Tate & Lyle
Carst and Walker
SA downweighting wine bottles

SA wine industry to reduce impact with new light-weight bottles

As South Africa continues to defy the global economic downturn by annually lifting the export of its packaged wines, it is making concerted moves to lower the weight of its wine bottles and so maintain its status as one of the world’s most eco-progressive winemaking nations and a leader in production integrity.

From this year, 750ml wine bottles closed with screwcaps and weighing only 350 grams will be available to local wine producers. These compare with an average bottle weight of over 500 grams just four years ago.

“As we raise our export volumes of mostly bottled wines, we also increase our carbon emissions, so it becomes a delicate balancing act to enhance our sustainability profile while pushing up our output,” explained Su Birch, CEO of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), one of the leading champions of the country’s efforts to grow, make and market wines in a way that is least harmful to the environment.

“On the face of it, one solution might be to ship more of our wines in bulk directly to their export destinations for off-shore bottling. However, this poses a major problem in that many jobs would be lost during what must rank as the worst recession in current memory. Last year over a million jobs were shed in the formal sector, forcing many further millions of South Africans into a state of dire poverty.”

She said the wine industry body, SA Wine Industry Information Systems (SAWIS), had calculated that for every 10 million litres of wine shipped in bulk, just over 107 jobs would be lost. “This figure does not even factor in the multiplier effect that such job losses bring. It has, for example, been reported that for every one of Unilever’s direct jobs in South Africa, another 22 workers depend on the company for at least a part of their livelihood. This is an indication of just how crucial each job is to a developing economy such as ours.”

The wine industry currently provides direct employment for close on 276 000 people, she said.

Last year, South Africa exported 389 million litres of wine. Of the total, less than half – 150,5 million litres – were exported in bulk. “Fortunately, the volume of bulk exports dropped 18% in 2009, compared with year before, whereas packaged exports rose 7% over the same period. This is not only good for individual brands and for jobs but for the quality standing of Brand South Africa.”

While many players in the South African wine industry had actively supported bottle recycling programmes in recent years to reduce their impact on the environment, efforts were now being accelerated to focus on light-weight wine bottles as well.

“The new 350 gram glass bottles for red and white wines have been designed to accommodate screwcap closures, which account for over 65% of South Africa’s wine production. They are scheduled for launch by mid-April, in time for the 2010 harvest.”

At the same time, the average weight of bottles sealed with corks had been reduced in weight from 570 grams to 460 grams, she said.

According to Consol Glass, South Africa’s leading manufacturer of glass containers for the beverage industry, until 2006 the average weight of a 750ml non-returnable wine bottle was 516 grams, which by last year had dropped to 437 grams, a decrease of 15%. The new light-weight bottle will bring down the average still further.

She said the sturdy, light-weighted bottles, apart from strengthening South Africa’s reputation for environmentally responsible wine production, would also address the demands of leading retailers. Also keen to enhance their sustainability credentials, the multiple grocer chains were responding to high-profile media and consumer calls for more eco-friendly packaging.

Birch added that alternative wine packaging, such as the wine pouch offered by leading export brand, Arniston Bay, had also been welcomed in many export markets. South African bag-in-box wines were also very popular, particularly in Scandinavia.

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