Big Help for Tiny Wineries

Packaging suppliers advise how smaller customers can find savings

by Jane Firstenfeld
Alternative packaging, such as PET bottles like the one seen here, are becoming more of an option for small wineries as suppliers seek to serve the large number of U.S. wineries producing less than 5,000 cases a year.

San Rafael, Calif.—Of more than 10,000 North American wineries currently reported in the winery database of Wines Vines Analytics, more than 8,000 are categorized as “very small” (fewer than 5,000 cases produced annually). About half of those have what’s termed “limited production” (fewer than 1,000 cases).

Many of these tiny wineries produce multiple varieties or brands, and although they may not enjoy the services of distributors under the three-tier system, they still want the benefits of standout packaging for direct-to-consumer sales: attractive, memorable packages that will bring customers back for more.

When Wines & Vines contacted some major packaging suppliers, all reported they make special efforts to accommodate these wineries and their goals, with services and products to help the clients economize on costs and maximize results. When you’re not large-scale, you may have limited your packaging decisions to equally small businesses. That’s great if you are well-served by your suppliers, not so much if you are investing too much time and money on your packaging.

Suppliers eager to work with you
G3 of Modesto, Calif., is a massive company with international reach, but according to its vice president of sales, Mihailo Panovich, G3 serves winery customers of all sizes and in recent years has made significant investments in partnerships and equipment to meet growing demand by small and midsize wineries.

In-stock items are available for online order, including a bag or a case of oak chips, screwcaps by the case and Petainer kegs “by the layer”: 20 20-liter kegs or a dozen 30-liter one-way kegs for on-premise by-the-glass service. The minimum order for custom DIAM corks is 1,000 stoppers; there’s no minimum for large-format DIAMs. Recently, G3 acquired long-established Tapp Label in St. Helena, Calif., with its digital printing abilities, which expands printing capabilities for small wineries.

Waterloo Container in Waterloo, N.Y., is another major supplier and serves more than 750 small wineries. Located in the Finger Lakes wine region, it claims a unique perspective on the needs of small producers and their day-to-day needs, including reduced pricing along its pre-defined fast shipping routes, according to sales and marketing project leader Bobbi Stebbins. “Sometimes smaller wineries are less prepared to forecast their needs and may need last-minute supplies when bottling,” she said. 

With a comprehensive inventory and its own fleet of trucks, Waterloo Container can provide short-notice deliveries for small producers, who need lesser quantities of bottles and may lack storage space for large pallets of glass.

With the ability to repack on site, Waterloo Container can provide smaller producers with different bottles without purchasing an entire pallet; most styles are available in minimum quantities of as little as a single case, Stebbins said. Stock case boxes can be labeled in-house with the winery logo and basic artwork, providing significant savings to custom boxes.

Waterloo Container provides ready-to-fill printed and shrink-sleeved bottles in as little as one pallet of glass, saving time, labor cost and waste involved with paper labeling for smaller producers. Shrink-sleeving can transform an inexpensive bottle with rich color at lower cost, enabling a single bottle style to be used for more than one variety or brand. “We frequently allow closures to ride along for free with glass purchases,” Stebbins said.

Using a “one-stop” shop for all packaging saves both time and money, she noted.

Plants in France and Mexico
More than a century old, Saverglass manufactures glass bottles for the wine industry, with plants in France and a new one under construction near Guadalajara, Mexico. According to sales executive Jyll Vidal, it’s the only glass manufacturer that sells directly to wineries of all sizes. The average size of a repack order is 750 cases.

Warehouses in Fairfield, Calif.; Auburn, Wash.; Covington, Ky. and soon in San Antonio, Texas, provide quick turnaround, and specialty bottles are available to smaller wineries with a minimum order of one pallet (approximately 1,100 bottles). Custom-printed cases are available for minimum orders of 500 cases. Saverglass maintains strong partnerships with local corrugate specialists for enhanced flexibility and rapid response time, or Saverglass will repack bottles in customer-supplied boxes.

Large-format bottles are another specialty; Saverglass can manufacture custom wine bottles in quantities as few as 2,000 cases, which reduces mold fees and enables small wineries to personalize their bottles.
“Glass and carton pricing can be held to a minimum by choosing less bottle shapes and decorating the glass or using the label and capsule to differentiate the varietals,” Vidal said.

Bottle distributors
Smaller wineries are so profuse that contacting them directly can be time-consuming, and glass is no longer their solo option for bottles. “Amcor Rigid Plastics sells stock bottles (187 ml and 750 ml) through distributors including TricorBraun, Berlin and Waterloo to service small producers. We also connect winemakers with our network of third-party fillers,” said Emily Work, senior marketing manager. “Our research shows small wineries are exploring alternative packaging and PET bottles are among those.”

Amcor exhibits at trade shows and attends other industry events to help educate the market about the benefits of PET bottles. “The shift for wineries to sell direct to consumer has opened new pathways for plastic bottles,” Work added.

PET bottles allow wineries to save significantly on costs tied to secondary packaging and shipping, since they are lighter and less fragile. Glass bottles typically weigh between two and five pounds when filled; plastic, around 1.2 pounds filled. The difference contributes to savings of 20% to 40% via standard ground shipping. 

Overstock inventory
All American Containers-West Coast in Windsor, Calif., maintains a no-minimum-order policy. Billing itself as “a versatile company,” All American strives to be a one-stop shop to service smaller wineries with glass, corks, capsules and printed cases, said Stephanie Ramczyk, business development. The company reaches out through smaller trade associations, “but the best way is simply word-of-mouth,” she said.

The company often helps to focus smaller buyers on current special deals on overstock inventory.

“Sometimes we may have a particular item that has changed item numbers, or changed the factory which we purchase it from. The glass is still fully within spec and good glass, but we are trying to manage our own internals, so we may direct these customers to help us by offering them a particular item number, and it may be at a small discount. We also attempt to pair up deliveries in order to minimize the freight charges for these customers,” Ramczyk said.

Her recommendations for additional savings: “Be open to using slightly different molds for different varietals, based on what specials we have going on. If there are no specials that fit the bill, go the opposite way and purchase in as large a quantity as possible of one particular bottle and then differentiate with another change like the color of the capsule. Talk to us about what the aim is, so that we can best guide to the cost-effective options.”

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