Is This the Beginning of Juice Box Wine?

Juice Box globalization was one of three wine market scenarios that I proposed in a talk I gave in January 2013 at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in Sacramento (you can read a brief summary of my remarks here). I was inspired by the Minute Maid apple juice box pictured in the slide above.

You think of Minute Maid as an American brand and goodness knows that we grow lots of apples here, but in fact it has become a globally sourced product. The generic apple juice in that box could come from the U.S. or Argentina, Austria, Chile, China, Germany or Turkey (or any combination of them, I suppose). The brand is the thing here — country of origin is almost literally a footnote and apple variety is a complete non-issue.

Is juice box wine possible — wine pretty much stripped of variety and place of origin? Many heads nodded yes in the audience as I asked the question. Just a matter of time as global sourcing of wine becomes a key supply side factor and strong brand identity continues to grow in importance on the demand side. Juice box wine isn’t the only direction wine is headed, I suggested, but it is one possibility.

Barefoot Makes an Impression

And now it is here (although perhaps not for the first time). Gallo’s Barefoot brand has introduced a new red blend wine, Barefoot Impression, made from grapes grown on four continents, according to a recent report in the Modesto Bee

Impression Red Blend is the 22nd product from Barefoot, which Gallo has built into the nation’s top-selling brand. The blend includes grenache from Spain, shiraz from Australia, malbec from Argentina and tempranillo from California.

 Impression joins 14 still wines and seven sparkling wines, all made from California grapes, in the Barefoot portfolio. Barefoot winemaker Jennifer Wall describes the new wine as “a smooth red blend with dark fruit flavors, framed by notes of sweet vanilla and spice.” It has a suggested retail price of $6.99.
Lost in Space?
A quick trip to my local Safeway store revealed Barefoot Impression on the shelf along with other inexpensive red blends. The purple footprint was part of the typically attractive Barefoot package. But I was more interested in what the package didn’t say than what it did. No vintage year. No listing of the grape varieties used. And no listing at all of place of origin.
Whereas the Barefoot Zinfandel I found proudly boasted Lodi as its birthplace, and “California” appeared on several varieties (the Pinot Grigio in my store was an American appellation), I could not find any geographical designation at all for the Impression. I guess it makes sense — a multi-vintage blend has no year and a multi-continental blend has no specific point of origin (although there would be nothing to stop Barefoot from providing this information if they wanted to).
Message in the Bottle
Will consumers care that there is no vintage year or appellation? Some might question the wine if they look for traditional year-variety-origin references. But Barefoot has created their own narrative (see video below), which is very much in the Barefoot spirit and very appealing, too, and I am sure the marketing team has discovered that at least some Barefoot drinkers respond to the progressive social message more effectively than they would to a more traditional alternative.
Is Barefoot Impression the beginning of an important trend? Impression probably isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last wine in this category. Watch this space for future reports.

6 responses

  1. Very interesting branding strategy that implies that budget consumers are not purchasing wine for traditional reasons but rather for the attributes the wine conveys such as social action, minimal branding, and everyday consumption. I think this will appeal to many 20-30 year olds who are open to wine but want to align their consumption with their lifestyle. I enjoyed viewing the video though the thought of drinking the wine is scary.

  2. To an Italian from Piedmont, it is totally unbelievable…. Probably we drink worse wine that Impression but at least it’s our wine…

  3. Mike, I sat in on this speech you gave and furiously took notes this year. I think your juice box prediction is very interesting. I just can’t decide were I stand on it. Part on me wants to say yes because its happening already like with your example of Barefoot Impression. But I think if that does become widely popularized I think things like vineyard/row/appellation designated wine or varietals will become more prestigious to purchase or own. Think about this, wines like Flip Flop and Barefoot are under the $10 mark and therefore appeal to the 20-30 crowd respectively. Eventually that crowd will become more established with their incomes and although will still purchase those wines for large group gatherings where the wine will be flowing. More intimate times for appreciation will call for those high end wines that ARE NOT these global melodies of random wine grapes. They’re going to seek out a Clarksburg Red designated “ROW 57” Tempranillo
    You noted that Barefoot impression might be the start of an important trend. That trend has been happening for while now. The most notable brands that I can think of is of course TOMS shoes with their one for one movement to donate shoes. Flip Flip wines does the same thing with the purchase of their wines. Charity wine bottles exist in small boutique wineries across California already. Consumers my age (21-35) like the idea of breaking down the evils of consumerism and feeling good about their purchases. I have sold a $39 bottle of “red blend” just because is was tied to a beautiful story and charity. Big brands are just jumping on a grass roots idea spawned by people who really wanted to give back. I love you articles by the way. Hope to hear to speak again at the 2014 UWGS.

  4. If I think about when I first started drinking wine, as an uneducated but, moderately informed consumer, I bought based almost purely on branding. I can even tell you that the first wines I bought often were “Luna di Luna” wines in their easily recognizable packaging. Without much of a developed palate at the time, it was “good enough” for the night and easy enough to find. It was only after moving to California and being immersed in wine culture coupled with a nagging urge to educate myself that I began to pay attention to varietals, country and area of origin and the vintage year when considering a wine purchase.

    As wine continues to grow it’s share in the lower-end markets, it is presumable that many people buying wine will be in this former category of consumer as I was. Most people do not devote hours of research to their wine purchases opting instead for buying what they know and trust…aka, branding. Over time, this shifts in my experience, but it also takes some effort and experience on the part of the consumer; they have to care beyond price point and “good enough”. My mother is a perfect example, buying her Luis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages religiously simply because of familiarity, branding (French is good, right?) and price point.

    Speaking from a beer perspective, people pay 2x as much simply to buy their beer in a 22oz bottle, largely because of the perception of the packaging, never mind that it is the same exact product as can be found in much more economical 6 packs in most cases. So it is not without reason that savvy producers will follow market trends and more and more the emergence of “juice box” wines will continue, especially if producers can save money by using tetra-packs both in production and shipping. How that will continue to affect the ultra-premium producers is anyone’s guess. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that pride and tradition alone will be sufficient motivation to continue producing the higher end wines, even if in more limited quantities. Look at the progression of screw tops compared to corks for an example of those very same principles at play.

  5. In Canada there is a category of wine called “Cellared in Canada” which means it was bottled in Canada, it was presented for many years as an local wine so in BC people assumed a BC wine, the same goes for Ontario. The press after 10 (maybe more) years made this a story. The label had in the finest of print on the back in the contents area “cellared in Canada” of course nobody read that or if they did did not understand it. So the now the wines are displayed in a second area of a liquor store with a sign saying Cellared in Canada, wines sourced from all over the world.

    Some of the biggest brands in Canada are these brands, a friend asked if she should stop drinking them and I said no drink whatever you like. My problem is they are often lowest common denominator wines, the merlot may come from 5-6 counties, whatever they can get for $0.25lt and blended together, this may be good or bad its just not consistent.

    The main tetra packaged wines in our market are medium level french wines from a leading edge producer.

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