such as cans, were initially driven by millennials but are becoming acceptable across the board for ease, recyclability and their lighter weight and carbon footprint. Boxed wine is also having another moment for similar reasons, including the affordability of the bulk packaging.
Rice is clear about one goal for both producers and consumers. “It’s all about weight reduction,” he says. “At one time, the more prestigious the wine, the heavier the bottle. This principle is beginning to change.
“Consumers are savvy and understand that a heavier bottle not only adds more cost to a bottle of wine, it’s also more expensive to ship. Affinity is working closely with bottle producers to design and manufacture bottles with less weight that still convey a quality image, look great on the shelf or table, and feel comfortable in the hand.”
Keeping the product light in weight yet exciting upon opening is the goal every producer should be seeking.
The Unboxing Experience
Shana Bull, owner of Shana Bull Digital Marketing, concentrates on packaging presentation and the demand to create a brand experience.
“A brown box with a sales sheet does not create an experience,” says Bull. “Consumers buy the experience first, not what the product will do for them.”
She points to the thousands of “unboxing” videos available online, for everything from shoes and jewelry to groceries. Wine needs to create heightened anticipation from the moment the consumer receives their package. “They should have feelings of excitement and emotion attached to opening their wine shipment,” she says. “It should be like seeing presents at Christmas.”
Rice, Sones and Bull will continue the conversation at PackXplore: The Intersection of Engagement, Innovation, Design, & Sustainability in Wine Packaging, which takes place in-person May 25 in Santa Rosa, Calif.