WINE: Light Weight Bottles For Packaging
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AS local wineries continue to defy the global economic downturn by annually lifting the export of its packaged wines, they are making concerted moves to lower the weight of wine bottles and so maintain its status as one of the world’s most eco-progressive wine-making nations and a leader in production integrity.
From this year, 750-ml wine bottles closed with screwcaps and weighing only 350 grams will be available to local wine producers. These compare with an average bottle weight of over 500 grams just four years ago.
“As we raise our export volumes of mostly bottled wines, we also increase our carbon emissions, so it becomes a delicate balancing act to enhance our sustainability profile while pushing up our output,” says Su Birch, CEO of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), one of the leading champions of the country’s efforts to grow, make and market wines in a way that is least harmful to the environment.
“On the face of it, one solution might be to ship more of our wines in bulk directly to their export destinations for off-shore bottling. However, this poses a major problem in that many jobs would be lost during what must rank as the worst recession in current memory.
She says the wine industry body, SA Wine Industry Information Systems (SAWIS), has calculated that for every 10 million litres of wine shipped in bulk, just over 107 jobs would be lost. “This figure does not even factor in the multiplier effect that such job losses bring. It has, for example, been reported that for every one of Unilever’s direct jobs in South Africa, another 22 workers depend on the company for at least a part of their livelihood. This is an indication of just how crucial each job is to a developing economy such as ours.”
The wine industry currently provides direct employment for close on 276 000 people, she says.
Last year, South Africa exported 389 million litres of wine. Of the total, less than half - 150.5 million litres - were exported in bulk. “Fortunately, the volume of bulk exports dropped 18% in 2009, compared with year before, whereas packaged exports rose 7% over the same period. This is not only good for individual brands and for jobs but for the quality standing of Brand South Africa.”
While many players in the South African wine industry have actively supported bottle recycling programmes in recent years to reduce their impact on the environment, efforts are now being accelerated to focus on light-weight wine bottles as well.
The new 350 gram glass bottles for red and white wines have been designed to accommodate screwcap closures, which account for over 65% of South Africa’s wine production. They are scheduled for launch by mid-April, in time for the 2010 harvest.
At the same time, the average weight of bottles sealed with corks had been reduced in weight from 570 grams to 460 grams, she says. According to Consol Glass, South Africa’s leading manufacturer of glass containers for the beverage industry, until 2006 the average weight of a 750ml non-returnable wine bottle was 516 grams, which by last year had dropped to 437 grams, a decrease of 15%. The new light-weight bottle will bring down the average still further.
She says the sturdy, light-weighted bottles, apart from strengthening South Africa’s reputation for environmentally responsible wine production, will also address the demands of leading retailers. Also keen to enhance their sustainability credentials, the multiple grocer chains are responding to high-profile media and consumer calls for more eco-friendly packaging.
Birch says alternative wine packaging, such as the wine pouch offered by leading export brand, Arniston Bay, has also been welcomed in many export markets. South African bag-in-box wines are also very popular, particularly in Scandinavia.
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