Medium and Message

by | Jan 1, 2018 | Business and Marketing

Whether we like it or not, when it comes to wine, it’s often a case of a book being judged by its cover. Here are four trends that help wine brands tell their story.

Wine has an exotic appeal most beverages can only dream of. If wine could speak, it would likely be in a foreign language, perhaps a dialect that even native speakers find hard to follow. In the absence of an experienced taster, sommelier or actual winemaker who raised the wine from grape to bottle, the packaging needs to do the hard work of translating “winese”. In short, it has to take into account what’s on the outside as much as what’s inside.

Presented with a range of choices, consumers instinctively reach for the product that “speaks” to them, often without knowing precisely why. But these four megatrends currently shaping consumer decisions can provide insight into what’s going on behind the scenes.

1  Sensory and indulgence

This trend describes how consumer decisions are driven by sensory stimulation and subjective experience. It goes without saying that the packaging affects the perceived quality of its contents, and should be careful not to impair either the taste or experience. Colours and materials should reflect the contents as well as the context in which the wine will be enjoyed. Packaging that speaks of quality – such as taller glass bottles, classic square shoulders and tasteful designs – complements the enjoyment of good wine.

The trend is also behind consumers’ willingness to go for higher-priced wines, a move known as premiumisation. According to Bertrand Steip of Moët Hennessy, premiumisation is associated with three factors in particular: brand authenticity and heritage, the embodiment of a luxurious lifestyle, and increased experimentation.

These factors motivate brands to find new ways to differentiate themselves on the shelf. Innovations such as isothermal packaging which keeps the product cold and ready to drink, and frosted or even etched glass make the packaging part of the experience. The steady growth in sparkling wines, which are synonymous with celebration and the good life, is a natural fit for this trend. Benoit Villaret, European category director at international glass manufacturer O-I, says the growth in sparkling and rosé wines has led to the proliferation of about 30 “happiness bottle shapes” that are both affordable and well marketed.

2 Easy and affordable

Consumers want to experience luxury while operating in the fast lane. Today’s consumers are frequently on the move, whether for work or relaxation, and expect their favourite products to travel well. That means having options that are smaller, lighter  and more convenient. Thanks to advances in printing and manufacturing technologies, a growing variety of alternative packaging formats and sizes are now available that allow creativity without appearing cheap.

Research by Mpact Plastics indicates many high-end products in various markets are ready to convert from glass to PET, provided the product itself is not affected. High clarity PET offers a glass-like finish and therefore represents a cost-effective alternative. Safety, both in the factory, during transport and in the home, also drives the conversion from glass to PET. When the whole supply chain is considered, PET is an economical and less carbon-intensive alternative.

Customers are also realising you can find excellent wines in cheaper packaging. And if you can get the same premium wine in a three-litre box at a more affordable price, why not? Even traditional glass bottles now come with alternative closures to cork that are easy to open and cheap to produce without detracting from the wine’s quality or enjoyment. But don’t discount cork yet – twist-off corks are an attractive alternative that provide the same ease of use as alternatives while retaining cork’s psychological allure.

But the willingness on the part of consumers to consider alternative closures and cheaper packaging comes at a cost – it’s an act of trust on their part and they expect that trust to be repaid.

3 Sustainability and health

Ecological awareness makes consumers more receptive to non-traditional forms of packaging and they expect brands to reflect this awareness. Consumers understand the need for change when it comes to their health and the environment, and are willing to compromise on some expectations. Since everyone is expected to reduce, reuse or recycle packaging, brands must be able to justify their choice of packaging and build up a track record of social responsibility with a personal touch.

Benoit says you don’t package for millennials, you communicate with them. Millennials are wary of being specifically pandered or pitched to, as that in itself seems like a betrayal of a product’s authenticity. This somewhat clichéd term describes how transparent the product’s provenance and value chain are. Packaging that seems arrogant and out of touch with the world raises suspicion, which in turn reflects badly on the brand name.

For producers, sustainability ensures profitability in the medium and long term. Tetra Pak and rigid plastics fit in with this trend. Being lightweight makes them more eco-friendly to produce and transport, increasing value and reducing overheads.

Consumers are aware they’re part of a community and their decisions have an impact on the planet. They want products and brands that are part of the solution, not the problem.

4 Globalisation

Wine is increasingly being consumed outside of its producing countries. At the same time global consumption is shifting from the West to the East, as traditional wine markets decline and China’s demand continues to grow.

But this trend has a dark side. O-I cites unofficial figures that suggest that as much as 20% of wine worldwide may be fake, especially in China where up to 70% of “imported wine” is estimated to be counterfeit. Counterfeiting is a serious threat as it means an instant loss of income for a winery and leads to job losses down the line.

South Africa’s Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) seal lays the groundwork to exploit this and other trends. International print and packaging authority Smithers Pira predicts that “intelligent” packaging will grow at an incredible 18% a year. This type of packaging connects products to the internet, making relevant data readily available. Imagine being sent an alert when an expensive wine reaches optimum drinking age or when it needs to be recorked.

While the technologies behind many trends can be exploited for nefarious purposes, such as when refillable closures make it easier to fill bottles with counterfeit wine, they provide an important service. High-quality inkjet printing makes it easy to counterfeit labels, but the same technology enables intricate and creative designs that help smaller wineries become competitive in premium markets.

Packaging safeguards the relationship of trust between producers and consumers, which is crucial for building value into the value chain. As both translator and custodian, packaging should walk the talk.

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