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The pouch may bring some packaging competition to traditional wine bottles

By: Jim Johnson

June 30, 2014

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — There are glass bottles of wine, of course. Big glass bottles. Little glass bottles. Medium glass bottles.

And then there bags of wine in cardboard boxes. Some of those are fancy. Think expensive. Some more utilitarian. Think booze for sloshy cousins at the wedding reception.

And don’t forget wine in aseptic packaging and even aluminum bottles.

But Eric Steigelman is trying to crack into the already crowded vino market with his passion for pouches.

Make no mistake, Steigelman is a packaging guy who became a wine guy. Not the other way around. With a degree in packaging, an internship in packaging and a sales job in packaging already on his resume, he brings a passion for packaging and an entrepreneurial zeal to his Bonfire brand of wine in a pouch.

“With all the competition, why go into the wine industry?” the Bonfire founder and CEO asked at the recent Global Pouch Forum in Fort Lauderdale. “It would seem impossible to try to gain market share.”

But Steigelman has great hope for his fledgling brand. All he has to do is look in the mirror.

The entrepreneur will be happy with anyone who picks up a 1.5 liter pouch of his Bonfire wine, but he’s marketing toward a specific age range: Millennials, a group that’s help driving current growth in wine consumption.

“Realizing that it’s good to pick a single market when you are launching a new brand, I picked millennials,” the millennial said.

“And so, as I’m branding, I can understand this consumer a little bit better than, say, the next person,” he said about his own millennialism.

Pouches, he said, can speak to wine-drinking folks in his generation.

Steigelman brings his Bonfire wines to the market as the idea of alternative packaging is taking hold, he said. “This is not just a U.S. trend. This is Europe. This is Asia. This is Latin America,” he said.

Consumers are looking for something different. “Functional packaging delights the consumer,” he said. “I’m looking to make that emotional impact with the consumer.”

In a world where more and more products are turning to pouches, the entrepreneur sees their growing popularity as a way to stand out on crowded wine shelves. Others feel the same way, as Bonfire certainly is not the first company to put wine in pouches in recent years.

“This is adding value. This is differentiation. This is innovation,” he said.

Bonfire’s wines come in 1.5 liter pouches — twice the size of the traditional 750 milliliter wine bottle — and typically sell for $14.99 to $16.99.

The wine is good for a month after opening and the spouted pouch has a carbon footprint that’s 80 percent less than glass. Easy to open, the pouch also chills faster than glass bottles. Pouch portability for a younger, on-the-go generation also is seen as an advantage over glass bottles.

“The pouch added elevated consumer experience, sustainability and great shelf presence,” he said.

While pouches have a lower environmental footprint through their usage, they often get tripped up at the end of life because of their very nature. Layers of different plastics, and even metal, make for a tough recycling story.

Still, Steigelman said, considering the packaging’s entire lifecycle, pouches are still more environmentally friendly than glass. That’s because most glass is not recycled and takes up more space in landfills than pouches. Pouches also require a lot less energy to manufacture.

“I think at some point we’ll find more municipalities that are willing to take pouch packaging as a recycled item, but we’re just not there yet,” he said.

A current pilot project in Citrus Heights, Calif., is aiming to do just that — recycle more pouches. The summertime program will measure consumer interest in reclaiming pouches, which are being diverted from the waste stream and sent off to make fuel.

“I’m looking to make that emotional impact with that consumer,” Steigelman said about his use of pouches. “This is added value. This is differentiation. This is innovation.”