It’s hip to be square with your wine as flat plastic bottles are launched in Australia

Is this lightweight, fully recycled bottle shaped like what’s to come? Younger consumers are likely to say yes; wine aficionados may not be so sure.

A new eco-friendly wine bottle that has the potential to halve the CO2 emissions of your favorite drop that was launched nationally last week. It is the latest step in the Australian wine industry to move away from glass that is harmful to the environment.

The flat-pack bottle, made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic, eliminates one of the main causes of wine’s carbon footprint. It is also fully recyclable.

The new bottles are made from 100 percent recycled plastic and reduce CO2 emissions. Photo: delivered (Taylors Wines)

“Beverages in general need to take responsibility for their impact on the environment,” said Mike Bennie, co-owner of P&V Wine + Liquor Merchants in Sydney. “I think we are way too late with a wine packaging reinvention.”

It is estimated that glass packaging and transport contribute 68 percent to the CO2 emissions of every bottle of wine in Australia. Fossil fuels are burned to make the glass, more fuel is needed to transport heavy bottles, and even recycling glass produces carbon.

Packaging company Packamama created the bottle with these considerations in mind and launched in the UK in 2018, followed by the European Union and Scandinavian countries.

The more association we have with the fact that wine from plastic bottles is good for you… the more likely you will accept it next time.

Dr Julia Low, RMIT

The company says studies in those markets have shown that the bottle had between 45 and 53 percent fewer emissions than various glass bottles.

In Australia, the flat-pack bottle joins a range of canned winesnew wave barrelsbags, wine from the tap and other glass-free innovations adopted in recent years.

Coles’ liquor stores, currently the sole distributors of the bottles, say internal research shows a strong consumer preference for sustainable choices, with one in two people claiming they change their behavior as a result of product packaging.

Together with large-scale South Australian wineries Banrock Station and Taylors Wines, Coles approached Packamama to get the square bottle on Australian shelves. After finding local manufacturer Visy, the eco bottle was launched without further emissions from shipping.

While the bottle is only used by Banrock and Taylors for now, Packamama says it will hold up to 85 percent of the wine purchased in Australia.

“The help [winemaking] giants is where we can make the most impact,” said Santiago Navarro, CEO of Packamama.

Mike Bennie with co-owner of P&V Liquor Merchants in Sydney, Lou Dowling.

Mike Bennie with co-owner of P&V Liquor Merchants in Sydney, Lou Dowling. Photo: Maclay Heriot

Airlines, including Virgin Australia, are also using the bottle, but Navarro adds that the technology is scalable to wineries of all sizes.

Winemakers can send wine to a contract packing center in Melbourne or buy the eco bottles to fill them at their winery. Packamama recommends sending a minimum of 12,000 liters to the packing facility, meaning boutique wineries are better off with their own semi-automatic fillers.

Aside from the environmental benefits, the lightweight bottle is also suitable for consumers camping, fishing or picnicking with wine – basically any outdoor setting.

Sommelier Lillia McCabe pours a glass of wine from a barrel at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar in 2020.

Sommelier Lillia McCabe pours a glass of wine from a barrel at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar in 2020. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Coles customer surveys show convenience is more important than traditional views that wine should be in the glass, said Mia Lloyd, Coles Liquor’s acting general manager for trade planning and insights. It’s another reason she’s confident the bottle will be successful.

But which drinkers switch from good old-fashioned glass to a new-wave bottle?

Millennials are more likely to look for sustainable packaging in nontraditional designs, said Sandy Mayo, chief marketing officer of Accolade Wines, owner Banrock Station. The winery’s label deliberately emphasizes the bottle’s eco credentials.

Riot Wine's keg system reduces reliance on glass bottles by location.

Riot Wine’s keg system reduces reliance on glass bottles by location. Photo: Delivered

dr. Julia Low, a sensory and consumer science lecturer at RMIT, explains that the more memories and associations a consumer has about wine—an emotional purchase—the harder it is to overcome.

For example, older wine connoisseurs may have trouble switching to plastic.

But drinkers who are just now maturing may be more familiar with wine in materials other than glass.

The lightweight and flat design makes the new bottles good for outdoors.

The lightweight and flat design makes the new bottles good for outdoors. Photo: delivered (Banrock Station)

“The more association we have that wine from plastic bottles is good for you, it’s good for the environment, and it tastes the same… the more likely you’ll accept it next time,” says Low.

Navarro is clear that the PET bottles are not suitable for wine that goes into the cellar. The maximum shelf life is about two years.

Bennie agrees: “You can make extremely good wine in this container. But in general you should drink them in their youth.”

Riot's wine in a can, another emerging wine trend.

Riot’s wine in a can, another emerging wine trend. Photo: Delivered

Bennie supports having a number of packaging levels for the different ways wine is consumed.

Barrels are the best choice for non-glass in his Sydney bottle shops in Newtown and Paddington, thanks in part to people’s familiarity with how they work, he believes.

Riot Wine began offering cask wine for venues in 2016 and later added cans, which keep both glass bottles out of the equation. Founder Tom O’Donnell says their biggest challenge is educating consumers about how wine in a can works.

“It’s a pretty traditional industry and we’re a pretty traditional country. However, quality will always prevail.”

Riot’s wine-based spritzes, which are already cold and bubbly, are easier to sell than red wine in a can. But he says 20- to 35-year-olds of all genders are very receptive to cans. “It’s becoming more and more accepted and I think it’s really ‘look at this space’.”

“There is an element of taking risks in a new format, but the biggest risk in the context of a climate crisis is inaction,” says Navarro.

Packamama attended the Wine Tech trade event in Adelaide last week and plans to accelerate development of a second bottling plant in South Australia.

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