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Four factors driving smaller wine packaging

Wolf Viergever
Europe, South East Asia, North America

The trend for small packaging is on. But the challenge is finding a solution that offers the quality and shelf-life consumers are looking for, without increasing the packaging cost and waste.

Wolf Viergever is the former Global Manager of Innovation at Treasury Wine Estates (TWE),  the biggest publicly listed winery in the world based in Australia, United States and Europe. With more than 30 years of experience in the label printing industry and wine packaging, he connects with consumers and brands to create new and innovative products. One trend he has been focusing on is innovative alternatives to the traditional 750 mL glass bottle with a cork. In an interview with M_use contributor Marit Meelis, Wolf outlined several factors affecting the wine industry’s attempt to create smaller packaging.

Consumer demand for smaller packaging pushes innovation
Packaging trends and the emergence of new ideas and materials are of particular interest to Wolf: “We are seeing convenience as a big trend, using smaller on-the-go packaging. Sustainability continues to grow as a consumer concern, and there are some interesting things happening with intelligent labels such as NFC (near-field communication). Old ideas can persist, but we need to change the kind of thinking that leads to measures such as heavy glass bottles being used simply to imply quality.”

According to Wolf, today’s designers must consider four major factors when creating winning smaller wine packaging options:

Consumer age and use

As with food and beverage packaging, wine packaging popularity also varies vastly on consumer age and use.

For events like music festivals, friendly gatherings and sports games, cans, pouches and small bag-in-a-box are popular options. They pass the safety requirements and allow consumers to enjoy their favorite beverages. However, these packaging options create real challenges for shelf-life and the aging process that designers and wineries must also consider.

US and Australia are experiencing incredible growth in the adoption of cans says Wolf: “Australia and the US are leading the way, and there is some growth for cans in Japan too—although less in Europe at the moment. One issue is that wine and aluminium don’t work well together, so wine can become tainted over the timescales that consumers expect when keeping wine at home. Can sales are therefore based on convenience and sustainability, at venues such as festivals and stadiums. Graphics on a can also look really attractive—even snapchat-worthy for 20-somethings.”


Opinions on the perfect wine bottle volume vary around the globe based on regional recommended serving size, wine culture and wine quality. However there’s a growing trend, according to Wolf, with consumers who want smaller packaging. The traditional 750 mL glass bottle is too large for one serving, especially for high value wines.

Wolf says younger consumers are choosing higher quality wines, but only want to enjoy a glass or two and save the rest for another time. With a large bottle, the oxidation process begins as soon as the bottle is opened.

“For example, a bag-in-a-box format is fantastic for portion control. People can have a glass of wine, and then drink the next one a few days later, without the deterioration in quality you get with an opened bottle. It’s good for health too, because people can enjoy a good wine without having 750 mL open in one go,” said Wolf. In the US, the format can be perceived as a premium product, containing reasonable wines as is also in the Nordic countries. In Australia, by contrast, people perceive boxes as being for low value wines, so nobody buys them for quality but in reality for low cost. Wolf believes that this perception needs to change.

Wine aging

One of the biggest challenges with alternative wine packaging options, according to Wolf, is that the packaging material can affect the aging of the wine. Alternative lightweight materials, such as pouches, flexible packaging (such as those for milk and juices), and cans all pose their own challenges to wine aging, with each material presenting a different risk to the oxidation of the wine.

Glass bottles are traditional for wine, backed by alcohol volume legislation in some countries including the US. But even the traditional choice for wine is in the midst of change. Cork vs. screw top glass wine bottle design today is a highly controversial topic. While many love cork closure for its historic background, many others feel cork leads to variation that is less than desirable.


Today’s consumer is interested in more than price and tradition, according to Wolf. Like many wineries, Treasury Wine Estates has a strong focus on sustainability. Wolf says in a perfect world, wine packaging material would be fully compostable or recyclable, creating no waste at all. But at this moment, that’s just not realistic.

Focusing on that direction, many brands are looking for lightweight, small and recyclable packaging that eliminates much of the waste from traditional wine packaging. With many countries, including Ireland, switching from flat-rate waste removal fee structures to weight-based, consumers may be motivated to choose lighter packaging.

Wolf explains the potential also exists to use lightweight pouches for wine. “Pouches save on space and weight, and they could be preferred to PET in the context of consumer resistance to using plastic. There is interest in pouches from Nordic countries, where purchasing of alcohol is controlled by governments, and in Northern Europe because of environmental awareness.” One recent example of innovation with pouches is a milk/juice container that uses a side air pocket to make the packaging stand up (called EcoLean).

“We have to contend with consumers who decide on purchases in a second, and based on whether they are having a good or bad day,” says Wolf. “There is scope for a huge range of different packaging for different audiences, and a short shelf life should not be an issue for the majority of wine purchases—which we know from research are consumed rapidly, generally within 24 hours of purchase. I expect to see continued use of glass bottles, risky cork closures and expensive wine gadgets designed to preserve an open bottle’s contents. But at the same time, the wine industry will be creating cans, boxes and pouches for consumers who want something new.”

Wolf Viergever is a former global innovation leader at Treasury Wine Estates, one of the largest wine companies in the world. Wolf has been in the label and packaging industry since 1985 and the wine industry since 2004. Wolf recently joined a new dynamic Australian Whisky produced called Starward.