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Tastry uses wine AI to help winemakers navigate challenges in the RTD Space.

How Winemakers Can Navigate the Challenges in the RTD Space

RTDs (ready-to-drink beverages) have been deemed “the next opportunity” for the alcohol market. We see this with the growing amount of canned wine seltzers and cocktails offered by brands like Cutwater, Truly, and White Claw, just to name a few.

recent article by Brigid Mannarino discusses how Duckhorn and Decoy are among the few wine brands that have fully embraced RTD to meet consumer’s changing tastes. But those who do are finding great success, Mannarino says. For instance, it looks like Decoy’s Premium Seltzer Sauvignon Blanc with Vibrant Lime is sold out.

This strategy of offering a complete beverage in the ready-to-drink format is perhaps a response to consumers who have become accustomed to convenience. Brands who don’t cater to these expectations will surely be left behind.

In fact, 29% of millennials are buying primarily convenience meals, according to a report by FONA International. The report also states:

“Portions and packaging are almost as important as the product itself. As manufacturers develop foods and beverages, they are running a parallel track on how those items will be made available to consumers, whether in single-serve formats for individual or on-the-go consumption, larger packs for multiple eating occasions, for families or somewhere in between.”

The beverage industry has also seen an increase in single-serve coffee. According to a recent report, there are 25 million Keurig and K-Cup brewers installed in homes and offices across the United States, with millions more being sold each year. The penetration rates of single-serve brewers in households in the largest cities in the United States and Western Europe range from approximately 23% to 75%.

All trends point undoubtedly to the consumers’ growing desire to get what they want right now, in a convenient package, and it had better taste good –– or they’ll never buy from you again.

However, one cannot ignore the challenges that come with re-creating wine as a RTD beverage with single-serve options. It’s complicated — and the problems stretch beyond large glass bottles. At Tastry, we’ve given this some thought as we’ve worked with hundreds of winemakers to address all sorts of challenges.

At the end of the day, you want to know you’re creating something consumers will like – and we have some ideas for navigating this RTD space to help our clients do that. Here are the greatest challenges winemakers are facing when it comes to the RTD space and some solutions for how you can address them.

Challenge 1: The 750ml glass bottle doesn’t lend itself to convenience.

One of the greatest challenges for the wine industry is the form factor, or how wine is typically packaged and served in 750 ml glass bottles. With multiple servings in a bottle, once that bottle is opened, a consumer is now committed to drinking all of that wine, either with their friends or by themselves. Some wines keep better than others, but for the most part, the consumer bears the burden of finishing that wine in 3-5 days, lest they pour it down the drain.

With multiple servings per bottle causing consumers to be reluctant to commit to opening 750 mls, alternative packaging may seem like the simplest fix to this issue, but years of stigma surrounding canned and boxed wine has caused friction within this solution.

Challenge 2: There’s a stigma around canned and boxed wine.

Historically, producers chose boxed packaging for their less expensive wines, since it is cheaper compared to the glass bottles. Thus was born an association between cheaper packaging and cheaper wine, and cheaper wine means it must not be very good, at least, in the consumer’s mind.

The issue lies in association. Some brands – and the winemakers behind them – don’t want their identity to be associated with “cheap.” The second a winemaker puts their wine in a box or can, they are often concerned they may risk  ridicule, or  potentially lower perceived quality.

However, this is not always the case. One of the top 10 Best Paso Robles wineries recently proved that bag-in-box wine doesn’t always lead to poor performance in the market.

In 2021, Tablas Creek Vineyard successfully experimented with 3L box packaging for their 2021 Patelin de Tablas rosé which sold out almost immediately, according to general manager Jason Hass. Due to this success, they decided to release their  2021 Patelin de Tablas Blanc and 2021 Patelin de Tablas in bag-in-box format as well, which both sold out, and they will soon be releasing another vintage of their rosé, the 2022 Patelin de Tablas Rosé.

It appears that the stigma of bag-in-box wine might not be forever set in stone as various well-respected wineries release great wines in more affordable, sustainable forms of packaging. Now, other than the stigma, is there any other impact a change in packaging might have on the wine? The short answer is yes.

Challenge 3: Different packaging can affect the flavor of the wine.

The stability and non-reactivity of glass creates an almost full-proof environment for wine to age flawlessly for years – as long as the cork holds up its end of the deal. Some packaging alternatives fall short in this department, which can create issues if the wine is not bought off the shelf and consumed before the clock runs out.

For example, with the acidic composition of wine, aluminum cannot be relied on to maintain the wine’s integrity for extended periods of time. The acidity in wine can form hydrogen sulfide if it finds the smallest of flaws in the can’s lining, and oxidizes in contact with the aluminum, as noted by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.

This is not to say we can’t use aluminum cans, but wine producers should be aware of the potential impact if that wine’s going to sit on the shelf for a long time.

With these challenges in mind, finding a solution for winemakers to address the need for a single-serve option, while maintaining a wine’s quality – and perception of that quality – can be tricky.

Now, there’s an opportunity to explore different packaging options while keeping an eye on how that packaged wine will perform in the market before it hits the shelves –– and tracking its chemistry over time. With a sample of any wine, TastryAI can predict with up to 93% accuracy, the US consumer sentiment of a wine before anyone has tasted it. TastryAI does this by breaking down a wine’s chemical composition to understand its unique properties that create its taste, texture, color and aroma. TastryAI takes that data and pairs that against a database of ~248 million US consumer drinking-age palates.

So, if producers are going to explore different packaging options – can, bag-in-box, or otherwise – Tastry would be a tool to have in their arsenal to ensure consistency, quality, and even measure how many consumers will like the wine.

Still, when it comes to packaging wine, glass still remains the optimal choice because of its unmatched stability. What happens if we create a single-serve packaging option with glass?

Challenge 4: The optimal solutions for the wine fall short in sustainability.

Single serving, typically 187 ml, glass bottles seem like the reasonable alternative to prioritize convenience while maintaining integrity in the wine and its image. Unfortunately, this solution is lacking from a sustainability perspective, and it’s expensive. This can be attributed to the amount of glass the smaller bottles require per unit of volume, as well as the recycling habits of Americans.

With 4 single serving bottles equating to one 750 ml bottle of wine, more glass waste is generated from the single serving bottles compared to a standard bottle of wine, also leading to a higher cost for a larger amount of specialty glass.

The increase in glass required to package wine in single-serve bottles and the unlikelihood of Americans to recycle leads to another downfall of this packaging style. Only 31% of glass is recycled in the U.S., compared to 74% in Europe.

One solution that could potentially mitigate this is a recycling program. The wine industry might look at the Rosa Brothers Milk Company for inspiration. Consumers pay a $2 bottle deposit when they buy a bottle of milk and then upon returning the empty bottle, they get their $2 back. This “rinse-and-return” program is available at select Vons stores throughout California.

If wine companies can navigate their way through the logistics of a recycling program like this, it might be the solution to create sustainable, stable packaging to preserve the quality – and reputation – of their wines. Meanwhile, to meet the demand of single-serve and the rising popularity of ready-to-drink wine cocktails, Tastry can help producers QA test, mitigating the risk associated with more cost-effective and sustainable packaging options.

Has your company yet embraced the RTD space? If so, what have you tried? How did those products perform in the market? Chat with us! Email hello@tastry.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming article.

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