At the end of November, Amsterdam will once again host the World Bulk Wine Exhibition (WBWE), now in its 13th edition. The fair brings together the leading international producers of bulk wine.
Events like these illustrate how the importance of the bulk wine market has grown over the past decade. Countries like Germany and the United Kingdom lead this segment, which has become essential for many wine producers in both the old and new world.
Bulk wine is defined as wine that is shipped in containers (ISO tanks, Flexitanks, etc.) rather than in bottles or other smaller packaging formats. The original idea behind bulk wine was to bottle the product in the country of destination, that is to say in the place where the wine will be sold.
This not only reduces transportation costs but allows for better quality control of the end wine, greater flexibility in terms of sizes and packaging materials, including glass and other formats such as bag-in-box, cans, and barrels.
One of the greatest benefits, however, is the positive environmental impact of bulk wine, which has brought significant momentum to this segment. Transporting large volumes of bulk wine to be bottled at its destination represents a carbon footprint reduction of up to 40%.
In key countries like England, studies have shown that the bulk wine market may benefit other sectors as well. Take contract wine bottlers for example, whose number has grown substantially in the country over the past decade. Companies like Encirc, Greencroft, and Kingsland are currently operating at nearly full capacity.
Glass production plants provide another example. Bulk wine represents an opportunity for British bottlers to use domestically manufactured glass wine bottles.
Glass remains an essential material for the industry, mainly due to its inert properties which do not affect the end quality of the wine. Bottling in the country of destination reduces the carbon footprint of glass, because these bottles travel shorter distances to reach the end consumer.
From a personal standpoint, one of the most interesting – yet not widely studied – opportunities that transporting wine in bulk opens up is the reuse of bottles.
Is the reuse of bottles an option?
In answering this question, it is important to keep in mind that in the wine industry, transport-related activities represent the second most significant source of scope-3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Topping the list is the glass manufacturing process. Despite technological advances in the sector, glass production still uses fossil fuels to run the melting furnaces.
In the beer industry, the returnable bottle has been around forever. Although this might call for a significant initial investment, it does pay off in the long run as it relates to sustainability and consumer loyalty.
Companies like Starbucks have launched a reusable cup-share initiative in several European, Middle Eastern, and African countries as part of its commitment to cut down on single-use packaging. The initiative not only reduces the amount of waste but allows the coffee giant to build brand loyalty and improve customer retention.
When it comes to returnable packaging, the main inconvenience arises when the filling of the container and the consumption of its contents occur in different places. Wine is transported in bulk so that it can be bottled at its destination. This represents an incredible opportunity for the use of returnable glass bottles in the wine industry. The bottling companies could cooperate with glass manufacturers on developing inverse logistics to retrieve the previously produced wine bottles, refill them, and sell the wine locally within the country.
In the article Wine Bottles Will Change the World, written by Good Goods for the Porto Protocol Foundation, the authors analyse why the wine industry is perfectly positioned to encourage the adoption of commercial reusable products.
They write that “wine bottle reuse represents just part of a much larger opportunity. If wine can drive adoption of reusable models, other industries can follow”.
Given the fact that the sector is facing a global glass shortage, a system of returning empty bottles would offer a direct solution to this problem.
Finally, the use of higher-volume containers provides bulk wine with a wide range of additional benefits. Wine kegs make it possible to reduce the consumption of multiple resources, such as bottles, corks, labels, etc. Stainless steel kegs eliminate tonnes of packaging material and can be reused for over 20 years. Furthermore, the profit margin of wine on tap is up to 25% higher than selling bottled wine by the glass.
Marta Juega, PhD