February 5, 2021

How Garçon Wines is Using Flat Bottles to Shape an Industry

By Angela Oemcke

Packaging can have many applications within the beverage industry, beyond simply containing a liquid. Cellr’s own digital packaging solution enables producers to connect directly with consumers, and this week we will be looking at how packaging can improve a brand’s carbon footprint. Meet Santiago Navarro who is the CEO of Garçon Wines, a multi-award winning sustainable packaging company that produces Eco Flat Wine Bottles.

Give us a brief rundown on what Garçon Wines is, and how it works.

We, Garçon Wines, are a British start-up, based in London with an office in San Francisco and representation in Australia. We exist to make the wine industry more sustainable in a complex and challenging 21st century world. By way of innovation, starting with a step-change advancement to round, glass bottles which are the single largest contributor to wine’s carbon footprint, we aim to bring about the most significant advancement to wine bottles in the past two centuries. We are internationally recognised for our eco, flat wine bottle, a multi-award winning, planet-friendly packaging format that is uniquely flat to save space and made from 100% recycled PET, pre-existing not single-use plastic, to save weight and energy. The shatterproof bottles are an advancement that is respectful of the wine industry’s heritage and a packaging industry benchmark of shape innovation, best-in-class material, and recyclability by design. We work with companies on a multi-channel, -national and -brand basis to help them unlock significant carbon emission savings, lower logistics costs, and a more distinctive bottle.  

What was the gap in the market that inspired you to create Garçon Wines?

While building my first wine company, online retailer Vinopic Wines, I realised first-hand the extent to which the traditional, round glass wine bottle hindered efficient delivery of wine sold through the digital channel. These heavy, fragile, and spatially inefficient wine bottles, that were first introduced in the 19th century, were massively unfit for purpose for online sales and when shipping wines through complex supply chains. After closing this business, the idea remained with me that through packaging innovation, the convenience, environmental, economic cost of missed, or worse, completely damaged, wine deliveries could be avoided. I also felt that as the common denominator across most of packaged wine, an innovation in wine bottles could change the industry and benefit a larger business audience. This was the gap in the market, recognising that there was an opportunity to unlock greater success in wine commerce through finding a way to deliver wine seamlessly into the home. It was also important to create a format that was still beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, to give the greatest opportunity for success and adoption. 

The resulting innovation to achieve this, a smart cross-section design of the traditional Bordeaux bottle shape, enabled seamless delivery of a full-sized bottle through an average UK letterbox for the ultimate in consumer convenience. While Letterbox Wine®, as we came to call it, was ideal for the Amazon generation, it was also just the tip of the iceberg. At 40% spatially smaller and 87% lighter than round, glass wine bottles, our 21st century wine bottles presented a unique solution to help slash logistic costs and CO2 emissions across the entirety of the wine supply chain, not just in last mile delivery.

Why is packaging so important to consider when it comes to wine?

Wine requires packaging to get it from production to consumption. In many instances this is a much more global supply chain than other consumer packaged goods (CPG), with wine travelling across continents before it reaches the dining table where it will be enjoyed. Furthermore, packaging is a hugely important element of any fast-moving consumer good (FMCG) and wine is arguably the most emotive and engaging product within this category. For an industry steeped in heritage and tradition, it is the unfortunate truth that the dominant packaging, the traditional round glass wine bottle, is a significant hotspot in the total carbon footprint of the product. One Californian study shows that from cradle to retail gate the glass bottle accounts for 29% of the total carbon footprint; adding transport and secondary packaging takes it to 51%; so the majority. Wine companies are increasingly aware of the negative impact of climate change on the industry and as a result are attributing more importance to reducing carbon footprint. By reviewing supply chains and focusing on where most impact can be made, we in the wine industry can collectively work to safeguard the livelihoods of wine producers and those wines pegged to specific geographic locations that consumers know and love.      

Importantly, our innovation is inspired by the look of a traditional wine bottle and can be proudly placed on a dining table. It also stands out on a retail shelf to catch a consumer’s attention at their point of selection. In our view, respectful innovation has the best chance of adoption to advance the status quo and create a bright future for our industry. 

What was it that led you to working in the wine industry? 

I moved to the UK in 2005 and when shopping for wine in supermarkets, even as someone who was passionate and above-average informed about wine, I was struggling to make an informed and confident choice on every occasion. Standing at a wall of wine with so much choice, I assumed that many others were facing the same problem. I set about trying to come up with a way in which to change this, to help UK wine consumers buy better and choose confidently on every purchase occasion. This led to the creation of my first wine business, Vinopic Wines, an online retailer and the first to use science to rate and score wines for their intrinsic quality.

What would the future of the wine industry look like with Garçon Wines eco, flat wine bottles being used? 

We find ourselves in an era where the climate crisis poses a direct existential threat to humanity and in which the recent pandemic has thrown much that we took for granted into new light. In light of this, our vision for the future of the wine industry sees our eco, flat wine bottles become the dominant packaging format for mass-market wines that are produced to be consumed young or within the same vintage – in other words, the vast majority of wines. This way, we can maximise the positive impact through the carbon emission savings our bottles enable and make a real tangible difference to the health of our planet. 

