The Time is Ripe
Wine has been available in one-liter deposit bottles for decades. The returnable system did celebrate some success. But its market share is shrinking. Now, cooperatives in Baden-Württemberg have developed a 0.75-liter deposit bottle that should bring movement to the single-use market.
If everything goes as planned, it will be on the shelves for the first time in July 2023: Germany's first 0.75-liter deposit bottle for wine. It was developed by the Württemberg Winegrowers' Association in almost four years of detailed work. For the launch, the specially founded Wein-Mehrweg eG has ordered one million bottles from the supplier Glashütte. These will then be filled in the initially ten participating Württemberg cooperatives and marketed locally and via regional beverage wholesalers. However, the plan is to extend the new deposit system to the whole of Germany.
He has even received inquiries from Austria, Italy, and Switzerland, reports Werner Bender, chairman of Wein-Mehrweg eG and managing director of Heuchelberg Weingärtner. Bender gives a rough market overview: Of the two billion bottles that pass over the counter in this country every year, 55 percent come from abroad - all disposable. And of the 900 or so bottles of German wine, a maximum of ten percent are one-liter reusable - "rather less.
So there is great potential for a reusable system - especially as bottle production is becoming increasingly expensive as glassworks struggle with rising energy prices and a scarcity of glass as a raw material. Last but not least, the disposable bottle is responsible for almost 50 percent of wine's carbon footprint.
The concept of the Württemberg winemakers sounds well thought out. The beautifully shaped bottle, developed together with designers, is designed to be reused up to 50 times. It is robust and, at 560 grams, significantly heavier than a typical Bordeaux bottle (450 grams). Unsightly friction rings are avoided by having a wide label protector only at the bottom, Bender explains. "In the middle, the bottles run through the lines virtually friction-free." In any case, the mechanical stress is lower than for mineral water, for example, because wine is bottled much more slowly.
Care has also been taken to ensure that the new bottle fits into the existing system - into the rinsing and filling lines for one-liter bottles as well as into their 6- and 12-bottle plastic crates. For producers and growers, it is therefore "very easy on investments," says Bender. All this was tested in the first step with wooden dummies and then with a small series of 150 units. It will be exciting to see whether the retail trade will join the beverage trade - "they have been waiting for this". The fact that retailers don't have to pick up an additional crate is certainly a plus, as is the opportunity for customer loyalty through returns at the POS. The automated return at the vending machine also works, says Bender, which has already been tested with a major deposit machine manufacturer.
Ultimately, it is the customers who are likely to decide on the success of the bottle. Here, too, Wein-Mehrweg eG has secured its position in advance. The present product is the result of qualitative interviews with 600 wine customers. Bender himself will initially offer the deposit bottle for his best-selling wines in parallel with the previous disposable bottles. "Then let the customers decide."
Incidentally, a deposit of 30 cents is expected to be charged for the returnable bottles - and thus significantly more than for the previous liter bottles. Because their five cents "were clearly too little," says Bender. They offered too little incentive for the return.
Meanwhile, there are also returnable ideas for wine elsewhere. The Baden-Württemberg Cooperative Association is currently researching the potential together with the Neustadt Wine Campus. In Spain, the Torres wine empire wants to promote reuse throughout Europe. And in Kirchheim an der Weinstrasse in the Palatinate, the Galler winery recently bottled wine in standard 0.5-liter beer deposit bottles for the first time - but this is probably more of a marketing stunt.