Garçon Wines: Lockdown living highlights need for new wine packaging solutions

The UK has now been living with lockdown measures for more than four weeks and over this time off-trade wine sales – and online drinks deliveries – have surged massively, while the focus on finding “earth-friendly” solutions looks set to play a much greater role in our future. 

Garçon Wines, which pioneered the concept of ‘letterbox-friendly wines’ back in 2017, was in a perfect position to tap into all of these growth areas, although like so many businesses it has also had to navigate the many logistical challenges posed by Covid-19.

DRN caught up with the company’s business development manager, Amelia Dales, to find out how Covid-19 has affected the business, and also to find out more about its collaboration with Accolade Wines and other projects:

How have sales been through March and April?

“The UK is experiencing significant growth in online wine sales during this period, with a shift in consumer buying behaviours working favourably for those with an existing online platform. It’s a similar situation in the US, with a number of e-commerce platforms quoting triple digit increases.

“Through March and April, we’ve seen almost a 600% rise in demand through existing business customers, who in turn have seen massive increases from end consumers, as well as a sharp increase in new enquiries from a wide variety of companies. Sales are strong and there’s no indication of this slowing down anytime soon.

“Garçon Wines offer a solution that’s optimal for e-commerce – our eco, flat wine bottles are made of 100% recycled PET, pre-existing not single-use plastic. Our bottles are 87% lighter than the standard UK glass bottle and won’t shatter during transport. Our bottle is 40% more spatially efficient, which also allows for more efficient logistics.

“This is further amplified through game-changing secondary packaging. We can offer Amazon frustration-free packaging (FFP), which is certified packaging suitable for single bottles and three bottles, with a six-bottle pack due to follow shortly. FFP certified packaging is currently rare for wine but soon to be preferential for all products sold through Amazon.

"We also offer Letterbox Wine® for gifting – the ideal surprise and delight wine gift that can be combined with other products or personalised with messaging and delivered directly into UK homes, through the letterbox.

 Can you highlight any successful collaboration projects?

“The challenging situation that we find ourselves in at the moment due to Covid-19 has led to a huge increase in online purchasing. With the on-trade mostly unable to operate, many are exploring new ways to safely access and enjoy wine at home and Letterbox Wine® is proving to be hugely popular. Demand has, during March and April, been totally unprecedented with some of our business customers and stockists experiencing more than forty-fold growth in sales compared to the same period last year.

“We have also quietly commenced a new collaboration with global wine giant Accolade Wines. This will see Accolade Wines’ much-loved brands in our sustainable bottle and we’re highly motivated to activate this multi-channel project with a number of brands, including the UK’s number one wine brand Hardys, will be offered in the sustainable bottle format. More details on the collaboration will be announced over the coming months. This collaboration will allow us to offer our business customers a world-class bottling service through Accolade’s multi-award-winning UK facility Accolade Park.

What are the key challenges for your business during this lockdown period?

“One key challenge we’re facing at the moment is quickly adapting to the increase in demand from existing business customers and ensuring we keep delays to a minimum. It was close to impossible to have predicted this surge in demand and the uncertainty of how long this period continues for means it’s challenging to forecast for the coming weeks and months.

“As a start-up, we benefit from the ability to be agile and reactive, whilst usually also being proactive, and having the fire-power of our UK-based bottle supply-partner Berry M&H, a global plastics packaging giant, we’re in a position to quickly activate larger scale production.

“As with so many others, working as a distributed team is new for us. It does present some challenges. Whilst we already conducted a large proportion of external meetings via video call we’re not used to conducting day-to-day activities from various locations.

“We chose to have a young, vibrant team, who all contribute to our company culture and enjoy human interaction. We have a responsibility to ensure we adapt our internal interactions to maintain the same positive vibe, passion and, importantly, productivity levels as we would do when operating from the office as normal.

“We’re also in the process of tackling the challenge of recruiting during this lockdown period, where any new starter will join having never visited our office and never met any of the team in person.

Have you identified any new opportunities for the company and if so, are you exploring anything new that you can tell me about? 

“The collaboration with Accolade Wines also includes the installation of the first-ever bespoke bottling line for our flat wine bottles at Accolade Park, Europe’s largest wine warehouse and distribution facility. The new bottling line will allow us to fill wines at scale, leveraging the sustainability benefits of Accolade Park, and onboard new projects with old world wine in Europe and further afield.

“One opportunity that we are increasingly motivated to activate in the UK is combinations of wine and food packaging. The lightweight and space saving benefits of our bottles allow us to be creative with complementary packaging and we have been designing ways in which wine can be effectively added to existing delivery mechanisms and models. 

“We offer a unique way for meal kit companies to add wine to their delivery boxes. This sector has seen fantastic growth over the last few years and lockdown has meant a sharp increase in existing and new customers using food delivery services. Adding wine in our bottles is a unique proposition that completes the at-home-dining experience.

Do you think this unprecedented period could potentially reignite the off-trade wine sector? 

“Over the last few years, the off-trade has seen volume drop and spend increase, which seems to have countered each other to keep things relatively flat. The UK has a fairly consistent adult population so it’s unlikely to see amazing growth in overall value. However, hopefully our novel and relevant packaging will allow for more growth, taking market share from other drinkers that are not taking timely and relevant action to be more planet-friendly.

“We are all in uncharted territory but it’s clear that the off-trade has an opportunity to engage with a captive audience that is more open to trying something new. Whilst it’s true that the current shift in consumption has been temporarily diverted from the on-trade, consumers will be forming new buying patterns, trying new platforms and creating new at-home dining and drinking occasions.

“Of course, people will need to let off steam when all this is over, and it will be a welcome release to spend the afternoon in the local pub garden or to be able to visit your favourite restaurant again. However, if the product and delivery service consumers receive now satisfies expectations, there’s no reason as to why these new behaviours won’t continue post lockdown.

Can you comment on why retailers should consider working with Garçon Wines - do you think consumers will change their behaviour in the future when life returns to 'normal'?

“In a post Covid-19 world many, if not most, consumers will be hyper-sensitive to doing good to mother nature and we offer the immediately activatable planet-friendly solution for this. People are seeing the positive effects lockdown is having on our environment and on better-connected communities and according to research from The RSA, only 9% of the UK want to return to ‘normal’, recognising that pre Covid-19 normal was not a planet-friendly one.

“Retailers will recognise that this sudden acceleration in online sales and at-home drinking means that we’ve likely now passed a tipping point. Those companies with a strong e-commerce offering will be experiencing unprecedented sales and demand, whilst those without will be acknowledging this as a key weakness. 

“Growth of wine sales through e-commerce has lagged behind other FMGC goods for too long. Now is the time to re-think what we thought we knew and challenge the status quo. The round glass bottle is simply not up to the challenges of e-comm and has an unnecessarily high carbon footprint. Continuing to use this 19th century vessel in an attempt to maximise potential 21st century online sales opportunities would be like trying to conduct all your video calls using a dial up connection – you’ll spend a lot of time frozen and frustrated.

“Our sustainable packaging presents a unique competitive advantage for retailers – eco, flat bottles that respect the heritage and tradition of the wine industry but are far more efficient and effective for at-home delivery. Our multi award-winning bottle is already proven and is ready to be implemented at scale in a post-Covid world."

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