Now it might have been some time ago that you bought your last bag-in-box wine – unless you are just back from a summer music festival – but when you did one of the greatest things about it was the fact it was like a wine gift that kept on giving. Just when you thought it was empty there was another couple of glasses to eek out. That’s still the case, but the difference now is the quality of wine you can find in bag-in-box has been transformed in recent years as producers, brand owners and importers all respond to the consumer’s call for more sustainable packaging. Here Janet Harrison explains why she loves bag-in-box wines so much she has made it a key feature of her breakthrough People’s Choice Wine Awards.
Bag-in-box wines are close to fast moving from a nice to have niche, to a need to have as consumers wake up to the environmental impact of wine packaging, particularly glass bottles. Janet Harrison, founder of the People’s Choice Wine Awards needs no convincing.
Most of us, either from a trade or consumer perspective, are suffering from collective guilt over what we ‘consume’ and rightly so. It is particularly pertinent when ‘sustainability’ is part of what you or your business is all about.
OK, we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but we do have to be prepared to be questioned by customers about the provenance of wine, how it is made and how it has arrived on the shelf, or in their glass.
So, for those who haven’t explored all the options recently, I thought it was time for a quick roundup on the latest on bag in box wines from all corners, as it were.
‘Boxing Clever’ is an innovative category (with a mildly amusing name) from People’s Choice Wine Awards and one which aims to dispel many myths about the quality of wine inside the bag, inside the box. The winner of the 2019 award was Off Piste Wine’s most Wanted Sauvignon Blanc. The category is sponsored by Smurfit Kappa Bag in Box and it claims wine in a box delivers a fantastically low CO₂ solution, when compared to lightweight glass bottles which, by comparison, rack up seven and a half times more emissions per litre of wine than the boxed equivalent. Choosing boxed wine can, therefore, offer great sustainable opportunities.
They are also good for the quality of the wine, as the box can help keep the wine fresh and drinkable for several weeks, allowing it to be enjoyed a glass at a time, rather than feel you need to finish the bottle. With that in mind, it is favoured by younger generations who are choosing to drink less, with over 50% of frequent bag in box buyers aged between 25 and 44.
The key for bag in box is to be able to build on that quality perception and Smurfit Kappa says it is seeing volumes and demand for bag in box increase as more quality wine brands become available. Wine drinkers, after all, want choice, and one in five are said to be interested in being able to buy their favourite wine in either a box or pouch format. Which, if more wines were available in a box format, would suggest consumers would be prepared to pay a higher price for them, making it a great fit for the on-trade too.
Mary-Ellen McTague, chef and proprietor of The Creameries in the leafy suburb of Chorlton, South Manchester, is one of a number of restaurateurs who are increasingly seeing formats like bag in box being more relevant to the principles they have for their restaurant. McTague, whose career as a chef spans 20 years, including spells at the Fat Duck at Bray and Aumbry in Prestwich, has developed The Creameries very much on the ethos of responsible, local and sustainable sourcing for all its produce, and, as a result, serves natural and low intervention wines.
“We use suppliers who are concerned about sustainability and carry extensive lines of bag-in-box wines. From a business point of view there are no negative features of the format – other than we need to address recyclable pouches and valves!” she says.
Like most of the premium on-trade, it generally sells these wines by the carafe and customers are aware that they have come from a box or pouch, and McTague she has had no complaints so far.
That will come as no surprise to Oliver Lea, managing director of the BIB Wine Company, which was set up to not only create a bag in box wine brand, but to do so at a premium, with quality wine, carefully sourced from independent producers. So, yes, whilst the fundamental principle of BIB was to offer wines that “cause less waste and less damage to your wallet” they are also wines “we can honestly say we love to drink ourselves,” says Lea.
BIB sees the carafe option in the on-trade as a great way to introduce more interesting and ambitious wines from bag in box. Whilst they do supply to a number of restaurants in the Bristol and Derby area, it is also firmly set on selling directly to the consumer.
Raising the bar
It has certainly raised the bar when it comes to packaging and it have boxes you wouldn’t be ashamed of taking round to a mate’s house for dinner. But it is the quality of the wine that really makes it stand out. It has, for example, joined forces with the English wine producer, Three Choirs, to make a Bacchus bag in box wine which really is pushing the bar upwards. Its best seller is a bag in the box Montepulciano. Helped, no doubt, that it has former Waitrose wine chief, Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, as part of the team out looking for new producers to work with.
The more consumers realise there is great quality wine to had in bag-in-box wines then it can only help the category grow both in the on-trade and off-trade.
When in Rome, which specialises in bag-in-box is doing what it can to push things forward. Set up as an Anglo-Italian business it works with small, independent producers and has built up a strong customer base in the UK, Finland and Canada. So far, the company is concentrating its efforts on the off-trade. Rob Malin, chief executive, says bag-in-box makes sense because it makes economic sense. They are easier to buy, produce, ship and are practical for the consumer.The juice stays fresh for up to six weeks, there is less wastage and they “certainly don’t break so easily,” he says.
When in Rome is one of the supplier partners working with Waitrose as part of its ‘unpacked trial’ store format and is currently selling its wines on tap at the Waitrose ‘unpacked’ store in Oxford. Consumers can bring in their own bottles and fill up from four selected wines to take home. This is an idea already adopted by many independent wine merchants, also using keg wines and their own re-usable bottles.
All in all, this is looks like positive news for producers, importers, retailers and restaurants. With a great back-story, an increasingly impressive look to some of the boxes and pouches and the ability to sell more wine by volume for the on-trade.
The People’s Choice Wine Awards is one of few wine competitions that accept wine in boxes (or indeed other alternative means of packaging) to be entered. Moreover, there are also no barriers to submitting them into non-BIB categories as all wines are served in carafes or bottles during the judging session.
We think bag-in-box wines are a packaging format that should be promoted and celebrated and are pleased to be working with Smurfit Kappa to help do so.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to ‘do my bit’ for the planet tonight. I just need to find the tap……
- You can now enter the 2020 People’s Choice Wine Awards, which does exactly what it says on the tin and involves everyday wine drinkers in the judging process. It also has specially created consumer friendly wine categories like BBQ wine, bag-in-box wine. All entry details are here. Entries are open until 30 September.