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Charting a Sustainable Path: Packaging and Label Solutions to Address Wine Industry Challenges


Seismic shifts are rocking wineries’ traditional methods of producing and selling wine. The industry has recognized the vital need to capture the interest of younger consumers to compensate for reduced spending by its older buyer base. Agriculture’s growing acceptance of climate change ― painfully reinforced by increasingly frequent wildfires and droughts ― has led to more sustainable vineyard and winery practices, requiring investments that have sometimes dug deep into budgets.

According to Jarod Hernandez, Product Manager for Wine, Spirits, and Beverages at global label materials supplier UPM Raflatac, these shifts also impact wine packaging.

“The biggest trends I’m seeing are an increasing commitment to sustainability and the market impact of Millennials and Gen Z,” Hernandez notes, “and these are converging since these consumers may not want to open a 750 ml bottle of wine and leave it open, instead preferring single-use cans or bottles.”

As the popularity of hard seltzers and other flavored alcoholic beverages packaged in aluminum cans skyrockets among younger consumers, wineries are also jumping on the trend. Many wineries are now opting for aluminum cans due to the convenience and “grab-and-go” appeal they offer. This shift is particularly noticeable among newer wineries like Maker Wines and West + Wilder, which have started their journey by exclusively packaging and selling wine in cans.

Even established wineries are adding canned wines, including Union Wine Company’s Underwood brand, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ 14 Hands, E & J Gallo’s Barefoot, Dark Horse and recently acquired Bev.

“The largest aluminum producers in the world have been building plants in the Americas,” says Adam Moffitt, UPM Raflatac’s Business Development Manager for the Americas. “For example Ball Corporation has made significant investments in optimizing its current facilities and opening several new aluminum production facilities in the Americas region. They’ve also brought in non-domestic aluminum to make cans. Aluminum has a compound annual growth rate of 5.6% over the next five years, but in the last two years alone, demand grew 12.9%.”

Moffitt also points out that many wineries are looking to package their wine in aluminum cans because they offer value beyond single-use convenience for consumers. “Cans are the most easily recyclable option, don’t break in transit, and are a good way to test markets to see what kind of shelf space you can get.”

But there are also some drawbacks, including:

  • Although many consumers have happily adopted canned wine, many still associate cans with lower-quality wines.
  • Not all wines are good candidates for canning, particularly those designed to age for years in the cellar.
  • Wineries must usually order large minimum order quantities (MOQ) of preprinted cans.

“High MOQs of preprinted cans are easy for big wineries,” says Hernandez, “but may not be affordable for smaller wineries or practical for small batch runs. That’s where we can provide the benefits of using pressure-sensitive labels [PSL] from our portfolio. We can easily transition a label designed for glass bottles to cans, and PSLs give a winery the flexibility to order fewer cans and frequently change the vintage, varietal, vineyard, or anything on the label.”

As the leader in sustainable labeling, UPM Raflatac’s portfolio also includes PSLs with lower carbon footprints. Its Forest Film™ material uses 100% renewable wood pulp resin harvested from sustainably managed forests instead of the virgin plastic pellets typically used to create polypropylene. In addition to Forest Film, UPM Raflatac also offers its Ocean Action material, which takes another approach by capturing ocean-bound plastic and, through recycling, breaking it down into the standard polymer chips used to create the label film.

“Most wineries start at the front end when discussing sustainability, especially mitigating water usage in California and adopting lightweight bottles,” Moffitt adds. “But it’s essential to think of sustainability from a broader view that includes end of life. When that bottle leaves your shop, what happens to it? It’s often best to start at the end and work backward.”

California’s new “Bottle Bill,” which takes effect in January 2024, will push many wineries to do just that when they begin redesigning their labels to include the CRV (California Redemption Value) language. The legislation aims to increase the recycling of wine bottles and other containers sold to consumers, creating a circular economy supported by an infrastructure that will collect the glass bottles, clean them and return them to the packaging cycle for reuse.

UPM Raflatac developed a wash-off label portfolio designed to maximize the recyclability and circularity of glass and plastic bottles. Unlike traditional label materials, wash-off labels separate cleanly from containers during recycling without leaving any adhesive residue, improving PET recyclate yield and allowing for glass packaging reuse.

The Bottle Bill is a turning point that allows wineries to rethink their packaging approach. Moffitt and Hernandez are hopeful that wineries will move toward more sustainable packaging, thereby aligning with climate change imperatives and the ethos of younger consumers, who are more likely to consider the product and the company’s sustainability when deciding what products to buy.

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