Boxed-Wine Marketers Strive for Leadership in Sustainable Packaging

Bota & Black boxed wines
This Wegmans market in Sterling, Virginia, carries no fewer than seven different brands of boxed wines.

Boxed wines are on the come-up. Their convenience, lower cost and acceptable – if not award-winning – taste are making them a mainstream option throughout more of the U.S. So, leading marketers are trying to further distinguish their offerings with sustainable packaging that appeals to discriminating buyers.

The race is on for leading boxed-wine marketers to build market share, because it’s still a relatively wide open field: An estimated 6 out of every 10 wine consumers have yet to even try a premium boxed wine, said Mark Koppen, vice president of brands at Delicato Family Vineyards in Manteca, California, which sells Bota Box wines.

Bota Box and Black Box, of Madera, California, are among the leading and most creative marketers. Together, they control about 80 percent of the market, according to Koppen, and have survived intermittent industry shakeouts.

If you’ve never tried a boxed wine, it’s an education when you parse companies’ claims on how truly sustainable they are. We’re talking about packages that are fully recyclable, require far less energy to manufacture and transport, and produce about half the carbon emissions of bottled wines. Much of these gains are on a volume basis when considering that typical 3-liter boxes contain the same amount of wine found in three traditionally-sized bottles.

If the wine is this good tasting, and that’s always a subjective call, what’s keeping this industry segment from growing? Part of the answer, from interviews with several avid wine drinkers, is the expectation that a good wine cannot come in a box.

Note how both Bota Box and Black Box say they sell “premium,” or even “super premium, appellation-specific, vintage-dated” wines. Black Box says it has 27 “Best Buys” from Wine Enthusiast and 50 “Gold Medals” from wine tasting competition.

Some relevant background: Wines in boxes actually come in a bag inside the box (BIB). They’ve been found somewhere in the world for almost 50 years. It was in 1967 when when Australian inventor Charles Malpas and Penfolds Wines patented a plastic, air-tight, tap and welded it to a metallized bladder, or bag, for storing wines in a box.

Only since the early 2000s have boxed wines made significant inroads in the U.S. In fact, the $19.99 price-point for a 3-liter box is a threshold many vintners apparently dare not go above.

But expectations about wines in a box may be shifting, especially among millennials.

In its marketing, Bota invites consumers to “take us along on their everyday life’s adventures” with the tagline, “Here’s to Your Next Adventure.” To grow its appeal and credibility of sustainability and other claims, Bota recruits photos of wherever consumers are enjoying its wines.

“We’re seeing the premium [boxed wine] segment grow four-to-five times the overall growth of the wine category,” Koppen said.

“The take-along and freshness aspects of the package appeal to a broad range of ages,” Koppen said. He asserted baby boomers are discovering that very good wine can stay fresh and come in a box. “Millennials are very open to new types of wine packaging, based on convenience, ease of opening and usage occasion.”

Consumers who buy boxed wines also buy premium bottled wines and “use the different packages based on the occasion,” Koppen added. Consumers “not only appreciate quality wine at a great price, but they live every day as an adventure and treat the earth with respect.”

For wine drinkers who don’t want the equivalent of three bottles of wine, Bota is trying to appeal to 1.5-liter glass buyers with a Bota “Brick” box at that size.

What about BIB wines served in restaurants? Koppen said the focus is on offering BIB options as “house wines” both to meet a certain expectation and prevent spoilage which can be an issue with bottled wines. “On-premise business is small now, but we have seen growth the past three years,” Koppen said.

He was quick to outline the rest of the company’s sustainability value proposition:

  • Bag-In-Box wines create 85 percent less landfill waste than traditional glass bottles.
  • Boxes are printed on recycled paper containing 90 percent post-consumer fiber.
  • Graphics are printed directly on Kraft paper which doesn’t need to be bleached as white paper does
  • Paper layers are bonded together with cornstarch instead of glue.
  • Bota’s 3L boxes result in a smaller carbon footprint compared to glass: 35 percent lighter on average and 44 percent smaller in size than a four-glass (750 ml) bottle.
  • Bota’s Mini 500 ml “Tetra Paks” are made from wood fiber sourced from “responsibly managed forests” certified to the highest standards currently set by the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • The wine bag is BPA-free; both it and the spout are Category 7 recyclables.

Bota also works with the Arbor Day Foundation in support of reforestation. 2016 is the eighth consecutive year the two will have worked together, planting about 150,000 trees to date. During this year’s Earth Day, April 22, they hope to plant an additional 50,000 trees across the U.S.

Image courtesy of the author

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Clean energy advocate, strategic marketer and story teller with 15+ years supervisory experience and a proven track record achieving strategic and program objectives for energy, utility, technology and other clients in their marketplaces and policy arenas while engaging their priority stakeholders and target audiences. I'm always on the lookout for innovative policies, people, technologies and businesses that are demonstrating how sustainability can be both healthy and profitable. Catch my blog posts at TheEnergyFix.com. I've also written for The New York Times, Houston Chronicle, The Huffington Post and TheEnergyCollective.com.