Mar 16, 2023
Did you know that standard wine packaging, including the bottle and the process, is 42% of the wine’s total carbon footprint? That statistic is exactly what inspires Erica Landin-Lofving, Chief Sustainability Officer at Vintage Wine Estates to explore alternative packaging. Lightweight bottling positively impacts the full circle sustainability of wine from saving money on glass and transportation to the quality of work for the people lifting cases to less wear and tear on equipment. Erica covers challenges and solutions related to all types of alternative packaging (wine in a bag, wine in a box tetra pak, lightweight glass) including choosing the best packaging for your brand, quality signaling, getting leadership to buy in, what changes will be most sustainable, and educating consumers.
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Craig Macmillan 0:00
My guest today is Erica Lofving. She is Chief Sustainability Officer with Vintage Wine Estates. And we're going to talk about sustainable wine packaging today. Welcome to the podcast. Erica.
Erica Landin-Lofving 0:09
Thank you happy to be here.
Craig Macmillan 0:10
You have done a lot of work on sustainable packaging. It's obviously an area that not only you're interested to, but there's a major component to the work that you do with with Vintage Wine Estate. How did you get into it? What is your interest? What kinds of things you've worked on recently?
Erica Landin-Lofving 0:24
Well, I first got into sustainable packaging, maybe six, seven years. Back when I was still living in Sweden, I'm Swedish. I was consulting for the Swedish wine monopolies, Systembolaget. They are possibly the biggest buyer of wine in the world. And they have sustainability as a core issue. And they started lifting the packaging, and did lifecycle analysis together with the other Scandinavian monopolies and saw that packaging bottling and the process of doing it was up to 42% of the total carbon footprint of a wine, which is huge. Of course, they started focusing on on that because of course being big buyers, they can require changes in packaging of their buyers. So they launched projects on lightweighting bottles and alternative packaging, which they are still very strong and probably leading in the world. So that's that's when I got interested at that time, there was almost no discussion about packaging as part of sustainability and wine. We talked vineyards, vineyards, vineyards, maybe a little bit of winemaking, but packaging got ignored most of the sustainability certifications around the world don't even mention packaging, or didn't at least at that time. Actually, that was my project for the monopoly. I went through basically all the sustainability certifications around the world. Comlpex job. Let me tell you that.
Craig Macmillan 1:39
Yeah, I guess.
Erica Landin-Lofving 1:41
So of course, when I started at Vintage, I, you know, packaging was one of my key topics that I want to bring up. It was also really interesting to see we did a survey last year when we set our strategy I've been with Vintage for a year and a half. So one of my first things was to start collecting the information called a materiality analysis, basically pinpointing which areas are key sustainability areas. And as part of that, we did a survey in house and a lot of our staff were also interested in packaging, primary secondary packaging, and then of course, the waste of incoming packaging. So that that became one of our core core topics, and a very exciting one to be to be working on.
Craig Macmillan 2:22
For those of us who don't know what to what kind of companies of Vintage Wine Estates, what do they do?
Erica Landin-Lofving 2:28
Oh, yeah, Vintage Wine Estaes is a group we own 13 wineries, I believe and have 50 brands on top. Plus we do contract production for for external brands. We went public. Last June, June 20. June 22. It or is it 20 this year?
Craig Macmillan 2:47
Yeah. Oh, that's right. No, that's right. No, I do. Yeah. That was kind of a big deal.
