20 October 2010

Wine Packaging and PR-Blogger Relations

Last week fellow wineblogger Alder published a post about How to Send Wine Samples to a Blogger. In it, he takes on the wine public relations community for their shipping procedures. I agree with some of what he said, and am currently checking with PR reps to see what winebloggers can do to make things easier on their side--there are simple things like providing a phone number with the shipping information and having someone at least 21 at home to receive the wine that make everything move along faster. PR folks, feel free to contact me if you have suggestions, and I'll pass them along anonymously in a future post.

I'm also going to make it clear that I'm not complaining here--it's exciting to get to taste wines from all over the world, and I'm proud that my little patch of the internet has generated enough attention that I get this opportunity. I always try to be friendly and professional in my dealings with wineries and PR agencies, and I think that open communication is a good thing for everyone involved. I do have a few specific issues regarding shipping, based on my prior role as a corporate trainer. One of the things that I taught was proper pack and ship procedures, and I've also been involved in the testing and purchasing of customized cardboard solutions for specific products.

While I was thinking about Alder's post, I noticed that I had a lot of empty boxes in the living room, representing some of the most common shipping methods. Since most people will purchase either single bottles in a store or receive a 12-pack case with simple cardboard dividers, I thought I'd show what it looks like when you receive bottles one or two at a time. My primary concern is that the wine be delivered safely, with as little internal motion as possible. If the bottles are free to rattle around and bang against each other, there's a good chance of breakage.

STYROFOAM

Some folks are as passionate about their hatred of styrofoam as I am when it comes to the metric/standard debate. (METRIC RULES!) I'm not personally bothered by it, but here are the arguments: Styrofoam is rigid and provides great insulation regarding temperature. However, it's not recyclable, not compressible, and if you get a lot of it your house can fill up with the stuff between garbage pickups.

If you get one that holds a full twelve bottles, it can be kept and reused as a wine rack in a closet. It's not going to be as good as a climate controlled, sealed container, but that styrofoam will provide a lot of stability against the normal temperature fluctuations of a house.

RECYCLED PAPER

This is my personal favorite. Easily recyclable, and it has some great benefits: it holds the bottle in place securely, is lightweight, and those ridges provide a surprisingly strong structure. This is very similar to the egg containers you see at the grocery store.

Additionally, and this is just a minor note, I love the boxes that open along the long edge like this. It's much easier to get the wine out. Sometimes the ones that open from the top are packed a little tight and you either have to rip the whole box apart or shake it to remove the bottle.

STRONG CARDBOARD

This is an interesting style I don't see often, but I like. There's a double-layered corrugated cardboard insert that can be adjusted to fit different sizes of bottles. Combined with the outside cardboard box, this falls into the category of practically indestructible. Corrugated shipping boxes are a lot stronger than they look, and when you have a total of three layers it's really strong. The adjustable tabs allow for different shapes and sizes of bottles.

Also, when you break down the box to throw out or be recycled, everything lays flat. Volume is a big thing when it comes to efficient disposal.

BUBBLE WRAP

The worst thing you can do is wrap a bottle in bubble wrap and let it bounce around inside an oversized cardboard box. Motion is the enemy! Sometimes this method involves a bottle wrapped up like a football and then surrounded by several cubic feet of packing peanuts. It's overkill, and also doesn't keep the wine still.

In addition to the above, I've also received bottles wrapped in air cushions, wadded up newspaper, straw, and many different kinds of cardboard inserts. There's no perfect, one size fits all solution for wineries and agencies, but the cardboard and recycled paper options have multiple benefits for the shipper and receiver: they take up the least amount of space, reducing shipping costs; they firmly secure the bottles to avoid unnecessary motion; and they're more environmentally friendly than plastic or styrofoam solutions.

Wineries? Retailers? Bloggers? I'd love to hear your further input on the topic.

13 comments:

The Wine Commonsewer said...

My only complaint is that I don't get enough wine samples. :-)

I think everybody is moving away from Styrofoam and into laked and formed paper. I hate Styrofoam, but not for the same reasons that other people do. I don't think it provides any insulation beyond the first few hours of shipment.

