The wine industry is constantly faced with new trends, challenges and the pressure to stay ahead of the competition. With that comes the opportunity to innovate.
Each year, Wine Industry Network recognizes five wine industry innovators — not just for their impressive ingenuity or technical advances — but because of how their product and/or service betters the North American wine industry.
By Jeff Siegel
Sometimes, even the worst of situations can lead to innovation and all its benefits.
One of Buckeye Corrugated’s DTC wine clients was looking for packaging to replace the traditional molded shippers in the spring of 2020. The pulp used to make the shippers was one of the many materials in short supply during the height of the pandemic when DTC sales were booming.
“I’ve worked with DTC wine clients for several years and I had been working on the idea of a suspension pack. This was an opportunity to test the market against molded pulp,” says Eric Schaffer, an account executive with Houston, Texas-based Buckeye, which designs and manufactures corrugated packaging and displays.
The result, more than two years in the making, is a corrugated suspension pack that not only ensures ease of loading and unloading, but is curbside recyclable. In addition, there is a Temperpack-created cold chain single panel for summer shipments that meets FedEx requirements.
“One of the challenges with molded pulp was that different size wine bottles would bounce around in the cavity. We designed inserts that let different size bottles fit into our starburst base,” says Schaffer. “Then, they can adjust through the top insert so that the bottles can’t touch each other or shift during transit. We found this is the most solid way to ship wine bottles without any damage.”
There were a variety of challenges in designing the new packaging.
First, it took three rounds of modifications to get the inserts to work the way they should. That included making them easier to assemble during production and finding a way to minimize waste in the material.
Then, says Schaffer, wineries that were used to traditional pulp packaging had some misgivings. “They weren’t used to the modification, and change is hard when you’ve always shipped in pulp,” he explains. What’s more, summer shipments typically use two panels for insulation. But officials at Temperpack helped Buckeye Corrugated design a single panel, using a high density, starch-based material for the insulator.
Once these concerns were addressed, says Schaffer, the results have been impressive — especially for the wineries.
“We’ve had great responses back from clients wanting to improve their cold chain shipments and move to a sustainable packaging option,” he says.
“We’ve spent the past three years modifying our VinoPak to minimize as much material as possible but still maintaining the FedEx ISTA ship testing and 7E summer shipment standards. As most in the wine industry know, there’s been a big push to get out of polystyrene coolers for shipments. We now have a corrugated, fully curbside recyclable option.”
In addition, Schaffer says, most Buckeye clients were getting their pulp from the Pacific Northwest. Changing from pulp-based packaging helped clients lower their freight costs on inbound materials, leading to the benefits of reduced cost throughout the supply chain.
Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”