Alternatives to glass bottles for wine have already become established in many countries. But especially in the German-speaking countries, traders and winegrowers are putting on the brakes. Bottles, however, account for a large part of the CO2 footprint of wine production. Is the age of the glass bottle coming to an end?
Many studies prove this: The energy for the production of glass and for the transport of the bottled wine accounts for a large part of the CO2 footprint. Experts estimate the share at around 40 percent.
In order to make production and the wine trade more sustainable, there is therefore a need to develop alternatives to glass that are lightweight and, in the best case, can be recycled. In the EU, 90 percent of all wines, sparkling wines and spirits are still filled in glass, which consumes 43 percent of the total glass production. Perfume and pharmaceutical products, on the other hand, play only a very minor role.
So will wine fans soon have to say goodbye to the glass bottle? Not by a long shot, if many retailers in German-speaking countries, i.e. Germany, Austria and Switzerland, have their way. Only about half of them are willing to introduce alternative containers. In other countries, on the other hand, almost every retailer wants to list wine in alternative packaging in the next two years. What are the reasons for these differences?
The Prowein Business Report 2022 has investigated the reasons. For this purpose, around 2,500 vintners, wine merchants, importers, distributors, restaurateurs and hoteliers from 16 countries were asked about the acceptance and planned market launch of six different alternative wine packaging formats. Over 70 per cent of them called for a reduction in the carbon footprint of wine. The report divides the countries into three groups:
These include the Scandinavian countries, Great Britain and Canada. Almost all retailers there are willing to offer their customers alternatives to glass bottles. The so-called "alternative packaging" is already an integral part of the product range there. The reasons given for this are:
For example, the five Scandinavian alcohol monopolies (including Iceland and the Faroe Islands) have committed themselves to a joint sustainability strategy with the specific goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2023.
The targeted listing of wine in packaging with a lower carbon footprint than bottles are part of the strategy to achieve this goal. To achieve this, the monopolies are now demanding alternatives to glass bottles from their suppliers. Bag-in-box is very popular in Scandinavia, in Canada it is cans. Innovative PET bottles in standard shapes like Bordeaux or Burgundy are also on the way. This is because their quality has improved considerably in recent years and they are now considered to be aroma-neutral even during longer storage periods. They weigh barely 50 grams, do not break, are accepted by deposit systems and can thus be almost completely recycled or reused. According to the survey, there are also good market opportunities for paper bottles. Producers therefore have a higher chance of being listed in these countries if they can offer their wines and sparkling wines in alternatives to glass bottles - and thus use a competitive advantage.
This group includes France and Spain, two of the largest producer countries, as well as the USA, Belgium and Portugal. More than half of the retailers in these countries intend to offer wine in alternative packaging in the coming years. Here, too, bag-in-box and cans dominate in the first place, followed by PET bottles, which have the greatest acceptance in Portugal. In the USA, many respondents can also imagine refillable aluminium barrels for serving in restaurants ("kegs"). Paper bottles also have good market opportunities there.
In the group of latecomers are Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but also the Netherlands and Italy. Here, the willingness of retailers to work with containers other than glass is below 55 percent. Especially in the German-speaking countries, the majority of retailers continue to stick to glass bottles. Overall, however, every second retailer surveyed already expects consumers to accept bag-in-box as a wine container. In Italy and the Netherlands, cans are more in demand.
Wine bottlers are often tied to their existing bottling lines by high investment costs. Their flexibility to fill wine in containers other than glass bottles is therefore limited. However, 69 percent of them would offer alternatives if they were compatible with existing filling lines.
However, restrained trade demand for new containers in the laggard countries makes it more difficult for many wine producers to economically achieve sufficiently large volumes for alternatives to glass. The current economic situation continues to result in lower or even negative margins, as cost increases cannot be fully passed on to the trade and end consumers. The willingness to invest in new filling lines is therefore currently low, although two-thirds of producers see the significant increase in glass and bottle prices as an opportunity to introduce alternatives quickly.
The prerequisites for such investments, however, are strong demand from the trade and long-term purchase guarantees, as they exist in the innovator countries. There, more than a third of the respondents are convinced that already in the near future the majority of everyday wines will no longer be bottled in glass. In the laggard countries, more than half of the respondents lack this confidence in the future of bottled alternatives.
According to the survey, the most important success factor for the introduction of lighter and more environmentally friendly wine containers is intensive communication with consumers. However, this will only succeed if the retailers themselves are convinced of the prospects of success for alternatives to glass bottles, educate their customers accordingly and thus create demand. But concrete commitments to CO2 reduction, as introduced by the Scandinavian monopolies, also give producers an important signal to invest and offer new products.
Jancis Robinson, probably the world's best-known wine writer, recently issued an appeal to bottle manufacturers to produce many more lightweight glass bottles: "Many a wine bottler and wine producer reports difficulties in persuading glass bottle manufacturers to supply lighter bottles. There is a strong argument for bottle manufacturers and the wine industry to work together to increase sales while reducing carbon emissions, and for the glass industry to listen to the needs of its most important customers. At the moment they feel they have the wine producers in the palm of their hand. They can afford not to take their concerns into account. How many conversions from glass to cans, plastic bags in cartons and recycled plastic will it take to change their minds?"
As an alternative, a reusable system could also drastically reduce the carbon footprint of glass bottles. In Germany, after all, the glass manufacturer Verallia wants to launch a national reusable pool for 0.75-litre wine bottles for the first time in the first quarter of 2024. So far, there are already some initiatives - such as in Württemberg - on a regional, but not yet on a national level. The bottles should be able to be refilled up to 50 times. In order to achieve a high return rate for existing deposit machines, the deposit will be 50 cents per bottle, according to the manufacturer Verallia. The bottles will be collected and processed in a central cleaning centre.
Whether plastic, paper, aluminium or still glass, disposable or reusable: the most important thing for wine lovers should be the content, not the packaging.
(al / sources: Prowein Business Report; Weinwirtschaft, jancisrobinson.com, own research).