A lot goes into ensuring your alcohol beverage makes it into consumers’ hands safely, efficiently, and with packaging that speaks to product quality. It means working with package design and logistics professionals who can navigate the most appropriate choices when it comes to materials and methods used. But where to begin?
Your goal when shipping alcohol beverages is to ensure a snug fit. Regardless of which materials you choose to pack with, their job is to keep liquid from moving, as this is a common reason for breakage. Companies such as Amazon have requirements for shipping any type of liquids, and businesses like UPS and FedEx require proof your package has passed specific stress tests. Plus, we’ve all seen how handlers can sometimes be careless, even when the box is marked fragile. Better to take that risk factor out of the equation from the get-go.
Wait, Earth first!
With today’s selection of packing materials, there’s absolutely no reason to choose things that are bad for the environment. We all know expanded polystyrene (EPS; commonly known by the trademarked name Styrofoam) is a popular choice, but there are a lot of other options that are so much more environmentally friendly. Plus, EPS can be confusing to the end-user. It will generally have a recycling symbol with the number 6 inside, making it seem like consumers can put it in their curbside recycling bins. But in most areas, they can’t—and entire loads of potentially recyclable materials can be rejected because of its presence.
The choice for a less expensive packing material might seem obvious when it comes to your bottom line, but its ultimate cost is what today’s consumers will notice first. EPS doesn’t naturally break down, and can only be recycled—at specialized facilities—into more EPS products.
Should you decide to ship with EPS, it’s of utmost importance to inform consumers that they need to consult with local recycling centers to see what’s accepted outright—and where. For example, sometimes supermarkets have specific bins for EPS. Websites like foamfacts.com or search.earth911.com are also good resources for locating proper drop-off centers for EPS. The key here is getting that message across clearly and efficiently.
On the other hand, you could completely forget about that headache by choosing a product that isn’t potentially harmful to the environment. Some companies pride themselves on offering just that; others are happy to guide you toward what will work best with your product.
If your company prides itself on sustainable practices, EPS is not the way to go. If your bottle says “organic” on its label, do you really want it to arrive surrounded by packaging made from chemicals including petroleum and/or coal?
Fortunately, alternative choices abound and are just as safe for shipping your precious cargo. They’re also much more attractive and incredibly versatile when it comes to product presentation.
Eric Berkeley, president of Berkeley, started his packaging company with his father, Jeff, in 2012. Eric was a college senior with an eye toward the future, and Jeff had just retired from the packaging business (or so he thought). “I stumbled across the concept of molded fiber technology and found a machine that could do it—so I bought it,” says Eric. The new company was green from the get-go; its motto: Molding the future of packaging. “It’s the most consumer-identifiable, eco-friendly packaging, and it’s obviously recyclable.” Molded fiber products are manufactured with waste paper or other natural fibers (cellulose) and are biodegradable and often compostable.
Berkeley’s largest customer base is the wine industry, but it can craft containers for any beverage shipping in glass or cans. Berkeley also invented and patented a stand-up carrier for wine. “In the past, the wine industry shipped with lay-down containers, with bottles layered on top of one another,” adds Eric. “You couldn’t see what was in there. Stand-up packages are easier and quicker on production lines, easier for quality control, and provide immediate ease-of-use for consumers.”The packages are 100 percent eco-friendly and meet Amazon’s requirements. “Using molded fiber used to be difficult because there weren’t commercial technologies to do it. Now it’s easy to switch, and only 5 to 10 percent more expensive than EPS.”
The company has also developed a bottle-shipping package that meets the USPS flats criteria, letting ecommerce packages go through the regular mail. “If your product fits into it, shipping costs come down significantly,” says Eric. “Even if you’re only getting rid of a small amount of EPS or plastic carriers, you’re doing your part.”
