Applying Packaging Innovations

Purple Wine Co. executive describes process of packaging redesign

by Paul Franson
Avalon C A B was among the brands Purple Wine Co. redesigned to use screen-printed packaging. Read about more packaging case studies in the October issue of Wines & Vines.
Napa, Calif.—As executive vice president of marketing for Purple Wine Co. and Sonoma Wine Co., Lisa Ehrlich has been at the helm of a three-year packaging transformation for Purple Wine Co.’s brands. Ehrlich discussed the process while speaking at the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference in August.

Purple was best known for its 600,000-case Mark West Pinot Noir brand, which it sold in 2012 to Constellation Brands, triggering the redesign and new focus on its other brands. All products but one have changed in the past two years: Four packages have been redesigned, four new brands were introduced, and one stayed the same.

Ehrlich noted that change is not always good. “You don’t want to just change for the sake of change. You don’t want to lose existing consumers and accounts loyal to a brand.”

But there can be good reasons to change since the market is competitive, she said. There are more brands and labels every day, and innovation may make sense to stand out from the pack.

Wineries can use packaging to tell a story about the wine, explain where it comes from and give it a sense of place and identity.

Elements in packaging can also suggest luxury, elevating the value of the wine among potential buyers, Ehrlich observed. And the right package can help set expectations about how the wine will taste.

Unusual packages can create buzz, providing something new to talk about with distributors and key accounts, as well as a reason to visit them or present new information. But more than that, she said, exciting packaging will generate interest among consumers and the press.

The best packaging does all the above.

Ehrlich presented four case studies to illustrate Purple Wine Co.’s packaging innovation. The October issue of Wines & Vines will contain details about all four: two recent brand introductions and two screen-printed package designs—each with different goals. Ehrlich’s experience with Avalon C A B, Purple’s best-selling product, is described here.

The art of redesign
With Avalon C A B, Purple Wine Co. encountered a unique set of problems due to the scale of the program. It was a packaging redesign, not a new item, but the company wanted to add value, repositioning Avalon California Cabernet from the $8-$10 range to the $10-$12 segment. “We needed stronger branding. The packaging was undifferentiated and did not stand out on the shelf. We were looking for a way to set the wine apart.”

The company worked on the strategy for more than a year, with the intention to use screen-printing from the start.

Purple Wine Co. also wanted to minimize the cost impact of any change, so they used gold ink rather than 24K gold and only three colors in a relatively simple design.

“Vendor selection and the bidding process was key. With well over 200,000 cases, no single bottle decorator could meet the production runs.” They split the production between two different vendors—Bergin and Universal Packaging—requiring coordination between the two vendors and glass manufacturer. They worked very closely with glass supplier and bottle decorator as early as possible.

Logistics were complicated, and they started working nine months out with long-term production projections of 12-18 months broken into smaller production runs. “It required close management of wine inventory to make sure wine and supplies match—particularly at the end of the vintage.”

Ehrlich said that due to its scale, Avalon C A B was the most difficult project for purchasing to manage. The bottling crew, however, loves screen-printed bottles, as they are the fastest and easiest package to run on line.

“The early reaction was very positive,” Ehrlich reported. They also moved to a zero-carbon, plant-based non-cork closure from Nomacorc, which also received good press. Volume has held steady and started to grow despite taking the full price point increase, she said.

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