Can Luxury and Sustainability Harmonize in the Wine and Spirits Sector?
This post has been contributed by Suzanne Besson, Business Development Director, SGK
According to GlobalData’s 2019 Q3 consumer survey, 71% of global consumers consider it ‘quite’ or ‘extremely’ important for product packaging to be made from sustainable or renewable sources. Of the consumers surveyed, 25% believed it important for packaging to have a luxury appearance. These statistics have meant, in some cases, less sustainable practices, such as in the whiskey market, which is driven by premiumisation and weightier bottles and packaging with special finishes have become prominent design features.
While other FMCG sectors appear to be embracing sustainable packaging, the wine and spirits sector is often viewed as lagging behind. However, there is new evidence to show that the industry is catching up, not only as a result of pressure from consumers and retailers, but the ways in which wine and spirit brands can embrace sustainability is evolving.
Luxury is often linked to excess and waste, whereas sustainability is associated with ethics and restraint. So how well can the themes of luxury and sustainability harmonize in the wine and spirits market?
We highlight four ways in which wine and spirits brands are integrating sustainability into their stories while maintaining a position of luxury.
1. Water Usage Reductions
Water is a vital ingredient to the production of wine and spirits, which comes at the price of making the industry one of the least sustainable. With about 870 litres of water used to create one litre of wine, and water being considered the number one ingredient for creating vodka, the industry faces an uphill battle when it comes to water conservation. But major brands are taking big steps to reduce their water usage.
One example is Beam Suntory, which began its sustainability efforts in 2006 by investing $60 million to reduce environmental impacts, establishing two natural water sanctuaries in North America, and providing 5,000 people in India permanent access to safe drinking water.
Bacardi reduced its water usage primarily by implementing water recycling practices throughout various processes, such as recycling the water used to rinse whiskey barrels. These practices resulted in recycling up to 15,000 gallons of water per day and an overall reduction in water usage of 50% since 2006.
2. Localized Supply Chain
Whether it’s called ‘seed-to-spirit’ or ‘farm-to-flask,’ one method luxury brands can employ to enhance their sustainability efforts is ensuring local sourcing and ingredients, which brings a luxurious craftsmanship to their brand.
Absolut’s Elyx Vodka touts localized efforts by growing and producing every ingredient within a 15-mile radius, including wheat from a single estate only few miles from its distillery. These sustainability efforts tell a brand story of reduced transportation as well as a support of local agriculture.
Edrington premium spirits based in Scotland is also committed to sourcing raw materials “as close to home as possible,” utilizing local suppliers.
3. Reducing Carbon Emissions
Transport for wine and spirits is a prominent part of the industry, making high carbon emission rates challenging to avoid. The carbon footprint of an average bottle of wine is the equivalent to driving 3 miles in a small car, and a study by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable showed a single 750ml bottle of spirits produces over six pounds of CO2.
The solution is not as likely to be found in reducing transport, but in creating lighter packaging innovations.
One of a recent innovation in this sector is the flat wine bottle created for Garçon Wines. Made from recyclable PET, the bottles are said to be 40% more spatially efficient than round bottles and are 87% lighter than glass bottles. In addition, the brand has created a 10-bottle case that it says cuts greenhouse gas emissions and business costs by 60%. A pallet loaded with these cases could hold 1,040 bottles, compared to only 456 conventional bottles.
Photo Credit: Garçon Wines
A more established solution to the weight and transport considerations of glass are aluminium cans. As a result, canned wine is becoming more prevalent, and increasingly accepted by consumers. Sustainability is just one benefit of this format, as it also offers consumers a portable alternative to glass at events and outdoor activities.
4. Packaging Alternatives
Reducing the amount of packaging is one approach to sustainability, but another is to make the pack as reusable as possible by giving it a secondary purpose rather than something to be discarded. Being creative with structural design and materials, whilst having an eye on a premium result is key.