Erica Landin-Lofving 2:53
It was a big deal. There aren't. Yeah, there aren't that many public public companies. So year and a half ago, we went public. Yeah, I know. That was that was part of the goal of of Pat Roney, our founder was to build a company to take public so that was definitely a big deal for the company. And we're continuing to grow. A lot of our brands, we will buy grapes, we buy juice, we even buy finished wines. So packaging is one of the sustainability aspects we can control there. For me, there's there's two big aspects to to packaging, of course, that the wine bottle is bigger than any of the other packaging considerations. The one that I'm most attached to is lightweighting. of glass, find alternative packaging is interesting. And so in Sweden, I think it's 56% of the wine sold by volume is in bag in box. But they are also big buyers of Tetra Pack, PET bottles, cans, wine and cans, and it becomes an interesting market to watch. I'm not completely positive to all the alternative packagings and we can we can get into that if they do have a much lower carbon footprint. But there are other considerations. I cans I am some fairly positive too. But let's dive into that separately. But I'm still a firm believer that the glass wine bottle is going to be our key wine packaging for the foreseeable future. However, this attachment that consumers and therefore producers have to heavy bottle being a signifier of quality of the wine, we've got to let that go. That is that got outdated when we set the Paris, Paris climate goals like that's it has nothing to do with the quality of the wine. This is part of the message that is finally slowly catching hold. And it's gone a lot further in Europe professionally in Scandinavia than it has in the US still, but I believe that we're heading that direction. I've started seeing articles on the negative aspects of a heavyweight bottle in New York Times ,Wall Street Journal,Wine Enthusiast and when that starts coming, it's like we're starting to get that message into the mainstream. It is going to bring change. Fancy wine wants to be sold in a heavy bottle still,
Craig Macmillan 4:59
Based on On that basis, we're now getting national non wine press paying attention to this a little bit. Do you think there might be a groundswell of public interest attitude belief that might put some pressure on wineries to reduce their glass weight to go to a lighter weight package?
Erica Landin-Lofving 5:15
I believe so I believe we're in the early days of it still, I think the people that we're going to reach first are the wine connoisseurs that read those newspapers, magazines, and want to be part of early adopters who want to show that they know something, as well as the millennial consumer who is not as concerned with tradition, and is very concerned with environmental aspects and more knowledgeable in general on on environmental impact. I think those are the two groups that will start making the change from two directions.
Craig Macmillan 5:45
Now, do you think that there is a curve of this behavior that's related to price, so somebody's going to buy a $100 bottle of wine in a traditional dead leaf green Berg bottle as opposed to a big heavy deep punt? You know, I've been doing some analysis, you can have a bottle that's say 400 grams, or you can have a bottle of over 1000 grams big difference? Am I going to pay the same for 400? As opposed to 1000? Do you think?
Erica Landin-Lofving 6:12
I think you will, when you understand why I mean for 400 is still an extremely lightweight bottle. 420 grams is kind of what the international wine industry has set as the limit for true lightweight bottle in the US. I know a lot of producers who speak about eco weight or lightweight and they mean 470 to 490 grams, I've started speaking in terms of true lightweight as something under 420. Those bottles do feel quite light, I think they will be their shoo ins for anything under $20. But I think for for these $100 bottles, moving them from the 900 Gram 32 ounce massive pieces down to more normal weight, like 500 500 grams, we should be able to do that. And again, this is where we're New York Times and Wall Street Journal's writing matters the most because they reach that consumer, when the first adopters there, start understanding this, they might react negatively to one of those super heavy bottles. I do now. I mean, this has been something I've been I've been looking at for a long time. But now if I lift a bottle and it's a 900 gram bottle, I just say like, seriously, why? Why would I want to buy this? Also, why would I want to drag this home and then drag it to recycling?
Craig Macmillan 7:24
Well, I think that you're absolutely right, that once we get below about a $20 retail price point, the lightweighting seems to be kind of a no brainer. As we push up. Hopefully that message will get out I think from a sustainability standpoint. But I also do wonder how far that can kind of go. Right. I remember, this is how old I am. I remember when very expensive Napa Cabernets came in a straight sided forest green Bordeaux bottle with a just a big square paper label on it and a very cheap foil. Now I don't think I could get $100 for that package. Even there's been a lot of work that's been done. And if I understand it correctly, this is you know, social psych stuff. If you give a consumer two bottles, one's heavy one's lighter, you say this is the same product even? Which what will you pay? Their willingness to pay is higher for the heavier package? Yeah, if that's true, right. That's a tough psychology to ignore.
Erica Landin-Lofving 8:20
That's a tough psychology to ignore.
Craig Macmillan 8:22
So some of it, I think, is consumer level. But I'd also like to hear a little bit on what's going on behind the scenes on the production side, what kinds of conversations ideas, potential is there because it seems like there might be some work to do there on the marketing side. But there's some work to do. Maybe behind the scenes side.
