Gone are the days when box wine was considered the poor cousin of bottled wine. The increase in creativity, quality and innovative packaging are some of the contributors to the constant growth of this unpretentious category.

In 2013 box wine represented 26.5% of the local wine market – approximately half of glass’ market share. This is a slowly growing increase from 24.4% in 2007 and 19.03% in 1997, with plastic and foil bags in particular having lost favour.

In South Africa box wine is a large and important category for local packaged wine and although it presents many challenges, the product is ideal for a big sector of the South African and international market. With a constant improvement in wine quality, packaging technology and creative design, it is only a matter of time before box wine proudly takes its place on more and more dining tables.

Sweden is one of the largest importers of this category and is South Africa’s most important export market for box wine, although it declined by 2.86% between 2012 and 2013. Other significant markets for South Africa include the UK, Denmark, Finland and Kenya. According to Nielsen statistics South Africa is the second biggest supplier of box wine to the UK with 19.8%, after Australia with 22%.

Certification

According to Carolyn Barton, national wine buyer for Makro SA, box wine is an important and growing category for the retailer. “It offers an affordable option for entry level wine drinkers and the variety available in the category has improved vastly,” she says.

Robertson Winery, a major box wine producer in South Africa, reckons that the certification of box wine is a step in the right direction. The cellar was also one of the first to certify its box wines. “At Robertson Winery the wine in the box is the same as the wine in the bottle,” explains cellar master Bowen Botha. “Box wine has a particular shelf life and purpose, and for that reason it is a constantly growing category.”

Ankia Niemann, marketing manager of Robertson Winery, says that although box wine will always have a stigma attached to it to some extent, the certification of these wines makes a huge difference. “It is much more acceptable these days and we are sometimes surprised to see where this category is making the most progress. One of the biggest selling points for our 1L dry red is in one of the country’s most affluent areas. It actually makes one wonder if there really is still a stigma to box wine.”

Markro SA’s box wine section.

The bigger the better

Box size makes a difference and Sawis statistics indicate that 5L is the top box wine category in South Africa, while 3L boxes, the second largest category, has shown the most growth between 2012 and 2013. For Robertson Winery it is the 3L rosé that is the top selling product.

According to an article on harpers.co.uk it is the smaller format boxes, however, that are prompting a revival in this category in the UK, where 2.25L boxes have grown by 8.7% in volume during the past year. According to the article a number of retailers, including Sainsbury’s, have stopped selling 3L boxes in favour of smaller volumes. Tesco has also started to package five of its most popular Finest range of wines (which is already available in 750ml bottles) in 1.5L boxes, after they noticed the growth in this format.

Smaller volume boxes also have a place in South Africa and Bowen explains that the 500ml products are especially popular with campers and travellers as they are easy to pack and do not take up a lot of space. Bohemia in Stellenbosch is Robertson Winery’s biggest local restaurant client for this box wine size, where the rosé and dry red are particularly popular among younger consumers.

Namaqua is another big South African box wine producer and according to production manager Len Knoetze the consumer’s perception of box wine in terms of quality is indeed starting to change.

“It is not only the economy that is encouraging people to buy box wine, but also the quality of wine that is available under certain brands. Box wine is definitely cheaper and it offers good value for money. It also has a lower carbon footprint than glass and is more practical, lighter and safer to transport.” The packaging also presents more opportunities for creative design and according to Len there is a definite movement towards funkier boxes, which “helps to stimulate awareness and the image of the product”.

Innovative technology

A challenge of box wine packaging is that it is more gas permeable than glass, which results in a shorter shelf life. According to Len substantial research is being done to limit the permeability of these bags.

Don MacFarlane, technical manager of Nampak Flexible, a large supplier of box wine packaging, says that the technology and quality of packaging has significantly improved. This includes better and faster filling machines, as well as a lower oxygen transfer tempo.

Although box wine has a shorter shelf life than glass, the wine stays fresher for longer after it has been opened and can be used for up to 8 weeks. Carolyn explains: “The products store easily, offers good value for money and is easy to pour, especially in a restaurant environment. The improvement in wine and packaging quality ultimately leads to a better image for the category.”

Box wine is generally seen as an unpretentious, fun and accessible category and Ankia believes that there is enormous potential for these wines in South Africa. “Although the margins are usually smaller than bottled wine, box wine lures consumers that you would not necessary attract otherwise,” she says.

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