We also hope that adopting innovative and sustainable solutions like ours will encourage a future where wine packaging is chosen more closely in line with its application. For instance, in some scenarios like house wines in the on trade, decanting wine from keg to glass or bottle for immediate consumption offers an environmentally sustainable solution as kegs have a lower carbon footprint. We hold much hope for the industry to see a brighter and greener future through packaging considerations and look forward to continuing playing our part in helping the industry be more sustainable. However, we must also be cautious about greenwashing, as the opportunity for sustainable wine packaging has seen the introduction of formats with questionable claims associated with them. We encourage all to be inquisitive and demanding, and not to take anything for granted or on face value. 

In what ways can your solution serve the producer, as well as the consumer?

We believe that sustainability should be triple bottom line; for a healthier planet, a wealthier industry, and happier consumers. At the heart of our solution is a focus on supporting wine producers by providing them with a way to bottle their lovingly-crafted wines in a more sustainable format. Not only this, but in a number of instances the implementation of our product presents the opportunity for producers to make such considerable savings in logistics costs that the packaging can ultimately be deemed costless to the company, in practice. Different producers of course have different values, desires and logistical realities. Our product caters both to those looking for something new, a point of differentiation amongst a crowd of traditional bottles, and those looking to reap the benefits of game-changing logistics. 

Our bottles are not only moulded to the needs of modern producers but are importantly a consumer-pleasing product. They enable consumers to opt for sustainable packaging without compromising on convenience, quality or experience. Being lightweight and shatterproof, the bottles are incredibly portable and safe. Not to mention, the flat shape means consumers can easily pack the same amount of wine in less space in their fridge door or fit them more compactly in shopping bags.

Who is Garçon Wines ideal customer? 

Garçon Wines currently operates on a business-to-business basis working with a wide variety of companies ranging from UK gifting stockists to global wine companies. As we expand internationally, we are seeing the engagement and interest of wineries and producers, retailers and sellers and also intermediaries and wholesalers. Our ideal business customer has a pioneering attitude, embraces innovation, is agile, quick and wants to do the right thing for our planet. 

When it comes to the end customer, the consumers, we strongly believe that the modern wine drinker is, increasingly, demanding better sustainability in the way wine reaches their tables. The movement that climate activists such as Greta Thunberg have ignited within their generations and beyond is particularly inspiring. For both younger and older generations engaged in protecting the future of our planet , as proven in data findings on ever-increasing demand for sustainable products, we envision that they will not accept packaging that is known to be so environmentally damaging. Instead, we believe they will likely opt for planet-friendly advancements such as ours. We already see this in the results from consumer research.    

Do you have any case studies that you are particularly proud of? Do you have any exciting up and coming projects you’re working on? 

A standout and milestone collaboration for us so far has been our collaboration with Accolade Wines, one of the world’s leading wine companies, the UK’s number one wine company, and whose headquarters are in South Australia. Primarily, our work with Accolade has seen our bottles launch across the Nordics. The first launch with their Anakena brand, a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, in Systembolaget stores in Sweden in our format, felt a natural fit for our bottles given the country’s impressive leadership when it comes to sustainability. Encouragingly, at launch, sales were up 60% on original estimates. This launch was closely followed by that of Accolade’s Hardys Nottage Hill Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc in Finland’s alcohol retailing monopoly, Alko. Here, store coverage of the product more than quadrupled from 30 to over 160 stores in the first three months. We were also delighted to see that through using our packaging format, Accolade were achieving fitting close to double the amount of wine on a pallet, highlighting the impact we can have through innovating in shape. 

In November, Accolade Wines’ eco-friendly brand Banrock Station launched in our bottles in Co-op UK, marking their UK supermarket debut. This was a particularly momentous milestone as it was exciting for the team to see the bottles on shelf in-store for the first time where we live. Wines in our bottles are now available to consumers in the UK, Netherlands, Nordics and South Africa. 

In terms of exciting up and coming projects, we are more motivated than ever to see our product reach more regions including our hope to bring our solution to the Australian market in the very near future. Australia is home to the two most significant innovations in wine packaging in the 20th century, bag-in-box and screw cap, which makes it a forward-thinking and promising market to enter. Just last year we engaged our market development advisor for Australia, Matthew Moate, who is supporting us and Australia-based companies in planning for the adoption of our packaging format. We look forward to launching more collaborations with wine companies internationally to reshape wine packaging for our planet, people, and prosperity. 

Other than producers, have you collaborated or partnered with any other business in the wine industry? 

Our innovation benefits from wide-ranging suitability to many applications which we have already seen a diverse range of companies putting to good use. As an example, in the UK in 2019 we collaborated with the celebrated online wine retailer, Naked Wines, who gave select Angels (subscribers) the opportunity to gift a friend with a flat bottle containing one of their popular brands as part of a customer acquisition initiative. The use of our bottles in the gifting space in the UK and the Netherlands has seen genuine positivity. 

Beyond this, we have also seen our bottles used at events and festivals with great success, including Bristol Pride in 2019. This is something we very much look forward to being able to resume when possible; the product is so well-suited to outdoor bars where space is at a premium and our shatterproof bottle design removes the safety hazards of glass outside. Likewise, we hope to be able to collaborate with companies to see the bottles enjoyed in onboard consumption in planes, trains and boats, as well as in the wider global travel retail space. We are incredibly proud of the scope of work we have already achieved and will continue to expand this repertoire with fellow future-thinking companies in 2021 and onwards.

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