Alternative wine formats: The pros and cons - Fruit & Vine

Alternative wine formats: The pros and cons

Sustainability is a hot topic in the agricultural and horticultural worlds right now – including the debate over wine packaging. Fruit & Vine looks into the alternative options.

Sustainability is a hot topic in the agricultural and horticultural worlds right now – including the debate over wine packaging.

Glass bottles are the most recognised and popular packaging option for the presentation and storage of wine. From a technical point of view, glass offers a fully neutral environment suitable for controlled maturation over long periods, and currently, no other material can offer that.

But when it comes to wines that are not intended for the wine cellar, perhaps it’s time to think outside the bottle.

In recent years we have seen a number of alternative formats come to market. But what are these formats, what are the pros and cons for both the producer and the consumer, and why is there so much reticence to make the leap from bottles?


While producers may consider reducing their carbon footprint by simply reducing the weight of glass bottles, there comes a point where weight savings come at the expense of bottle strength and, consequently, an increase in breakages. So, the three primary considerations for the producer when it comes to wine packaging formats are:

Environmental sustainability – Although the challenge of reaching net zero affects every business, there is a distinct spotlight on the agricultural and horticultural industries when it comes to environmental credentials.

The production and packaging of wine contribute hugely to carbon costs, as does transporting the bottles. The shape and weight of wine bottles make them particularly inefficient to pack and transport, leaving a substantial carbon footprint

Cost – The cost of producing wine bottles, along with recent shortages, has made wine producers question their options

Consumer opinion – While historically, wine sold in anything other than bottles has been seen as a lower quality, or ‘inferior’ product, more recently the increased awareness of the importance of sustainability and environmental impact among consumers means that they are becoming more open to alternative formats.

Bag in box

Bag in box (BIB) formats have been widely available for many years, particularly on supermarket shelves.

BIB is essentially a cardboard box containing a flexible bag made from either plastic or plastic with aluminium, with an external tap. Shelf life is around 8–10 months, and as the bag limits oxidation, once opened the wine can stay fresh for up to six weeks. Capacity is usually 2.25-litre or 3-litre boxes (the equivalent of three or four 750ml bottles) although larger options are available.

The BIB format, while tried and tested, has historically been associated with lower quality wines. This, however, is changing and many premium wines are now introducing boxed formats.

BIB is more lightweight than glass, therefore more efficient in terms of both transportation costs and carbon emissions. The cardboard box and plastic bag need to be separated for recycling.

Plastic (PET) bottle

Standard shape or flat PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are gaining popularity among producers, due to their recyclability, low carbon footprint and lighter weight compared to glass. The more recently available flat bottles are also easier and more efficient to pack, store and transport.

PET bottles are most often used in standard 750ml size, although smaller single-serve bottle sizes are available. Wine in PET bottles has a shelf life of approximately 18 months.

Consumer opinion around single use plastics and media reports of ‘leaching’ of plastic into the wine are a challenge to overcome.

Paper bottle

Another innovative bottle format currently on the rise is the paper bottle. Essentially, this is a bottle-shaped BIB with a screwcap, made from recyclable paperboard with a food-grade lining.

As with BIB, these are lighter than glass bottles, but their shape retains the inefficiencies for transport in terms of volume/palletisation, and the lining needs to be separated from the outer before recycling.
Sold in traditional 750ml size, shelf life is claimed to be around 12 months.


Aluminium cans, lined with a lacquer, are generally sold in single servings of 200ml or 250ml. It’s becoming more common for producers to replace their single serve bottles with cans as they are more lightweight, convenient and are generally recyclable.

If acidity and sulphite levels are managed carefully during production, wine in cans can have a shelf life of 12–18 months.


Wine pouches are made from similar materials to the bags used inside boxed wines, but with an additional layer to reduce the effect of light spoilage.

The pouches are lightweight, unbreakable and portable, but require specialist recycling.
Pouched wines have a similar shelf life to a BIB and fit neatly into most fridges once opened.

Carton/Tetra Pak

Regularly used for milk and fruit juice packaging, Tetra Pak cartons are made using layers of cardboard, plastic and aluminium. These multiple layers are what make them more difficult (although not impossible) to recycle conventionally.

This format is lightweight, unbreakable and easy to transport due to its shape and robustness. Tetra Pak also potentially offers a shelf life of around 12–18 months.

However, public perception of cartons has led them to be associated with low quality wine.

Increasing marketability

Unlike glass bottles, where you are mainly restricted to labels only, the materials of these alternative formats offer wine producers a fantastic opportunity to come up with eye-catching branding and designs, which should pique the interest of consumers and, when sustainability credentials are also highlighted, potentially increase uptake.

Marketing the portability of these alternative formats is also key. Cans, cartons, BIB and paper bottles are much more convenient and portable than glass bottles. Cans, cartons, BIB, paper and PET bottles are easy to open and robust, and therefore ideal for outdoor activities such as picnics and festivals; while single use cans and even pouches can easily be transported when travelling.

It’s not just consumers who need to think differently, though – winemakers also have to consider that not all wines will tolerate all packaging formats, and as such either pick the best format for their particular wine, or adapt their winemaking accordingly.

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