Ontario Boosts Lightweight Wine Bottles

Retail regulations prompt suppliers to weigh in; glass still dominates despite alternatives

by Peter Mitham
verallia lightweight bottles
Guidelines from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario stipulate that wine priced below $15 per bottle should be packaged in bottles that weigh no more than 420 grams. Photo source: Verallia
Toronto, Ontario—Ontario’s move to make sales of wine and other alcoholic beverages more environmentally friendly is setting the pace for packaging suppliers across North America. The government-owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), the world’s single-largest buyer of wine, adopted guidelines last year stipulating that wine priced below $15 per bottle should be packaged in bottles weighing no more than 420 grams (14.8 ounces), while case weights for all products should not exceed 18.9 kilograms (41.7 pounds).

Wines listed at $15 and less per bottle represent 77.4% of wines sold by the LCBO, and the majority of the 80 million wine bottles it handles each year. Bottles average about 500 grams, although one monster weighs 900 grams.

“It’s where we want to go,” Chris Layton, media relations coordinator for the LCBO, told Wines & Vines, noting the standard has yet to become mandatory. “In order to get purchased by the LCBO, they don’t have to meet that glass weight, but this is a standard that we feel is reasonable, attainable.…It’s do-able.”

The large number of wineries selling to the LCBO means a date for full-scale adoption of the new packaging standard hasn’t been set, but wineries such as Beamsville, Ontario’s 18,000-case Malivoire Wine Co. as well as several from the Southern Hemisphere are already providing their cheaper wines in bottles weighing as little as 350 grams. (Malivoire’s average bottle price remains $20, according to WinesVinesDATA.)

Malivoire made the shift three years ago, recognizing that transportation costs and greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by using lightweight bottles. Its cases now weigh two kilograms (4.4 pounds) less than before the lighter bottles were adopted.

“All it did was add shipping costs and fuel usage when it came into the country, and when we shipped it from the winery to the customer,” said Ernie Kerst, general manager of Malivoire. “There just was no sense in us shipping glass everywhere. So we went with the lighter weight bottle.”

Kerst reckons that 45% of the winery’s production, including its basic red and white blends, is now bottled in the lightweight package.

Suppliers on board

Several bottle suppliers also are touting the move as a fit with products they’ve been introducing. While lightweight bottles have seen significant uptake in recent years thanks to the interest of wineries such as Malivoire and a heightened environmental consciousness among the producers themselves (see “Looking Again at Glass,” Wines & Vines, March 2011), Verallia (formerly known as Saint-Gobain) redesigned two of its lightweight ECO-series bottles to meet the LCBO specifications.

Its ECO Impulse bottle, for use with natural and synthetic cork and Stelvin screwcap closures, have been redesigned for Canada and check in at 14.5 ounces—2.25 ounces less than the original design.

“We were pleased to get ahead of LCBO’s timeline by creating two bottles that already meet the lighter weight standard,” Bob Parise, vice president, sales and marketing for Verallia’s Wine Sector, said in a statement.

The latest move by the LCBO builds on a foundation laid in 2005, when the government’s liquor retailer committed to reducing the amount of packaging its uses. An initial commitment to reduce the volume of waste being sent to landfills by 10 million kilograms was reached in 2007, two years ahead of schedule, primarily through favoring products in alternative, non-glass packaging, such as French Rabbit in TetraPaks and PET bottles of Wolf Blass’ Bilyara Reserve wines and Artisan Wine Co.’s Painted Turtle wines (see “Northwest Winery Goes Plastic,” Wines & Vines, May 2008).

Still, sales of wine, beer and spirits in alternative packaging through LCBO stores remains a fraction of the approximately $4.3 billion in sales the retailer rings up annually. While plastic has been a viable option for spirits, and aluminum cans have gained ground among beer drinkers, wine aficionados remain fixed on glass.

“As a result we’re focusing now on lightweight glass with our environmental strategy,” Layton said.

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