Paper products pack an eco-friendly punch
Glenn McWilliams is the creator of WineShield, brought to market in 2010, in response to the need for a better bottle shipper. WineShield products are crafted from corrugated paper, one of the most highly recycled materials available. “It’s structurally stronger and cleaner than the alternatives,” says McWilliams. “Product presentation when shipped direct to consumer is critical.”
WineShield (and its parent company, known as PakSource) was recently sold to Golden West Packaging Group and is distributed out of its Specialty Solutions division. Matt Hammack, director of sales for Northern California, officially took the reins to spearhead WineShield’s growth in January 2020 (McWilliams has worked closely with him since the sale in January 2019). The product comes in multiple standard designs, available for immediate delivery, or can be customized at any level.
“We print with water-based inks, which are also eco-friendly,” says Hammack. Golden West has a strong presence on the West Coast, and McWilliams saw it as a perfect fit. “Our goal is to take what Glenn created and expand it through sales and multiple locations.
“The design can hold a variety of bottle sizes, which is a real benefit to wineries because they have multiple sizes to sell,” says Hammack. As one of the largest packaging printers on the West Coast, Golden West has all three major types of printing presses—flexographic, lithographic, and digital. “Digital printing doesn’t require printing plates, and many customers are migrating to digital for cost savings,” says Hammack. Digital printing also offers greater flexibility with less waste, as well as quicker turnarounds.
“A big trend now is increased print customization to differentiate your brand from the others,” says McWilliams. “Golden West has the unique equipment to print on the inside and outside of the box in one pass.” The result is attractive, clean, earth- and consumer-friendly packaging that offers unique design, customization, and environmentally friendly appeal. “It’s all about brand development and consumer perception of value,” says McWilliams.
Phil Ferris purchased Oakland Paper & Supply, Inc. in 1988, which was rebranded in 2018 as Cogent Solutions & Supplies (same family owner, different name). “The business started in Oakland, Calif., but now has a presence serving vintners and spirits companies throughout California,” says Michelle Oliver, business development manager.
“Everyone is trying to find alternatives to EPS, since there are ordinances at the local and state level throughout California prohibiting its use. We currently offer pulp, which is compostable and recyclable, based on waste management availability, and it’s a great option for product protection. It can be formed to fit many different bottle sizes and package configurations,” she says. “It also stacks more efficiently than EPS, so you can fit more in a bundle. This reduces pallet size and shipping costs. It can also be lighter weight than using corrugated inserts when shipping bottles to end users.”
Oliver also mentions a new technology for packaging that the company is looking into, which creates pulp from a mushroom substrate. “It’s a bit expensive at this point, but turning trash into a treasure would be amazing. The problem today is one of supply and demand for these costly alternatives.”
If shipping, pulp alone doesn’t always pass the stresses of shipping and drop tests. In this case, materials are chosen based on the product and the requirement of carriers. Pulp, EPS, or corrugated divider inserts can all be used to protect the products based on many different factors. “We can also design specialty boxes for unique presentations, which are popular with higher-end wine clubs.”
Cogent does offer varied EPS products, but when possible and based on each customer’s needs, it will also offer more ecological choices. Even so, she points out, it’s the consumer’s choice as to whether any packaging materials will be recycled or composted. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The industry is still learning what’s the most sustainable, which is based on a number of factors.”
The next level
We’ve all heard that wine is made in the vineyard. Well, paper-based packaging products are ultimately made in the forest. How does one ensure the process is sustainable?
Georgia-Pacific, a world leader in manufacturing tissue, pulp, paper, packaging, and more, launched a program in 2009 to identify and map endangered forests and special areas from where it would no longer purchase wood, except in special situations where ecological restoration is needed. It worked with Dogwood Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Rainforest Action Network as well as an ecology expert at University of Georgia to create a mapping system. In 2019, it had mapped 6.6 million acres across 19 states, the first forest products company to use broad-scale analysis to do so.
Bottom line: whatever you choose, ensure your carefully crafted product arrives at your consumers’ or retailers’ door safely, with packaging that shows you care about our planet as much as you do about what’s inside the box.