Packaging Attitudes Unfreeze – The views of Richard Hallstead, Wine Intelligence

In our quest to look for climate solutions within the wine value chain, packaging continuously pops up as the elephant in the room. To further evolve on this topic, we felt need of understanding the consumer perspective. We asked Richard Hallstead, COO at Wine Intelligence, to share his views on this topic, based on his experience and data.

Read Richard Hallstead’s thoughts below.

Do we have packaging mobility yet?

A notable consequence of the pandemic is the extent to which people in general are re-evaluating their previous existences and reimagining their future behaviour – will it result in a reshaping of the wine packaging landcape?

For many years I have been an enthusiastic follower of behavioural economics, its proponents, and its chroniclers. The notion that we can be ‘nudged’ gently, almost unknowingly, into a new way of working, shopping, travelling – or thinking – is now almost taken for granted within many government and corporate circles, though its origins are largely within the 21st century. For data scientists and behavioural researchers such as myself, it has probably been one of the most exciting times to work in our fields.

Given the context of the pandemic, and an extended period sitting in my home office, I have been revisiting some of the behavioural economics texts on my bookshelf recently. The connection with Covid-19 and subsequent changes the way we live and work is fascinating when seen through the lens of behavioural economics – in particular, I would suggest picking up More Human by Steve Hilton, written 6 years ago but resonating more with every passing day. His thesis: we all want to be part of something greater than ourselves, and feel legitimate ownership of it, and brands and governments need to help us see changing our individual behaviour as part of a larger problem-solving social engine. How we do this in our everyday lives comes down to making small, thoughtful but ultimately not difficult choices – how we get to and from work, what products we buy, who we choose to socialize with.

Underlying most behavioural science – and indeed the science of coaching, which I am also a follower of – is the notion of ‘mobility’. This is the idea that to make a change in the way you do things, you have to recognize and unlock the barriers behind the status quo, and see the change you are thinking of making in a positive light. It is a lot easier said than done, which is why successful business and life coaches are so much in demand. However once achieved, mobility can be an empowering and momentum-generating concept: if you can make a change in your life, such as giving up smoking or learning a new skill, you can apply this mobility to other areas of your life.

However it doesn’t mean change for change’s sake. If anything, this state of mobility also allows people to embrace and reinforce existing choices and behaviours that turn out to reflect underlying values, and may have practical benefits.

What does this mean for the wine category? The data we have been collecting at Wine Intelligence over the past few months has been pointing to a collective moment of mobility among wine consumers around the world in the past few months. Behaviours that passed without examination or comment in the world before Covid are being re-examined daily. We can’t go on holiday – but did we really need to go on holiday? Do we really need to drive to an office every day?

In terms of their wine consumption, we have noticed several contrasting trends. In most markets, people have been drinking more wine during the crisis, and seeking out familiar and reassuring brands, at good value (but also higher good value) prices. At the same time, however, they appear to be coming to a more open-minded and adventurous viewpoint on packaging.

Our 2020 study of consumer usage and attitudes to wine packaging formats in several countries (released as separate reports over the past few weeks) suggests that wine is gaining new usage occasions, driven by the younger generation and by new packaging formats. While standard size glass bottles are still the dominant container in the wine category, the growth of smaller formats, and particularly cans, are catching the eye.

So far, these new trends remain small in absolute terms. While awareness levels of canned wine have grown dramatically in the past 3 years, even today fewer than 4 in 10 wine consumers in both the US and Canada are even aware that wine can come in a can, and only 6% (Canada) and 8% (US) say they have bought canned wine in the past 6 months. More compelling data is the rate of change of purchase of cans – this has doubled since 2017 – and the growing proportion of consumers who would consider buying canned wine if it was available and the product itself was right for them.

Perhaps the most arresting insight from this report is the extent to which alternative formats generally, and cans in particular, are welcomed by those aged 21-39 – the Millennials and Gen-Z, whose purchasing power and preferences will shape the wine category for the next 30-40 years. A typical Millennial is no more likely to have come across wine in a can than anyone else, but they are over 50% more likely to buy this format once they know about it; for Gen-Z members who have  reached legal drinking age, they are twice as likely compared with drinkers generally to buy canned wine once they know it exists.

As to motivations for smaller formats, the data offers some new interpretations to add to familiar tropes about younger drinkers seeking control, portability, and moderation. While convenience is a key driver of can purchase, it is also seen as a low-risk, low-cost way of trialling new products or wine styles. In the end, the can could be as much about helping consumers on the discovery path in wine as it doubtless will be as a lightweight and portion-controlled alternative to a standard bottle.

Clearly not everyone will want their wine experience delivered in a can, or even a wine box or pouch. Time after time, our research tells us that people find such containers useful, but not exactly romantic. Mobility might bring us to the realisation that sometimes we can buy and drink wine in a can, but we will still opt for an old-school glass bottle when we can. However in this new, mobility-led world, the notion of a glass bottle needing to be heavy, with thick glass, may not be required. A lighter weight glass bottle may do just fine – it offers more convenience (and less sore arms) than carrying heavy bottles, and yet it conveys a bit more specialness.

And what if that lightweight glass bottle saved us money? Or gave us a good feeling about helping the environment as well? Both factors would nudge us towards it, and enable our mobility further.

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