The UK’s Sustainable Spirit Company is pioneering packaging reductions with their eco-friendly spirit pouches. What started as an 8.4-litre ‘bag-in-box’ has evolved into its 2.8-litre Eco Pouch. The pouch reduces packaging by 95%, and transported weight by 45%. In addition, use of the pouch entirely eliminates the energy used to produce a new bottle.
Photo Credit: Sustainable Spirit Company
Victory, a London-based distillery, is also utilizing innovative packaging solutions. First is the KeyKeg, which it considers to be ‘the future of spirits distribution’. Each 20-litre recyclable keg contains the equivalent of 28 700ml bottles, saving more than 20kg in glass. A pump tap is supplied, allowing bars to refill glass bottles easily. Victory also supplies its spirits in Eco Pouches, each containing the equivalent of three 700ml bottles, and offering a pour spout that fits into its spirit bottles. Pouches reduce packaging waste by 85%, and are considered not only more sustainable, but also more cost-effective.
What do luxury wine and spirits brands need to know?
For all brands, be they luxury or mid-market, sustainability is no longer considered optional, but essential. The luxury packaging market must find a way to help their customers align with the sustainability topic, whilst maintaining a premium look and feel.
About Suzanne Besson: Suzanne (Zanny) has more than twenty years’ experience in branding, graphics and print deployment, specialising in packaging. She began her career with SGK in 1997, fulfilling client on-site roles at Nestle, Molson Coors and Premier Foods. She then spent 6 years at Imperial Brands during 2012-2018, where she lead the Global Print Deployment team, before re-joining SGK. Today she works as a Business Development Director, focused on helping large organisations implement best practice processes for the development of optimised packaging and branded content. Today, as part of the wider SGK team, she is involved in a number of initiatives focused on bringing sustainable solutions to SGK’s clients.
How Sustainable Packaging Is Disrupting CPG
This blog post has been contributed by Stephen Marshman, business development director, SGK.
Sustainability has become a topic that no one can or should ignore. But this is not a new issue. From a packaging perspective, there has long been a drive to design and introduce materials and structures that are kinder to our planet.
What has felt different over the last twelve months is the urgency with which the subject is being discussed. This is due, in no small part, to what we might call the “Attenborough” effect; a high-profile figure elevating the issue to a new level in the public’s consciousness through the emotive imagery of our oceans choking in plastic.
Some would argue that there is an oversimplification in the primary message that most audiences have inferred: “all plastic is bad”. And while this might be misleading and even unhelpful, few would dispute that placing environmental concerns over packaging waste at the top of the agenda is a bad thing.
One question that remains unclear is exactly who owns this particular agenda item? Of course, the correct answer is that brand-owners, retailers, governments and consumers have a collective responsibility to protect our planet. And we can see changes on all fronts.
Consumer packaged goods companies create and refine their 2025 sustainability pledges. Retailers draw up preferred materials guidelines. New generations of consumers have higher than ever expectations with regard to the sustainability of the packaging that protects the goods they buy. Governments look to update the legislative framework and provide more funding to support waste and recycling initiatives.
Few would dispute that any of these efforts are well-intentioned but there any many who would argue that none of these groups are doing enough and that the overall approach needs to be more cohesive.
Below, we’ve outlined four sub-themes related to the sustainable packaging conversation and highlight the importance of partnerships in order to succeed.
Say It (Or Do It) Like You Mean It.
For far too long, the approach to sustainability from many companies has smacked of tokenism, rather than a genuine effort to bring about meaningful change. For some big packaging producers, historically this has taken the form of treating environmental programs as box-ticking exercises, or they’ve been guilty of “greenwashing”—exaggerating or misrepresenting the environmental benefits of your organisation’s products or practices.
More well-informed consumers are increasingly attuned to these misleading approaches and the negative publicity can be damaging. Sustainable packaging programs are no longer just a “nice to have”—it’s time to get real.
Fact Over Fiction.
While we acknowledge that sustainability is being talked about more widely than ever before, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there is more clarity on exactly what we need to do. Even a high-profile impact like that achieved by the Blue Planet docuseries can add to the confusion, rather than simplifying the issue.