Erica Landin-Lofving 8:36
We'll just say that imagine that they were doing this test again. But that the test subjects had been given an article to read that said that the environmental impact of the bottle was the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint of the wine, how many of them their mind, and that's what I believe is the key. I think as long as the consumer does not know this difference, we will see a preference for the heavier bottles, the more that information disseminates into the marketplace, the more impact it will have. I will also say that so behind the scenes, one of the calculations that I'm doing is that I have a much bigger impact taking a SKU that has 300,000 case production and moving it from 500 grams to 400 grams. Then I do taking a SKU that's in a seven 750 gram bottle and moving it to 400 grams, but the production is only 1000 cases or even even less. So for that reason, my focus and our internal discussions center around the big volume wines. That said there there are bigger volume wines that come in those super heavy bottles. I For me, it's the super heavy bottles. We've got to watch out there because while I would like to make the move purely from a sustainability perspective, there is the marketing risk, but there's also a risk of not making the change. because I'll just tell you when I was in Sweden last time now Sweeden, as I said, much further along than the US market when it comes to consumer understanding of sustainability and an interest in sustainability. I went into the store and I was asking for advice on something cool and something high end. And the guy picked out two bottles, and he said, Oh, this one is great. This is Niepoort I, you know, I love this wine. 10 years of age for selling it aged, which is, you know, not always easy to find in a store. He said, but you might not want it. It's a super heavy bottle. And I said, Oh, why do you think I might not want it now? The sustainability impact is is pretty big. I don't know. I've had people hesitate. I was like, wow. They advised me away from a really cool wine because it's an a heavy bottle. And and I liked that. I know that I know that Jancis Robinson, for example, called out Joe Wryneck iIn South Africa, great producer, amazing wines, and definitely a sustainability champion. And this was a couple of years ago, you know, in in her magazine, she said you can't have accountability, profiling, make these beautiful wines, and put them in a super heavy bottle, if the message doesn't add up. And again, the more we get that, the more you're going to have high end consumers turn away from these bottles and be like, nope, gotta gotta change that.
Craig Macmillan 11:19
Maybe we're getting groundswell on both sides. Now, I want to get technical, I've done some of this work myself and feel like I have failed miserably. Probably not entirely true. But tell me about your methodology when you're looking at this with glass and you're trying to get a carbon footprint sense, because what I'm guessing when you're telling me what you're doing is you want to come back to management ownership and say, Hey, this is how much reduction we have in ourCO2 equivalent. Is that fair is that by alright?
Erica Landin-Lofving 11:46
Let's be completely fair, the the message to leadership is, this is how much we're saving on glass. And this is the sustainability messaging we can attach to it. But you know, the savings, CO2 reduction, for a lightweight bottle will almost always come at a lower price point. For us. One of the challenges has been finding really nice quality molds with perfect stability and stability. I don't mean to make the wine stable. I mean, we have some high speed bottling lines, we don't want it to crush in the bottling line, or we're losing speed. So finding these really nice looking molds, making sure that they're not shorter and smaller, we had a launch with 100 gram bottle on the on the Canadian market, it was shorter. We did not want to bring that to the to the US market.
Craig Macmillan 12:29
Well, why not? Oh,
Erica Landin-Lofving 12:30
The funny thing is you, you get a surprising number of people writing in saying, Hey, you're cheating me out of wine, I see this bottomless is smaller than a regular wine bottle. Right?
Craig Macmillan 12:40
Erica Landin-Lofving 12:42
Especially the amount of it just didn't look looked nice on the shelf. But it makes me makes me laugh. And it makes me also understand the the millions of packaging said had that say this, you know, this package was full at the transport and items might have settled or things like that, because I understand that those companies were getting callbacks, saying, Hey, you're cheating me out of product. It still needs to look nice, then you have the calculation on saving on glass cost. But then you also get the calculations on saving in other parts of the production, which include transportation, because if you do have your bottles, a lot of our trucks aren't physically full, they are at their weight capacity, you lower the wine bottle weight, and you can load that truck to capacity before before hitting the weight limit. That's a saving right there. It's also an additional carbon carbon saving that I might not calculate. I would love it if I sat on all the data to do that. But I know that there is a gain there. But also things like throughout the supply chain, when you have people handling it, it's better for the for the people, it's better for the people who are lifting those cases. And if that's our crew, or if it is if it is the crew in the store or or logistics company, there's less wear and tear on people. I would personally if I was working in a wine store rather restock shelves with with the lightweight bottles or lighter weight bottles and those super heavy ones.
