Food Engineering

Food Packaging:<br>It's no oxymoron: quality wines in a box

December 3, 2004


Black Box Wines is the latest entry in the premium segment of wines sold in a box. Beverage-service outlets are driving growth for the packaging, and companies like Black Box think consumers are ready to embrace the bag-in-box as well.
Bag-in-box packaging for wine has been the butt of countless bad jokes, though consumers in Europe and especially Australia have embraced this alternative to the glass bottle for a wide variety of wines. Now companies like Black Box Wines and Hardy Wines Co. are making a run at the U.S. premium segment of the table wines market with 3-liter boxes with an upscale look.

Hardy, an Australian unit of Constellation Brands, and Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Black Box will have distribution in 29 states by year end, thanks to a deal with Constellation's Pacific Wine Partners division. Jug wines have done well in 5-liter bags, but the smaller size lets retailers sale-price premium varietals at around $20, according to Ryan Sproule, Black Box's founder. Comparable wines in bottles cost about $10, and the bag holds the equivalent of four 750 ml bottles.

Sproule's firm purchases wine in bulk and packages it in aseptic bags in a cold-fill operation. Bags are supplied by Scholle Corp., Northlake, Ill. According to Jeff Jeffers, the bags are direct descendants of the 5 gallon collapsible bags the company introduced for milk in the 1950s, though many refinements in fitments, oxygen-barrier properties and polymer construction have been made to make them suitable for better wines.

"Are you talking about reserve or estate wines in this package? No," says Jeffers, Scholle's director of business development. "But bag-in-box typically provides nine to 12 months shelf life for a wine, without affecting the flavor, and it's packaged to fit today's lifestyles."

Those lifestyles include moderate wine consumption for positive health benefits and simple enjoyment of a glass, not a bottle, of wine with a meal. The collapsing bag and airtight valve prevent oxidation and keep the wine fresh for at least three weeks. Once uncorked, bottled wine loses its freshness within days.

Overcoming the bag's negative image " is the biggest challenge," Sproule allows, "but the quality and value of the packaging will change the way Americans feel about boxed wine." He and other wine marketers are betting portability and value pricing will win over the skeptics and help increase U.S. bag-in-box wine sales beyond its 18 percent penetration.

For more information:
Jeff Jeffers, Scholle Corp., 847-778-1728