Though not by design, the overwhelming takeaway message seized upon by many who viewed these documentaries would have been that plastic, as a packaging material, is universally bad for our planet.
While no one refutes that certain plastics undoubtedly need to be removed from the supply chain, in many cases plastic will provide a packaging solution with an overall environmental impact that is less damaging to the planet than other materials. This oversimplified binary view of packaging materials regards alternatives, such as aluminium and glass, as universally good, which, when considering the overall environmental impact, is not always the case. The underlying message is that as both producers and consumers we need to be better informed.
To Fix It, You Might Have to Break It.
Closely linked to practices like greenwashing, is the idea that we might make incremental changes that will bring about an end to the global environmental crisis. This view is starting to sound outdated and we will need to think far more radically in order to bring about meaningful change.
There needs to be a more disruptive approach. In packaging terms, this means going beyond just trying to recycle our way out of the problem. We need to think about new models that not only recycle packaging more efficiently, reduce material usage and reuse packaging but potentially eliminate the need for traditional packaging formats altogether. This is one such model from Loop, whose at-home delivery service is specifically designed around eliminating packaging and the use of reusable containers.
Loop represents a different type of consumer experience. Not only is the bricks-and-mortar store eliminated but in many cases the product packaging has gone too. To deliver solutions that are going to achieve meaningful sustainability targets and still retain and grow brand loyalty, packaging producers need to think themselves into the heads of generations of shoppers who will buy very differently.
This is about more than developing an effective e-commerce strategy. As important as that might be, technology will continue to evolve and can play a vital role in providing new approaches of marketing and delivering products to new generations of consumers in ways that protect their planet. Early engagement with these growing demographics is imperative.
So, how can it be done?
There is no doubt, we are stronger together. It will be almost impossible to step-up sustainability efforts to the levels they are needed if all parties don’t work in partnership.
Players across the packaging value chain, from design (strategic and structural) through to packaging producers and waste disposal specialists must collaborate with each other, and the conversation needs to engage more key groups as well.
Retailers, consumers and lawmakers all have a vital part to play if we are to make truly transformational changes in packaging sustainability that will have a lasting positive impact on our planet.
About Stephen Marshman: Stephen has more than twenty years’ experience in branding and graphics, having begun his career with SGK in 1997. Today he works as a Business Development Director, focused on helping large organisations implement best practice processes for the development of optimised packaging and branded content. Specialising in artwork and pre-press for packaging and with a proven track record of helping clients optimise their marketing supply chains he has extensive experience of both the Consumer Packaged Goods and Life Sciences sectors. Today, as part of the wider SGK team, he is involved in a number of initiatives focused on bringing sustainable solutions to SGK’s clients.
2014 SGK Environmental Report
Since launching our sustainability program, we continue to reduce our utilities and paper usage. Our emissions are also lower, and our waste is less. Our employees are more productive, our suppliers more efficient, and our clients more successful. We are proud of our accomplishments, yet we’re eager to do more.
With the continued enthusiasm and support of our business partners and employees through 2014 and beyond, there is truly no limit to what we can do.
Through sustainability, we can streamline business processes, and further reduce our energy, paper usage, and waste. We look to increase our efforts to source more materials locally to lessen the transportation impact on our environment. We can leverage technology to accomplish more—faster and more efficiently. All this results in a more sustainable business, industry, and world.
Download the 2014 SGK Environmental Report to learn more about SGK’s bold plan for a brighter future for our planet.
Sustainability! Together We Create Change for Good: The SGK 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Report
SGK takes a broad and integrated view of sustainability. Our 2013 Report details our ongoing efforts to supply our clients with solutions that are environmentally clean, efficient and compliant with regulatory requirements.
Our efforts extend across materials, technologies and processes and include collaborative efforts that encourage innovation and better the world we share with our clients and customers.
From our increased recycling of polymers to our consistent reduction in emissions, paper use and waste – plus numerous processes that conserve all kinds of resources – SGK is a sustainability leader among companies that serve global brands. The details are right here.