Boxed Wine Sales Grow

High-end wines increasingly going into boxes

Two years ago, Kurt Saylor wouldn’t have dared display boxed wines at his shop, The Wine Merchant, for fear that customers would scoff.

But then customers started asking for it and Saylor did a little research.

He and the store’s eight other tasters began sampling. Most agreed that some varieties deserved shelf space.

“People are getting over their misconception that because it comes in a box, it’s not good wine,” said Saylor, standing near rows of tidily arranged wine bottles.

California’s Black Box wines, which do not come in bottles, have beat bottled wines in national competitions. And prominent critics have raved about several other boxed wines this year.

In other words, these wines aren’t the lawn-chair blushes that most people associate with wine in a box.

Since 2003, boxed wines have been sold by some better-known wine producers, such as Corbett Canyon and Kendall-Jackson. The wines have also increased in price. They have become some of the fastest-selling products in the wine market.

Sales of boxed wine are 6 percent of the market, but sales of premium boxed wine — typically $16 and up — are increasing nine times as fast as bottled wine. Sales of 3-liter boxes, the most popular of the newer, premium boxed wines, jumped 77 percent, to $31 million, in the year ending July 30 from a year earlier, according to market research firm ACNielsen.

While the premiums are attracting new drinkers, the vast majority of sales are to bottled-wine consumers who are shifting their habits, according to ACNielsen.

Sarah Baker, a third-year Duke law student who regularly drinks boxed wine with her husband, recently turned some friends on to the wines.

“We used to hide it before people would arrive,” she said.

The Bakers finally outed themselves at a cocktail and dinner party. One by one, guests sampled from the spigot.

“People were a little skeptical at first, but I think they liked it,” Baker said. “It’s this sort of cool thing: The idea that it’s not the stodgy bottle of Bordeaux your parents would bring to the dinner party.”

The new, boxed wines also offer consumers and retailers convenience and value. The latest varieties — including Cabernets, Merlots, Syrahs and Pinot Grigios — come in 1.5-liter and 3-liter containers. They’re smaller and sleeker than the 5-liter blush-wine boxes and typically occupy higher shelf spaces at stores.

For many consumers, boxed wines are easier. Rather than corks and corkscrews, there’s a spigot. And because boxed wine is cheaper to package than bottled wine, it’s less expensive than bottled wine. You get more wine for your money.

Three-liter wine boxes hold the equivalent of four regular bottles and range in price from $10 to $30.

“When people do the math, they find they can get the equivalent of four bottles of good wine for the equivalent of less than $4.50 apiece,” said Pam Kline, who orders wine for Whole Foods Market in Chapel Hill.

Experts say the quality of boxed wine is more consistent than bottled table wines because the container is airtight. And there’s no chance of the cork malfunctions that can spoil a wine.

Inside the box is a plastic bag that holds the wine. The spigot jets wine out and keeps air from getting in. That means the wine will last longer than bottled wine. Producers and wine connoisseurs say it will last as long as six months and sometimes longer. Most bottled wine goes bad just a few days after it’s been opened.

Kline said she tested one box and found the last glass nearly identical in quality to the first, which was drunk more than two months earlier.

“It’s the convenience that is primarily driving sales,” said Mike Mulderig, vice president of wine buying for Total Wine & More. “You can have exactly what you want when you want it.”

Mulderig said 3-liter box sales at Total Wine have increased 126 percent in the past year and are expected to rise an additional 75 percent in 2006.

Success with 3-liter boxes has spurred several new entrants into the market. Total Wine added several new brands from Washington and Australia to its Triangle stores this year. Target sells its own Wine Cube brand in 1.5-liter and 3-liter boxes.

Whole Foods and Harris Teeter also have expanded their boxed-wine selections.

“If we quit carrying it, we’d get a lot of complaints,” said Teresa Jones, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods, which has stores in Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary and Raleigh. (Source: Beverageworld.com)