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Does size matter?

Mary looks at the impact of large and small bottle sizes on our subconscious minds, as well as the practicalities of both size and format

Mary Lewis Lewis Moberly

Two Russian millionaires held a bizarre drinking contest for the most expensive bar bill at Kitsch London, Mayfair back in October 2013. The ‘winner’s' bill (an eye-watering £66,778.91) included 30 magnums of Cristal. The Daily Mail noted ‘There was a massive crowd of stunning women around each table in no time at all.’ While sheer quantity can be a good indicator of financial success, larger size bottles are a major statement and clearly demand attention too, especially in the relative darkness of a nightclub or on the winner’s podium at Formula 1 races. 

Indeed, our subconscious brain may be hardwired to respond to larger than normal size bottles as they behave as supernormal stimulus. A supernormal stimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response. The supernormal stimulus often provokes a stronger than normal attraction. For example, a bird will usually prefer artificial, larger versions to their own eggs. This accounts for the success of cuckoos which lay their larger eggs in the nests of host birds with smaller eggs. Still in the bird kingdom,  Tinbergen, studied the stimulus features that elicited food-begging in the chick of the herring gull. Within an hour of hatching chicks peck at their mother’s beak stimulating it to feed it. This behaviour is essential to the chick’s survival. He found that when the beak was elongated the chicks pecked more aggressively. Tinbergen constructed the perfect super stimulus beak - a large, elongated red knitting needle with three white bands painted round it and this elicited a stronger response than an accurate three-dimensional model of the gull parent's head. 

However, small size in the world of alcohol can also matter. Certainly the conscious, more rational part of our brain can view smaller bottle sizes favourably. Key findings from some consumer research by Wine Intelligence indicated that 1 in 5 wine drinkers would consider purchasing a 50cl bottle rather than a 3L or 5L wine box, a plastic bottle, wine bag/pouch. 42% of those consumers that would consider a 50cl format are on the lookout for new products within the wine category and a third of consumers new to the wine category said they would be more likely to trial wine if smaller packs were made available.  50cl bottles are attractive in their convenient, handy size and, whilst consumers say they prefer to share their wine, they don’t always finish a 75cl bottle in one sitting. Drinking from the 50cl format potentially eliminates uncertainties about the freshness of any leftover wine. Smaller volumes may also be perceived as more healthy and less calorific – certainly issues that many women are sensitive to.

A smaller format can also signal preciousness whilst enabling a compelling price point. When Baileys Chocolat Luxe was launched a 50cl bottle gave emphasis to the luxurious, indulgence of real Belgian chocolate fused with alcohol to create a multi-sensorial experience. One that tastes just like molten chocolate. Gilded with a Rococo frame the smaller bottle is a precious discovery.

Importantly, trial can also be encouraged with smaller bottles Johnnie Walker Collection is a set of four miniature 20cl bottles, each containing a different blend of whisky and housed in a sleek outer pack. Sold in Global Travel Retail it is ideal both as a status gift and as a way for whisky enthusiasts to compare and contrast different expressions within the portfolio. The small bottle size enable consumers to explore new tastes ( the box is printed with tasting notes of the four blends with the inviting title ‘A Journey Through the Senses' ) they can acquire the aspirational Blue Label for a smaller out-of-pocket expenditure that a 1L bottle. The packaging which we designed recently to great effect, has net sales value leaping up by 112% and the new packaging has been recognised with four different awards. Small can indeed be beautiful and successful.

To return to my theme ‘Does size matter?’. The answer is clearly ‘Yes’. For some alcoholic products larger size may actually be backed up by a product difference. The Veuve Clicquot senior wine maker, Cyril Brun, believes that the magnum format produces a finer and more youthful tasting Champagne. The 1.5L bottle slows down ageing because it holds twice the amount of wine in a standard size bottle, but it has the same neck size ensuring an equal amount of oxygen is exposed to a much greater volume of liquid. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post is an interesting source on the human condition and whether size does matter!

24 November 2014