Craig Macmillan 14:05
Part of my job is I work in the tasting room. And it's amazing as a server, you know what a huge difference it makes, just carrying stuff from place to place and you can't tell whether something's full or not because of the weight of the glass is darn close to the weight of the wine, you know, it's drinking sense. So yes, absolutely. We do need to take that into account. There's wear and tear on people and there's efficiency questions. I think the mechanization question is a good one depending on which direction you're gonna go, what kind of molds you have and how fast you're trying to do it.
Erica Landin-Lofving 14:35
The super heavy mold so we're talking like the 32 ounce mold that's also wear and tear on equipment and extra energy for the for the forklifts and trucks transporting it around. I'm not at the level where I'm doing calculations on that but definitely in the bottling line running a 32 ounce bottle this is going to be rough around the mechanics. And again, lifting it with a forklift is going to take more energy I mean In basic physics, you might not know the exact gain from a lighter weight bottle. But there's definitely gains throughout.
Craig Macmillan 15:07
You mentioned it before. And this is a really interesting question because there's a winery that I'm familiar with, that's in the oh, golly, 25 to $75 retail range with their products at least. And they just brought out a bag and box product.
Erica Landin-Lofving 15:22
Craig Macmillan 15:23
Erica Landin-Lofving 15:26
I love those guys. I really...
Craig Macmillan 15:30
I think we can leave that in the podcast, can't we?
Erica Landin-Lofving 15:34
It was a was three liter.
Craig Macmillan 15:36
I'm sorry, yes, three litre, and was a customer who brought this to me because we were talking about these issues. And they said, hey, you know, I just saw this product. Maybe I'm not gonna put super high end wines, really expensive wines. I mean, I don't want to have a $400 box product and then say, okay, you gotta drink all four bottles necessarily. But how many future do you think there is for that, or one liter turbo pack packaging and that kind of thing.
Erica Landin-Lofving 15:57
With those alternativepackagings, I'll just list the ones that I would look at. One is Tetra Pak, usually one liter, can be 77, or 750 milliliters to the PT plastic bottle, which is very often same size as a regular wine bottle. Aluminum can which can be between 25 centimeters and 33 centimeters. Generally, you have the wine pouch, which is the one and a half liter and the wine pouch is more or less like the inside of bag and box, it's usually a little bit thicker. And then you have the bag and box, which is generally three liters. I've seen two liters, frequently as well, the bag and box. As I said, it's 56% or more of the Swedish market by volume. It's popular as well in places like Norway, Finland, partially because it brings down the price of wine a little bit, but it's also growing a lot in France, supermarket sales.
Craig Macmillan 16:48
What kind of price points are we talking here? I know that I know. We're talking about years and things.
Unknown Speaker 16:53
Yeah, so I would say for three liter box, which is the equivalent of four bottles, I would say most of them lasted between 20 and $40. So at $40 because you have a lower packaging cost, lower lower handling cost, so on. So at $40 It's not a $10 bottle of wine. It's a $15 bottle of wine. I mean, it's not high end high end, but it's not bad wine either. What Tablas did launching $100 $100 box, so $25 a bottle. That was that was unusual, and it was a great PR thing and it got got people talking, I don't believe we're going to see mass market boxes in that price range. But I definitely think that there should be more 30 $40 boxes. There's one advantage of the bag in box, which is of course it's really just take one glass, it's also really easy to take three glasses not notice that you're taking three glasses every night. So you know, two sides, two sides to that. But it's a it's a pretty convenient format. And it's gone from being something that people hide in Sweden to something that you actually you know, you have people over for dinner, you put it out, maybe you poured into craft to make it look nicer. But it's it's not something that the mainstream consumer hides anymore. Maybe the wine geeks still shy away from it. Carbon footprint of wine in pouch or wine in bag and box is once we say it's it's less than a fourth of a lightweight bottle per liter equivalent.
Craig Macmillan 18:19
Wow. And huge.
Less than 1/6 of a traditional glass bottle at 540 grams.
Erica Landin-Lofving 18:27
So yeah, it's big
Craig Macmillan 18:29
That's very attractive.
