Boxing Smart: premium bag-in-box wine on the rise in SA

by | Jul 1, 2019 | Article

The bag-in-box revival has been one of the most talked about trends lately and looks set to take off in 2019 as global (and local) consumers embrace the environmental appeal and taste credentials that have made the format so successful.


Not that long ago you would have been hard-pressed to find quality BiB wines. Today, it’s a different story. It’s no longer unusual to find premium varietal wines in BiB format anywhere in the international market and five-litre boxes now share retail shelf space with more petite packages.

According to The Drinks Business, leading online retailer, Amazon UK has seen a robust 212% growth in sales last year as consumers in the UK are embracing the BiB wine trend.

Because of BiB packaging being an environmentally-friendly alternative to glass, the global wine drinking community is embrace this premium concept.

In 2017, Waitrose launched a premium BiB wine range across its stores in the UK to meet increasing demand for larger formats. The Côte Bleu Méditerranée Rosé retails at around £14.99 (R268). Other large format wines available include the retailer’s best-selling Beefsteak Club Malbec and Marlborough Springs Sauvignon Blanc, both at £20.99 (R375), including a Stormhoek Chenin-Chardonnay at £15.99 (R285).

Waitrose said BiB wines were becoming more popular due to growing consumer concern for practical and environmental alternatives to glass bottles, given their lower carbon footprint, recyclable packaging and ability to stay fresher for longer. A boxed wine will stay fresh in the fridge for 4-5 months.

US-based Bota Box, a beloved wine among millennials available at $20 (R282) per three-litre box, also touts its eco-friendliness. Bota’s website boasts its 100% recyclable box, which creates 85% less landfill waste than traditional glass packages. Their Instagram sometimes includes handy ideas to re-use their boxes, such as making them into iPhone speakers.

Last year, Cape Classics, US-based importer of South African wines, released its Indaba wine brands in a three-litre BiB format to the US retail market as changing consumer habits fuel the demand for higher quality BiB wine options.

According to Cape Classics, the rise in popularity of the BiB option has seen even the esteemed Decanter magazine publish a rating of BiB wines from the likes of Italy, Argentina and France, with some wines earning 90-point scores.

A 750 ml bottle of Indaba wine currently retails for between $8 and $11 (R112 and R155) while Indaba’s three-litre BiB retails between $17 and $20 (R240 and R280). Reduced packaging and distribution costs are the main reasons why wines can be sold for less per litre in BiB format. Indaba is crafted by esteemed South African winemaker Bruwer Raats from Raats Family Wines.

In South Africa, BiB wine category still carries the negative stigma as being cheap plonk. However, the perception is limited to traditional wine drinkers while millennials and under 35s are lapping it up like its no-one’s business.

A popular BiB wine brand among millennials at the moment is the Ben Wren Wine Co. who launched a series of premium quality BiB wines, sourced from respected South African wine cellars.

The brand was created by eponymous advertising and marketing expert, Bren Wren and consultant wine producer and sommelier Ewan Mackenzie. Their goal? To make wine with the consumer in mind. Ben Wren is one of the first companies in South Africa to disrupt the wine market this way.

The three-litre BiB Bren Wren Sauvignon Blanc (retailing at R195) is sourced from the Slanghoek region with lively aromatics of elderflower, Cape gooseberry and a touch of red apple skin. The Red Blend is equally impressive (retailing at R220) and is sourced from the Swartland. It’s a fresh and vibrant take on a Rhône-style blend, leading with the elegance and crunchiness of Cinsault, backed with the power and structure of Shiraz and spruced by Mourvèdre and Grenache.


Advertising and marketing expert, Bren Wren and his boxer, Angus.

We chat to Ben about why BiB is becoming such a popular format among younger wine consumers:

Q: What inspired you to start the Ben Wren BiB range of wine?

BW: I wanted an everyday drinking wine that tasted great and didn’t break the bank. My focus was on the liquid not the packaging. After running through the costs using glass, getting good wine under R80 in a bottle was just about impossible. The bottle, cork, label, filling, tax, storage, retail mark-up and distribution left no money for the wine. In my calculations the wine in a R80 bottle cost under R10. By simply changing the packaging we could deliver better wine for nearly half the price.

Q: BiB has a bit of a bad reputation in SA, why did you decide to go this route?

BW: I didn’t realise how bad the reputation was until we launched the Sauvignon Blanc. It’s bad, really bad, but only among the older generation. If you’re under 35 you’re more focused on quality, value and the recycling properties of the box. The box was the perfect packaging to deliver our brand values.

Q: Has it been hard changing the mind set around BiB wine?

BW: With some people, it’s impossible. With millennials, it’s much easier. They got it straight away. Wine buyers have also been difficult. I’ve had so many conversations about price point and the quality of the wine and failed. Several large retail outlets do not believe there’s a market for a high quality BiB wine. The market has been taught that BiB wine is lower quality at R130 and they are reluctant to try and change that.

Q: What are the benefits of BiB for the consumer and producer?

BW: For the producer we buy and pay for premium wine. We are driving up the price and quality of box wine and that is good for the wine industry. For the consumer, the premium bag-in-box has a role to play. We don’t compete with expensive wine, but rather target the R80-a-bottle drinker and pitch better wine at a cheaper price. The box brings convenience and excellent quality wine in affordable eco-friendly packaging. We play in places where glass is inconvenient – the beach, at a braai or a camping weekend. Feedback has told us to focus on quality wine and be good to the planet. On the next box run we are now changing the inner bag to be 100% recyclable.

Q: Who is your typical target market?

BW: In one word: Millennials. Glass is expensive to recycle but cheap to make. This is where under 35s think differently. The box is better for the environment and delivers better wine, cheaper. Once you get over the packaging, it makes sense. Keep the bottle wine for special occasions and yes, pay more for a nice bottle. Our belief is a box should be part of your wine repertoire. Recently, someone told me they would never buy BiB because they liked the feel of a bottle in their hand. I told them to stop drinking out the bottle and use a glass. The box has the function of distributing the wine, it’s got nothing to do with the liquid inside.

Q: How has Ben Wren wine performed since its launch?

BW: We’re doing okay. To be successful, the company now needs to scale. Our price has kept us out of major supermarkets. Some buyers don’t believe a three-litre R200 box wine will sell, no matter what liquid is inside. For some people this is true, I could put Château Petrus in the box and some consumers wouldn’t buy it for R200. The great news is Ultra Liquor has taken us on board and we’re hoping to go national with them very soon.

Q: Premiumisation is a big talking point in SA wine. Is it the way forward?

BW: Cheap bulk wine has damaged the brand reputation of South Africa. Balancing the value versus price equation will lead to more investment in the wine industry and well deserved profit.  Our wines compete and win against the best wines in the world. We shouldn’t be afraid of telling people how good our wine is and charging an appropriate price. If we doubled the price of our best wines, international buyers would probably respect South African wines more.

Q: How important is it for the SA wine industry to think outside (or inside!) the box?

BW: We have an abundance of good wine in South Africa. New wine makers are launching excellent wines but our retailers are de-listing stock levels. We have to think outside the box (or inside it in my case) to be successful. Looking at international trends and innovation gives us a good view on what is possible. Walk down the wine aisle in the UK and you’ll find an abundance of premium box wines. Head to the USA and you’ll see 20 different wines in a can.



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