Alternative Wine Packaging Update

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I can’t resist checking out what’s new on the wine wall when I’m out and about and so a trip to the QFC supermarket in Belfair, Washington necessarily evolved into wine economics fieldwork. QFC is a Pacific Northwest component of the vast Kroger supermarket chain, which was recently named wine retailer of the year by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

It is understand why. All the Kroger empire stores that I have been to in recent years feature extensive wine departments, each tailored logically to match local shopper demographics. QFC (for Quality Food Centers) seems to me to target an upscale customer base and the last remodel of this store expanded the wine wall and introduced a climate controlled walk-in wine cave where some relatively expensive bottles reside.

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It is always fun to look at the wine selection at this store and I noticed a little while ago that a special section has been carved out for “Alternative Packages.” This makes sense generally, I think, because wine has moved beyond the standard 750 ml and 1.5 l glass bottles to include many other containers.┬áThe fact that there is a separate wall of these wines suggests that the customer who comes shopping for alternatives is a bit different from the glass bottle buyer.

Probably true generally, but particularly for this store. Belfair sits on the edge of Hood Canal, a major salt water recreation destination with many hiking and biking trails in the surrounding hills. Alternative packages lend themselves to boating, backpacking and picnics. Economy is one driver in this segment, but not the only one. Convenience and the environment are also important.

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I was interested to see what was classified as an alternative package. Big bag-in-box wines, of course, both domestic and import, with prices ranging from economy to premium. Tetrapacks like French Rabbit and Bandit, too, in both 1 liter and smaller sizes were also present. Four-packs of mini-bottles were classified as “alternative” as well.

I don’t think I saw any cans of wine or pouches of wine, but perhaps they were located elsewhere int he store as I think I’ve spotted them here in the past. These are also convenient delivery systems that are getting more attention from consumers.

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I was interested to see the Stack wines, single serving plastic wine glasses sold in four-glass “stacks.” Just zip off the plastic wrapping, snap off the lid and you’re in business.

P1070275I don’t know anything about the Stack wines apart from what I found on their website, but I understand that this category is growing. Correspondence from the folks at Copa di Vino wine (which was not available at this particular store) reveals that their single-serving brand is selling 600,000 wine cups per month and is looking to expand.

I’m told that wine cups add to total sales for retailers rather than cannibalizing existing customers, which means it really is a different market, driven by different factors. I guess the folks at Kroger really know what they are doing in carving out a separate Alternative Packages category!

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5 responses

  1. Very interesting report. It’s especially important to us since we sell a multi-beverage insulated bag that is uniquely designed for box wine, i.e. the bag of wine inside the box. It’s called Bag O’ Wine Insulated Carrier
    We’ve explored Kroger and the mountain you’d have to climb to get a product placed with them but our bag is perfect for all 3 and 5 liter bags, bottles and all of the alternative wine packages. Your article makes us think we should seriously consider Kroger. Thanks for the report.

  2. While this segment is expanding with a number of new products, I’m very curious to see if more progressive brands from a “shelf-above” move into this space, because they can position themselves as more environmentally friendly and offer a price break for same product because of the packaging savings.
    Last time we were in Chile, a few years ago, I saw the same wines side by side, same price for 750ml glass and 1L tetra-paks. Could we see that happen here with familiar brands?

    The stigma against bulk package wine is starting to be eroded by better quality. For instance Jenny & Francois distribute a fun tasty baby Cotes du Rhone that can be had for $36/3L box, and we’ve also come across a Spanish Tempranillo box for about $23 that’s totally satisfying for daily table needs. I’ve got to believe that more folks will be thinking inside the box.

  3. Mike,
    Albertson’s had a Cab and Merlot (can’t remember the brand but I wrote you about them about a month ago) in pint or smaller boxes that allowed me to test that brand rather than buy the liter or 3-liter size. Glad they did because I was not impressed. I love the convenience of “bag-in-box” wines. Some time ago – maybe 20 years – I was asked to take home a freshly opened box of Franzia Cab because my hosts said they would never finish it. It took me almost a year to drain the 5-bottle box, and as I remember, it wasn’t bad. I’ve tried Franzia since then and it’s been terrible. Black Box is better. A friend came to dinner last week armed with a bottle of Matthews 2010 Columbia Valley Claret he got from the Trader Joe’s in Burien – it was good enough I’m going back for more.

  4. Mike –
    New at Unified was a single serve stemware shaped package the had a resealable screw on lid. Seems like the next progression from Copa &Stack. Wine in a cup and then refill at home for your next picnic! I think a bottle & a corkscrew would serve the same purpose but this seems to be a growing market.

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