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Understanding the packaging choices for wine

Wine brands could box themselves into a corner without proper insights on new packaging formats, finds Engage Research

Lyndsay Peck Engage Research

Wine brands considering joining the growing number of companies reappraising the boxed wine format should consider some of the historic negative perceptions of the format as well its new found potential, according to Lyndsay Peck, director of London-based customer insight agency Engage Research.

The warning comes following the announcement by the California-based Naked Grape Wine brand that it is launching a new three litre boxed wine pack, which, it says, is the first of its kind to be fully recyclable from bag to box. A three-litre box of The Naked Grape wine contains the same amount of wine as four bottles and stays fresh for up to four weeks after opening. The company says there has been a 35% increase in sales of new high-tier three litre boxes since 2009 and is attractive to buyers as it preserves the freshness of the wine and allows people to enjoy it in places where glass can’t go.

For most wine buyers, functionality is low down on the list of priorities. Wine is a category where many consumers buy with little or no knowledge certainly when it comes to mass market wines. Many lack the knowledge to form any judgements as to what the wine might actually taste like so looks are particularly important. Many will buy on a hunch, often based on how nice the bottle looks, how similar it is to something they have enjoyed in the past and where it stands on the price spectrum.

That said, there have been format changes in other sectors that have been successful. A few years ago, some beer brands launched a range of plastic bottles, which has many pragmatic advantages over glass: it's lighter, unbreakable, re-closable and suitable for occasions like sporting events and picnics, though glass is no less recyclable than boxed packaging. But bottles don't clink, taking a bit of fun out of a "cheers" moment, but though this has been quite successful because the bottle design is similar between plastic and glass, boxed wine may have additional emotional drawbacks. After all, screw top wine bottles were not immediately embraced.

A key starting point would be to properly understand the current UK wine 'landscape’, drivers and barriers to purchase - price, brand, country of origin, packaging, authenticity, organic, premium, and alcohol level - as well as occasion, because what you drink at home compared with what you take to party or a dinner party can require a vastly different set of considerations.

If you are buying as a gift or for others to drink, then the cardboard box is unlikely to make the cut. People many not know what they are giving, but they want it to look like a gift, and they want to look cultured and knowledgeable when they gift it. This is why you need a deep level of qualitative research with plenty of enabling techniques to understand the full, honest answer.

Brands considering a change in format need to understand the competitive advantage of the new format versus the current offering, and on which occasions these advantages could be relevant. Sometimes merely looking at current purchase drivers may not be enough as current wine choices are probably less driven by pack (label design, maybe, but not so much the pack shape and material). A radical change from bottle to box may reveal unrealised needs or turn people off immediately but, either way, research is important to help find out what the main reservations are. 

Change of pack can have an impact on branding or premium perception for wine, which in turn will help dictate an acceptable price range.  Taste testing with and without pack would show how much pre-trial expectations affect the taste perception. Sometimes the same recipe gets different acceptance simply by changing what we say in the concept.

Engage Research is an independent customer insight and market research agency specialising in consumer and market strategy and innovation primarily across the FMCG and media sectors.

29 April 2014