Have to say, I've never received sample wine wrapped in bubble wrap or peanuts, though I have received a few gift wines that way.

Like you, I prefer the recycled paper, for all the right reasons. :-)

The Wine Commonsewer said...

Thought I was previewing.

that would be Flaked and Formed paper

And I hate Styrofoam because it makes a huge mess without even trying. All you have to do is breath at it and you have little pieces of it everywhere. And don't *even* let your kids play with it......

Benito said...

TWC,

Thanks for the input, and on styrofoam, the benefit is not so much long term insulation (even an ice chest full of ice will eventually melt), but that the thick insulation prevents the rapid hot-cold-hot-cold temperature changes that can quickly damage a wine as it goes from night to day, building to truck, etc. Of course, that means that a traditional New Mexico adobe package would be even better, but somewhat heavier than styrofoam. ;)

I do hate the little particles of styrofoam that stick to the bottle, clothes, and everything else via static electricity. Also, when it comes to packing peanuts, there are biodegradable ones made from corn starch that are totally harmless and melt in water. They're even edible, even though they taste really bland. Big problem: rats can eat them too. And they do.

Cheers,
Benito

Thomas said...

When I operated a winery and shipped, and then when I operated a retail shop and shipped, I found that the best shipping solution was the Strong Cardboard with adjustable inserts, which can also make a good stacker in a closet that remains dry.

The only problem with them is that they can become an expensive incidental cost to the shipper. If my memory serves, a 12-case shipping box cost about $8, a decent percentage of the average cost of the wine inside it.

Benito said...

Thomas,

One thing I've always wished is that shipping companies would offer discounts if you were a "certified shipper", a mutual agreement to use a certain standard of packaging and labeling. Bad packaging is a threat to the contents of that box, but especially with liquids, it risks damaging all the other packages underneath it, resulting in additional claims that have to be paid out, etc.

Cheers,
Benito

Sam D said...

Nice post Benito. This is an ongoing issue for wineries. Somone really needs to invent a new super-material for shipping.

In my experience most wine producers prefer not to use Styrofoam. They often make great efforts to be “green” and it is well understood that Styrofoam is a non-recyclable material. The problem is Styrofoam is by far the best packaging to protect wine—especially if it is travelling cross-country. My personal preference is to use recycled paper whenever possible but this often requires overnight shipping with ice packs to avoid heat damage (which can become very expensive).

Benito said...

Sam,

Great stuff, and the reason why I want to publicize your side of things is because people don't often realize how expensive wine shipping can be. The perfect, fastest, greenest method that makes everyone happy also means fewer total samples being sent, because shipping budgets are limited.

This is new territory for all of us, and as I keep hammering, it's better to talk about it rather than be frustrated on both sides.

Cheers,
Benito

Thomas said...

I've an idea. Why not ask the WSWA to recommend a good shipping container?

Sorry--bad joke.

1WineDude said...

Styrofoam should never be used. It's time for it to die.

Benito said...

1WineDude,

I see the industry moving away from it over time, I just want to make sure that it's replaced with something strong.

Cheers,
Benito

Author: Sean Mitchell said...

Interesting topic. I think Jancis Robinson penned something a few months ago in an Australian wine magazine regarding the possible benefits of "mini" sample bottles as an environmentally friendly option. For mine, it probably detracts from the tasting experience a bit, and possibly invites an apples v oranges complaint due to different ageing capacities of the differing vessels, but maybe it's worth a thought. Here's a link to her article, which I don't think is the same as what I read, but covers some of the same ground: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a201005272.html

Cheers
Sean

Benito said...

Sean,

Thanks for the article. I've got mixed feelings about the little bottles--I thought the tasting kit I reviewed recently was fun, but that was a consumer-targeted gift item. For wine evaluation, I'm not as much of a fan because it doesn't allow you to let a glass breathe for a while, or to see how it works with food. 50mL will give you a taste but not allow a deeper look.

Cheers,
Benito

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