Last night (Tuesday December 3), I attended a tasting of Balblair vintages. We tasted five whiskies, 2003, 1997, 1990, 1983 and 1969, prefaced by a glass of Balblair’s base spirit.
Christiaan Huynen, group director of business development & marketing at international branding and design consultant Cartils says: “Sustainability is a trend that has gained more ground over the past couple of years and we expect to continue to see such growth over the coming years. Key examples in the drinks industry have been the introduction of plant-based PET as well as lightweight glass. However, the trend is of less influence in the super-premium and luxury category.”
Claessens’ Boulton says all manufacturers are under pressure to show their sustainability credentials and, while he believes lightweight glass is a plus for the environment and for the pocket, in terms of shipping costs there are still some snags when it comes to perceived value. He uses champagne to make the point.
No room to devalue
“The problem for many brands – and this is particularly true with champagne – is much of the value for drinks brands comes from their bottling, so there is still a competitive advantage to be had from not moving to lightweight glass,” he says. “The last thing any brand wants to be seen to be doing is devaluing its product and, certainly from a consumer perspective, moving to lightweight glass can have this affect.
“What’s interesting about the champagne market is the commitment of the [champagne co-ordinating body] CIVC to work towards reducing the weight of bottles across the industry. Levelling the playing field in this way makes it more likely that this strategy will be adopted across the board. However, there is a technical issue here, too. Champagne is bottled under immense pressure, so you need glass that can withstand this pressure when the bottle is being stored in a riddling rack, where it hangs upside down and is turned regularly. Lightweight glass could present breakage problems.”
Design Bridge’s Shearsby says his company has been working for the past 10 years to embed sustainability into the design process. His colleague Cook adds: “Sustainability is more of a given these days rather than a specific starting point for a brief. This is because, whether we like it or not, consumers don’t buy brands based solely on their environmental credentials.”
But Stranger & Stranger’s Shaw thinks the responsibility also lies at the retail end of the market. When I ask him if he thinks sustainability and lightweighting are considerations, he says: “No and they should be. The supermarkets have the power to push this a lot more.”
Shall the twain ever meet? Can luxury packaging and sustainability ever be comfortable bedfellows? Or, more importantly, should they be? If there’s one area where packaging takes up as much of the press release as the liquid, it’s at the luxury end of scotch whisky.
One typical example from DI news stories is from a Glenmorangie launch: “The package is a collaboration between French designer Laurence Brabant, who designed the barrique-style Baccarat crystal decanter, and Dutch furniture designer Wouter Scheublin, who designed the box.”
But family-owned company Glenfarclas made headlines in 2010 for the opposite reason when it launched its 40 year old whisky, which it says was deliberately not overpackaged to keep the price down. At the time of the launch, Glenfarclas director of sales George Grant was quoted as saying: “Compared to other whiskies of a similar age, this has been priced to open and enjoy.”
So I ask design experts what they think about this. Should the Scotch Whisky Association be called upon to reduce secondary packaging and cut carbon emissions?
Huynen from Cartils sums it up nicely. He says: “Boxes and cartons are still important to the whisky industry as they influence the perceived value (an indicator of premiumness) of a product – a factor which is of importance in a consumer’s buying criteria (shelf impact). Therefore banning boxes and cartons will have many negative consequences on the industry as a whole.”