Liquid Thinking

Labelless Wine

Will it work?

15th March 2023

Try as they might, brands and eco-packaging producers still haven’t scored a major win when it comes to a better approach to alcohol packaging. From paper wine and spirit bottles to refill pouches, the past few years have seen a flurry of fanfare surrounding launches that have at best, failed to make an impact, and at worst, never made it to market. So as wine brand Fourth Wave announces its new labelless wine, we ask, will it work? 

Consumers care. Brands care. We all want a better, more sustainable way to package drinks products. We all want to use less materials, or ensure that those that are used can go on to have a second life. That we can agree on. 

But the problem is, though much time and money has been spent on devising solutions, so far, none have really worked. For example, it’s now a quarter of the way through 2023 and we’re still wating for Diageo’s “world's first ever 100% plastic free paper-based spirits bottle, made entirely from sustainably sourced wood” to launch. Though it was announced in 2020 and scheduled to launch in early 2021 initially for Johnnie Walker, we haven’t seen it yet. Suffice to say, many have tried, many have failed. 

So, the quest is still on to produce something that is a genuinely better alternative to glass. Apart from this time… that’s not what’s happened. Step forward Australia’s Fourth Wave Wines and sustainable drinks branding specialist Denomination. The duo have partnered to produce a wine bottle – yes, a glass wine bottle – for its Crate brand. The twist? This time it’s sans label. 

Yep, a plain glass bottle is the next best answer to drinks sustainability, apparently. Let’s look at the logic. According to the pair, removing the label and minimising the use of paper, ink and plastic used, as well as the energy to produce and apply them, is vastly better for the environment. Though it doesn’t offer a measure of exactly how much better, they instead call it the most energy efficient choice. While the glass itself is lightweight and recycled. 

And crucially, this approach leaves no room for traditional branding. All essential information is instead, popped on the tiny neck label. Which begs the question, if more wine companies followed this approach, how would they brand themselves? 

At the moment, with the market effectively to itself, Fourth Wave Wines stands out by a process of elimination. Once you’re familiar with it, you see it and you know who it is. But if more brands join in, then what? Also, if the idea does take off, never mind differentiation – colour coding and fonts can only get you so far on a label the size of a postage stamp – how do brands convey identity? 

Some would argue that being sustainable is identity enough and for some consumers it might be. But for those that want to buy into a brand with heritage, are interested in vintages, terroir, grape varieties, or reading a little about the processes used to make their wine, a neck label alone can’t convey such info. For online retail, that might not matter, but in physical stores is the onus then on stockists to provide such info on shelf labels?  And isn’t that then simply shifting the problem off-pack?

And let’s not ignore the infamously short attention span of consumers. If consumers can’t instantly recognise and pick out a brand they already have loyalty to on a shelf, would they take the time to search for it? Also, what will a lack of branding do to the decision-making of consumers who haven’t established loyalty to a brand yet and use labels to read the category? Our best guess is, they’d make a different choice every time based on ease.

So, for Fourth Wave and Denomination to succeed, it’s likely that they know they’ll need to be the only ones to adopt the approach. And we’re not saying the onus is on brands to be altruistic and share their toys, but being effective for just one brand without the possibility to scale it up, doesn’t seem to be the point of redesigning packaging to be more sustainable. 

However, the duo are also already succeeding where many others have failed; their product has in fact made it to market. Here, simplicity is its friend. So, judge as other brands might, here at least the idea is a winner. Now the race is on for other brands to figure out what they can do, what simplistic and effective measure they can take to both reduce their environmental impact and build a brand at the same time. In the respect, this new launch has nailed it. 


Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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