Erica Landin-Lofving 18:31
So let me tell you what I don't like about t.
Craig Macmillan 18:32
Yes, please do.
Erica Landin-Lofving 18:34
And honestly for you know, for your general consumer who consumes their wine within days or a week of buying it and who buys at the $15 price point. Sure. Go for the box. What I don't like about it is plastic recycling in the US is still pretty limited. So that pouch does not necessarily get recycled, which means plastic production and landfill. Don't love that. And then of course, most of the plastic pouches have a petroleum base. So fossil fossil base, you can you can weigh that against the carbon footprint and see what what it's important to you. The other thing is when I worked as a wine writer, many years back since we had so many quality wines and seven saying like 15 $20 wines in both box and bottle, maybe not $20 wines but let's say $15 We would as journalists, we would sometimes go and we would buy the same wine in bottle and the same by wine in box and make a comparison and 80% of the wines tasted tasted a little bit better in bottle 20% of the wines tasted better in the box and they were usually the ones who would have in the bottle needed a little bit age a little bit less sulfur or somehow just breathe more. Because it's not inert. That pouch is not inert. While the Swedish monopoly says it has says six month in six months there's no problem with a with a bag and box. I would like to do taste tests on. I think maybe what they're checking that acid and sulfur levels and VA and things like that aren't actually changing. But I do believe that there are some sensory changes over time.
Craig Macmillan 20:12
Interesting. What about cans.
Erica Landin-Lofving 20:13
Oooh I like cans.
Craig Macmillan 20:15
Aluminum is very attractive from recycling standpoint, it's one of the one thing that we seem to be able to do fairly well out in the US compared to plastic of things.
Unknown Speaker 20:23
I'll call out the US. So let's just say that glass recycling percentage in Scandinavia is 98 to 99%. In the US, the recycling rate is 31.1% for glass and in California and step up towards 60 beer and soft drink cans. So that's where we can classify wine cans to the recycling rate. It's actually 50. A little bit over 50% In the US, so isn't terrible. It's still almost half of Scandinavia, which is again 98%. But let's just say it's, it's not it's not terrible. So yes, it's decently easy to recycle. The carbon footprint is about twice that of a pouch or bag and box, but still, then less than half way less than half of lightweight glass bottle and about a third, a little less than a third of a standard weight bottle. So, so good. I liked the format. I can't I can't help it. I'm, I'm a bonafide wine geek. I drink the fun stuff. I like that. It's a small, small package. I like that it's very easy to transport. It is inert. It does have that little tiny plastic lining sometimes but I just think you can play with it. You can put fun wines in it if it doesn't suit all wines. And not all wines are good drinking from the county there. But I think it's a great packaging, especially for newer consumers, millennial consumers who aren't so stuffy about how things are supposed to be done. But you know, rosacea, white wines, orange wines, sparkling wines, lighter quaffable reds, and some fun packaging to go with it. Say like, why not? I like it. We we have one we have Alloy Alloy comes in cans. And we've done some specially can projects for festivals. But isn't it a nice format. I mean, if you're going to go to a festival or a picnic, and you're drinking out of plastic glass anyway, so you might as well just bring a can. I think it's a way for the wine industry to also tap into all those people that are drinking spiked kombucha and hard ciders and who are you know, necessarily dragging my bottle around.
Craig Macmillan 22:32
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I was a long time ago. But I forget the name of the product. There was an Australian product that came out and it was in a half size can. And you see sodas occasionally in this like smaller can. And I thought it was really interesting. And then I met an Australian winemaker who was visiting. And I asked him about it. And if he was familiar, he was oh, yeah, absolutely. Everybody loves those things are everywhere. It was like really knows, yeah, you don't need to take the thing. You dump it in your cooler and you put a bunch of ice over it. And anyway to the barbecue you are set. It's easy. It's great.
Erica Landin-Lofving 23:01
I do think a key thing is putting in like quality stuff.
Craig Macmillan 23:04
That's the question then is what's the quality level that we can kind of get to.
Erica Landin-Lofving 23:08
I think like a sweet spot a 10. A $10 canister is nice. Like don't make it the crap wines I want I want a little bit better quality and a little more fun ones and actually suitable to natural wines, natural wines to both from a style stylistic perspective. And also because you have to reduce your you can't add as much sulfur to to a canned wine or it becomes productive. So you have to adjust your..
