Holding back innovations in both French packaging and branding has been the complexity of its wine classifications system, as opposed to the simplicity of new world producers such as Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the US.
"Wine is very complex in France, the customer therefore wants reassurance, not novelty," said Olivier Mouchet, wine director at Auchan, a leading French supermarket chain, at this year's Vinexpo, the world?s biggest wine trade show. BIBs, introduced in France in the 1980s, were largely ignored until recently when sales grew as buyers switched from older non-airtight "cubies", which once opened had to be transferred to bottles at home or drunk as soon as possible.
New-age BIBs, plastic air-tight containers with a self-sealing tap, allow wine-lovers to drink by the glass without spoiling the wine or altering its taste. Mouchet said the rise of BIBs, which now represent 15 per cent of French supermarket wine sales, has doubled Auchan?s sales in the last five years.
On the international wine scene, the future holds higher quality wine in BIBs, lighter glass bottles, and light plastic bottles made from PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, a compound developed in the 1970s that is now coming into its own due to its recyclability. "Even the finest Bordeaux and Burgundy will be seen in lighter glass, and or, plastic bottles," forecast Brian Howard of Britain-based consultancy group Wine Intelligence.
Howard predicted that packaging would be driven as much by external influences such as the environment as by the industry. "A new sun is rising: environmental and social factors," Howard said. "In five years time your Ascot (horse-racing event) going consumer will be choosing lighter glass," he claimed.
For young Japanese consumers, he said, the choice might be a PET bottle, but either way choices would be driven partly by the retailer and partly the media. As an example he cited the Guardian newspaper's campaign to save the lynx by buying wine with corks, thus helping save the cork forests where they live. That campaign is linked to a long argument in the wine world about using corks versus screw caps.
Antonio Amorim, chairman of the world?s largest cork manufacturer, Corticeira Amorim, said that after losing sales to synthetic corks and screw caps, the cork industry needed to improve its communications strategy. "Corks are 100 percent recyclable, the only problem is how to collect them," he said. "What I see however, is everyone talking about the environment, and everyone using aluminium.
Even organic wines are going under screw cap," he moaned. Amorim was astounded to see French supermarkets allegedly misinforming customers by telling them screw caps were an eco-friendly option, because cork meant felling trees. Also up for discussion at Vinexpo was the problem of brand identification, with 30-year-old Guillaume Halley, for instance, taking a revolutionary sales step for a French producer by declassifying one of his chateaux in order to create one simple wine label, instead of two.
Halley, owner of two Bordeaux-classified growths -- a mark of quality and prestige - now has just Chateau La Dauphine. It helps that he runs two supermarkets and comes from a family which holds a majority stake in Carrefour, the world's second biggest retailer. "I see consumers every day and decided I needed a simpler strategy," he said. "One wine, in greater volume - 100,000 bottles a year -- under one name." "It was difficult to do this," he said. "But quite simply, what I want to do, as well as improving my wine, is to make life more straightforward for the consumer."