Why retailers would be wise to take note of boxed wine

Ian Moore
3 July, 23

Student parties in the 90s could be sure of one staple offering; boxed wine. It’s not surprising wine boxes were a student favourite – they contained more liquid than the glass bottle alternatives, were great value for money and had convenient plastic handles for easy transportation to friends’ houses or the local park. In other circles, however, boxed wine was always the butt of jokes and disregarded for being mass-produced and unfashionable. 

Fast-forward twenty years and boxed wine is now winning over even the most discerning wine drinkers. Sales of boxed wine have reached record highs in recent years, partly driven by the pandemic with more of us drinking at home, with Waitrose reporting a 77 per cent rise in boxed white wine sales and boxed wine sales increasing by 41 per cent at Sainsbury’s. 

So, why is the cardboard box alternative to the more traditional glass bottled wine enjoying such a resurgence, with critics claiming it’s much more than a fad and is very much here to stay?  And why should retailers take note and make sure to stock boxed wine options, or as they’re often referred to – Bag-in-Box (BIB) variants?

Reduced carbon footprint 

Environmental impact is certainly one of the main reasons to love boxed wine. Studies show that the carbon footprint of a 4L box of wine is about 40-50 per cent less than the equivalent amount of wine in standard glass bottles, with the difference boiling down to the lower weight packaging material of cardboard vs glass. Boxed wine is also significantly more efficient to store and move, and requires considerably less energy to distribute. It also takes a considerable amount of energy to heat and make glass bottles – BIB alternatives are lightweight and easy to produce and one box is usually the equivalent of four bottles of wine! Another consideration is that, not only is glass extremely heavy to ship, the bottles are often shipped several times before they reach the retailer – many glass bottles are made in China and shipped empty across the Pacific Ocean. Having the right tech in place is also vital for keeping both carbon footprint and costs down, as it enables retailers to keep track of stock levels so they don’t over-order, minimising waste and unnecessary delivery journeys. 

Recyclability potential – glass vs cardboard

Boxed wine not only has huge benefits for the environment in terms of production practices and how the wine is shipped, but it also has considerable ‘green appeal’ when it comes to recyclability potential. Glass would seem a sensible sustainable packaging choice, however, sadly only about a third of wine bottles actually get recycled – the rest end up in landfill. Cardboard is no less recyclable than glass and it is recycled about twice as often. Many people forget about the non recyclable packaging components such as the bag in the box, however, according to studies, even when you take into consideration the non-recyclable packaging components, BIB wines come out as more sustainable than glass bottles. 

Fresher for longer

Brands such as When in Rome and Laylo, are reimagining the experience of drinking wine out of a box and are on a mission to change people’s perception of doing so. Recent advances in technology which have transformed the packaging used for boxed wine, have played a huge part in enabling the boxed variant to house fine wines as well as more mass-produced cheaper variants. The bags inside the boxes used to be lined with aluminum which used to crack so the wine would oxidise rapidly, and quickly become vinegar-like. Now a new material that’s completely malleable is used, which, along with the air-tight seal between the tap and the bag, means that once the wine is opened, it can stay fresh for a month when stored upright and cool in the fridge. Wine in a bottle, however, should ideally be consumed within a matter of hours or days. This has attracted more premium producers to choose boxes for their finer wines. Some BIB wine companies are also now using special vacuum taps, which also go a long way to helping to keep the wine fresher for longer. 

No light strike

Light strike is a phenomenon that has become a bit of a buzzword. It refers to the negative effects sunlight can have on wine, where unpleasant aromas and flavours are produced due to too much sunlight on the product. This can be a real challenge for retailers who don’t have too much space to play around with, and are forced to keep wine bottles away from windows and doors. Wine in glass bottles are clearly much more susceptible to this than boxed wine, which has the protection of the cardboard outer layer. 

Final thoughts

The wine industry is steeped in tradition so it is understandable that there remains some resistance to BIB wines, which are still perceived by many to break classic wine codes and etiquette. However, it would be foolish for retailers to ignore the wide range of high-quality boxed wine on the market today and the host of benefits this variant comes with; and not only benefits for them but for all the participants in the industry – including producers and the end consumer. 

I’ll finish with one last piece of advice to retailers looking to embrace BIB wine and make changes to their current stock; this is to make sure they have the right technology and digital systems in place to manage stock levels and new lineups. Inventory management systems boosted by AI, can help track and manage inventory in real time and are critical for optimising stock availability, helping retailers keep on top of changes and adjustments and ultimately keep their customers happy. 

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