Craig Macmillan 23:32
Yeah, we we keep coming back to millennials. And so I kind of want to wrap wrap this up on this topic. Again, based on your experience, your view, you obviously are on top of this, because you mentioned it several times. How much of a difference is there generally generationally in interest, and maybe even willingness to pay just the sustainability topic? For folks. It sounds like Millennials are much more interested in do more research on this than maybe the folks that from later or earlier generations. You see that continuing?
Erica Landin-Lofving 24:10
Yeah, yeah, definitely. It's with with younger generations, and I mean, I'm on the cusp of that myself. There's definitely more interest. And they are better at calling out BS too. They might, you know, they're not going to dig into every every number, but they they want a credible story and they want sustainability to be part of the story that you are telling about your wine. And yeah, I mean, they it's definitely one of the things that makes me hopeful is the more consumers is that we have a problem reaching them as one consumers but if we can pull them into the fold, one way of pulling them into the fold of wine lovers is actually To, to show this connection to the earth that we have in wine, I mean are seriously our product is so much more natural than a lot of the stuff that sold us, you know, no additives, no super sustainable, no carbon footprint, whatever they're selling it as it's still like a manufactured product in a, in a more synthetic way we have a direct connection to land, I think we need to communicate that to them. And part of that communication needs to it needs to consider sustainability that we are stewards of our land.
Craig Macmillan 25:29
So maybe just to editorialize for a second maybe not only on an individual level to individual wine companies, but maybe it's an industry wide, we need to do a better a better job messaging sustainability, and communicating to the consumer, especially apparently the millennial, what we're about what we do in in some of what our kind of standard practices are I you know, I mean, I remember when I first started farming years and years and years ago, the idea of cover crops was a little bit iffy. And I had one friend of mine, and he tried it, he says, you know, I'm farming two crops, I can barely farm one crop, and I'm farming two now, minimum and many years later. It's everywhere you just, of course you do you know, why wouldn't you? You know that so those changes there. Now it's a practice that I think it's an important practice that if people realize what's involved and why people do it, I think it could be very, very beneficial. Kind of wrapping up what one piece of advice or message or idea would you like to communicate to, let's say, winery owner or management or whatever on this topic, what's the one piece of like advice that you would have?
Erica Landin-Lofving 26:30
Well, I guess we've spent the last half hour talking about it, but it is definitely to consider the full scope of your packaging as part of your core sustainability work. Lift your eyes from just the Vinyard. It's super important, but include the winery and definitely include packaging, primary and secondary packaging and see what you can improve. Start asking questions, start asking your suppliers for information, ask your glass producer, what their coolest content is the recycled content, just start getting an understanding of what sustainable wine packaging is and how you can implement it and start communicating it to your customers, the more of us that tell the customer that these super heavyweight bottles are actually not an environmentally beneficial way of selling wine, the quicker the consumer is going to catch that and you know, what if you don't care at all about the environmental footprint, care about your your costs of goods, and help the rest of us get that message.
Craig Macmillan 27:24
Because one of the E's is economy economics, right? And that's part of the picture and controlling my costs is huge. Where can people find out more about you?
Erica Landin-Lofving 27:33
Oh, geez, I was to say I'm all over the internet. I've been a writer on other podcasts and speaking probably Google my name I there's not that many Erica Lofving spelled LOFVING in wine out there. My name is we Landin. So half of my articles are in Swedish. But you can you could probably find out online and feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn if you want to have a dialogue about anything.
Craig Macmillan 27:58
Fantastic. Wonderful. Our guest today has been Erica laughing. She's Chief Sustainability Officer with Vintage Wine Estates. Thank you for being the guest today. It's been a really fascinating conversation. And I look forward to talk to you again. Let's meet you in person at some point.
Erica Landin-Lofving 28:11
Thanks for having a good podcast. I always enjoy listening to the people. You're interviewing so much knowledge out in the wine industry.
Craig Macmillan 28:18
There really is. There's just a lot of richness and that's one thing that I love about doing this is meeting people like yourself and hearing perspectives and information I never otherwise would have gotten.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai