How producers could lose their bottle

Packaging is on my mind at the moment. A lot of the work we're doing is in this area and two themes are recurring regularly:

consumers don't want to admit that packaging is an important cue in their decision making process; and the vast majority of consumers find it very difficult to accept anything innovative when it comes to wine packaging.

Let's start by admitting that packaging in general gets a rough deal. In the past, many wine producers have focused

their energies on producing fantastic wine and seen packaging as an afterthought . While this

represents a better deal for savvy consumers than if wine producers had their priorities the other way round, it does mean

there is a lot of bad packaging on the shelves, which often turns people off purchasing good wine.

The other problem with wine packaging is that consumers

don't like to admit it influences their purchase decision. As a result, surveys of consumer wine purchasing priorities often return the verdict that packaging is

a long way behind more tangible purchase cues such as price, varietal, country of origin and whether or not it's on promotion.

Our general finding is that wine packaging matters a lot more than most people (be they producers or consumers) are willing to admit. The key function of wine packaging comes towards the end of a consumer's search for a product .

As with other consumer goods, people tend to search for wine by using a learned pathway of behaviour, such as: "I prefer red wine to white, I like full-bodied red that I know comes from places like Spain and Chile, I know that the style I like is often called Cabernet Sauvignon or Rioja, I generally buy wine between £5 and £6.50," and so on.

Once the consumer has exhausted the rational cues, they may end up with just one product which ticks all the boxes, in which case that's the one they will buy. But nine times out of 10 they will find themselves left with a choice of, say, four or five wines that broadly fit their purchasing criteria. At this point, packaging and the information conveyed by the packaging beyond the obvious (country, varietal etc) comes into play.

For our hypothetical consumer, packaging preference will provide the crucial distinction between, say, Rioja X and ­Rioja Y, assuming little or no difference in other attributes.

There is also an occasion when packaging does become a factor that consumers openly acknowledge - when buying a gift for someone. Champagne houses, whose products are often bought as gifts, have spent years making their packaging look beautiful. Wine over £6 is now increasingly bought as a gift, and more far-sighted winemakers are investing more time and energy in making their product convey value to both the gift purchaser and the gift receiver.

Another key issue facing wine producers when it comes to packaging choices is the fact that we're not very good as

consumers at embracing change - even if a really strong argument is put forward. Take, for example, the arguments in favour of screwcaps. Our trend research suggest that regular wine consumers are finally getting it - but only after four years of having supermarkets in effect bounce us into acceptance by putting increasing numbers of screwcapped wines on the shelves.

We do know that most sensible and rational changes will be embraced over time - even if somewhat reluctantly. So perhaps we will see

consumers shifting their allegiances away from traditional weight glass as the primary container for wine for both compelling environmental and functional reasons.

According to a Consumer Intelligence report

by the WSTA in association with Wine Intelligence, two in three regular UK wine drinkers think

wine should stick to

glass bottles. University of the Bleedin' Obvious stuff you might think.

But the same research shows that if you clearly communicate the benefits of a packaging change to consumers, they are much more likely to adopt this change for both rational and emotional reasons. For instance, telling consumers what the true environmental impact is of shipping lots of green glass bottles to the UK versus other forms of packaging may just shift the consumer view.

I couldn't resist buying the Arniston Bay 1.5-litre Chenin/Chardonnay pouch

when I was in Tesco the other day. Having placed it in my fridge (on its side because it wouldn't fit in the door compartment), I opened it when a friend popped over a few nights later.

Maybe it's just me, but it wasn't obvious how I was supposed to serve from it. I tried standing it on the edge of the counter (like one would a wine box) with the tap overhanging, but this didn't work. When I finally worked it out and held the pouch in one hand and pressed the tap with the other

it was really easy - and actually quite fun - to use. The pouch turned out to be versatile, easy to use and appeared to maintain the condition of the wine for the five or so days that we used the pouch. But when I pulled it out of the fridge to serve from it to friends the comments ranged from "why?" to "you must be kidding me".

Yet on talking my guests through the benefits this might provide them both in terms of wine quality and consistency and environmental impact, the view changed significantly.