The future’s bright, the future’s… cardboard?

Looking at recent booze launches, that certainly seems to be the case. Slowly but surely, paper-based packaging is becoming a reality in the BWS aisles. 

Take today’s news that Greenall’s Gin is to launch its core gin into Sainsbury’s in a recycled paperboard bottle in October. That a brand as big as Greenall’s has taken a punt on paper – and that it will be sold permanently in Sainsbury’s – is no small matter. The bottle will be the only 70cl SKU for Greenall’s on its shelves (though it will still sell one-litre glass bottles).

It’s not the only big brand going down this route. Take Carlsberg’s much-anticipated wood fibre beer bottle, which the brewer revealed recently has reached the sampling stage of development. Or Absolut, which trialled paper RTD bottles for its Mixt drinks last year.

And that’s without mentioning the smaller players. Just look at wine brands Journey’s End and When in Rome, which already sells its wine in paper bottles in Ocado, as well as craft distillery Gyre & Gimble. 

It will be fascinating to see how shoppers react to booze in paper bottles. The big question will be whether they are willing to switch from competitor brands to what is deemed a more eco-friendly option.

Will shoppers switch?

In the case of Greenall’s, its 70cl paper bottle will cost £15.50, while a 70cl bottle of rival Gordon’s is currently £14 in Sainsbury’s. If shoppers can be convinced to spend an extra couple of pounds on a cardboard bottle of gin, especially at a time when wallets are feeling the squeeze of inflation, it could inform packaging strategies in a major way. And that could heat up the race for rivals to get in on the action.

On the branding side, paper bottles lack the satisfying heft of glass. But they also offer a less restrictive canvas on which brands can splash their personality, without needing to rely on traditional labels.

Carlsberg Fiber Bottle 2022_1small

Carlsberg’s fibre bottle

Paper is also becoming a more appealing option for suppliers, thanks to shortages and surging prices in the glass market. So says Malcolm Waugh, CEO of Frugalpac, which manufactures most of the paper bottles available right now – including those used by Greenall’s and some of the wine brands listed. He says its bottles have grown increasingly competetive for smaller winemakers, and have had price parity with glass in parts of the spirits market for some time, because many spirits bottles are heavier and feature custom designs.

That said, there is still some way to go when it comes to matching the packaging costs of big wine suppliers, which import most of their wine in bulk and then bottle en masse in the UK. 

Wider adoption

But that could change. Having spent the past two years manufacturing for brands, Frugalpac is now hoping to start selling its production machines into other businesses so they can start producing their own paper bottles, growing the market exponentially. This, says Waugh, would strip out a further chunk of the cost involved. In the long term, it is easy to imagine economies of scale kicking into action with wider adoption.

Frugalpac might be leading the market for now – at least in terms of products shoppers can actually buy – but it is by no means the only business planning big things.

A race to develop and bring to market further paper-based bottles and other packaging innovations is on between two giant, recently formed consortia made up of some of the world’s biggest drinks brands.

On one side is Paboco, whose members include Carlsberg, Coca-Cola and Pernod Ricard. On the other is Pulpex, which counts Diageo, PepsiCo and Unilever among its ranks. While neither behemoth is yet to properly launch a permanent product, high-profile trials suggest it is just a matter of time.

With their scale – and their wallets – backing a move towards paper packaging, anything is possible.