You’re enjoying a lovely night at your friend’s house, catching up over dinner, talking about work, life, you get it. Now your friend brings out the wine, but rather than bring out a glass bottle to pour you some, they hand you a can or bring out the cask, box or goon bag as you may.

Would you still drink it? What if you were at the shops and had to buy a wine, would you choose the glass bottle over the cask wine?

These are the questions that researchers from the University of South Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science and the University of Adelaide’s Business School looked to find out.

Through marketing attributes such as price, brand and messaging, they set out to determine what people’s wine packaging choices were.

They surveyed 1200 Australians and found that glass, cask wine and flat plastic wine bottles were most preferred, while cans were the least preferred, as they were closely tied to specific occasions, such as drinking outdoors.

Packaging was found to be the biggest influence on people’s choices and price came second.

Yarra Valley wine region in Victoria, 45km northeast of Melbourne’s CBD. Photo: Wine Australia/Facebook

The importance of brand and eco-messaging varied depending on age and if the person already engaged in eco-friendly behaviour.

Alternative wine formats were also typically bought more by younger people, when it is low-to-mid priced and if it comes from a well-known brand.

Not so eco-friendly after all

Traditional glass bottles have long been the preferred choice of packaging among wine lovers due to the belief that wine looks and tastes better in glass. While glass bottles have been the wine industry’s go-to for centuries, it turns out they are not the most carbon-friendly option available.

Since glass is recyclable, many of us likely assume it’s sustainable, so this revelation comes as a surprise, even for lead researcher Jakob Mesidis.

“I, much like what I’d assume most Australians, didn’t know that glass wine bottles weren’t the most sustainable packaging format available,” he tells Neos Kosmos.

He described it as a veil getting pulled back after he read a study on the topic.

“What that study found was when it comes to producing CO2 emissions, glass is actually one of the heavy hitters, even more than something like plastic bottles.”

Glass wine bottles at the La Geria Winery, Canary Islands, Spain. Photo: AAP via Nano Calvo/VW Pics/Universal Images Group

The wine industry in Australia is worth $6.3 billion according to IBIS World and $333 billion USD (over $500 billion AUD) globally according to Benchmark International, and its biggest source of carbon emissions happens to be glass bottles.

But just how much? Well, a single bottle generates 1.25kg of carbon dioxide and the production and transport of glass wine bottles make up more than two thirds of the wine industry’s total carbon output.

People don’t want to choose the alternative

“How can we can get people to pick these other options that exist that they don’t consider?” Mesidis asks.

“More sustainable options that have been on the market or just entering the market, but Australians aren’t really considering yet.”

These alternative formats like cask, cans and even plastic, are up to 51 per cent more carbon efficient than glass, but Mesidis says Australian consumers are resistant when it comes to these more environmentally friendly options.

But why are they resistant? Mesidis thinks it’s a variety of reasons, like habits and reputation.

“People are habitual, right? So, in any sort of element when we’re looking at changing behaviours or influencing behaviours through marketing, it’s always an uphill battle,” he says.

“People have habits, they’re entrenched, and with glass wine bottles these are habits that have been built over centuries. People just expect wine to come in glass.

“The other side of the coin is this reputation that a lot of these packages have. If we’re talking about cask wine for example, the vast majority of cask wines life, it was used as a storage solution for like cheap low-quality wine that wineries couldn’t get rid of. So, it had this reputation as having low quality wine.”

While cask wine will not be bought for those looking to age their wine, that’s where glass reigns supreme, he says most wine bought, people drink straight away, so it doesn’t really matter in the short term.

The thought that cheap wine means low quality wine sits in the mind of consumers, and even though some new companies are putting good wine in boxes, people still think if they want something good, they have to buy it in a bottle.

A 15-metre goon bag was an eye-catching entry sculpture as part of the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition on Cottesloe Beach in Perth. Photo: AAP/Tim Clarke

Bringing on change and launch padding for the future

“It’s just going to take time. We’re not expecting people to make an overnight [sic],” says Mesidis while stressing that at no point would he say to stop using glass.

As mentioned, glass protects wine over time most effectively, so is still the best for aging premium wine.

However, he points to what their research found about people’s preferences when it comes to the alternative, and hopes that it can act a starting point for wine companies.

“Previously, if I was a winemaker and I wanted to launch an alternatively packaged wine, it would have been really tricky for me to figure out what to do.”

“I’d kind of be shooting in the dark, doing my own research and testing, and while we’re not claiming to have all the answers, what we hope is now, instead of being completely blind, wine makers have at least a little bit of guidance as to what they could start doing to make these launches a success.”

Coming from South Australia, home to some of the country’s top wine regions, time will tell if this research becomes the next big revolution in the industry. Just like screwcap lids were, when a group of winemakers in Clare Valley set out move on from the frustration of corks.

Mesidis says back then, the consumer was actually happy with the change, and it was the wine makers who had anxiety, so that remains part of the challenge today with alternative packages. It is yet to be seen if the industry will remain hesitant or if innovation and the market forces change.