Canadian Plastics

Wine in PET Was Inevitable

Wine in PET bottles? I've got to be kidding, right? What about all those connoisseurs out there who treasure the delicate taste of wine? Surely the taste will be tainted or adversely affected? In actual fact, as the history of polyethylene terepht...

July 1, 2004   By David Birkby



Wine in PET bottles? I’ve got to be kidding, right? What about all those connoisseurs out there who treasure the delicate taste of wine? Surely the taste will be tainted or adversely affected? In actual fact, as the history of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging shows, PET is a sensible, cost-effective and high-quality choice for packaging various types of wine.

Twenty years ago, the prevention of breakage and lightweight features offered by PET converted an entire soft drink industry from glass. Thereafter, this industry did not have liability suits to contend with as a result of broken glass chards. Freight costs dropped dramatically and there were no worries about taste transfer or product integrity. Bottled water is almost universally packaged in PET because taste is not affected and the package is very economical. Beer containers made from PET are commercial and are making inroads around the world. Liquor in a variety of sizes is packaged in PET showing excellent compatibility with alcoholic beverages, as well as consumer acceptance.

PET in the past has lacked barrier properties to protect oxygen sensitive products such as wine and numerous food products. Glass is impervious to all gases including oxygen, and although PET is one of the best of the plastic materials, it will allow oxygen to pass slowly into the product. That has changed as the chemistry of PET can now be altered using oxygen scavengers to stop oxygen ingress. Testing has shown that oxygen can be essentially stopped for periods over a year depending upon bottle size and the level of these oxygen “absorbers”.

This opens up the door for a host of small volume products that until now had very few options. These days glass is hard to get in small quantities with custom colors molded into customized shapes. Mold costs are prohibitively expensive (10 times PET) for all but high volume applications, so brand owners are limited in the choices of package shape and color to distinguish their product. PET containers can be produced economically at run sizes as low as 50,000 units, so a few million units annually makes mold costs very affordable (US $10-13K).

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A few innovative companies have already demonstrated leadership in package development for the wine industry. Okanagan Cellars in British Columbia has been doing market testing for over a year and its 2L package (see picture) has surpassed expectations in every aspect. Scott Fraser, Okanagan Cellars vice president, marketing, reports that the package has passed all laboratory testing and that a full-scale introduction into the market is under way.

Columbia Packaging, a provider of packaging solutions in glass and PET containers, along with our own company, Westbridge PET Containers, were fortunate to be involved as partners in making this glass-to-plastic conversion a reality. In the words of Westbridge’s Harry Logan: “This was an inevitable development for PET, to demonstrate performance in more demanding markets. Our own testing showed the benefits of barrier-enhanced PET and the affordability just makes for a very compelling case. Needless to say, we are excited.”

Will PET sweep the wine market? Not likely, but now that it is a proven package, several companies are taking the leap for selected product lines. Realistically, I can’t imagine PET causing a big conversion for delicate varietal wines that may be racked for extended periods, but for table and fortified wines that are consumed within 6-12 months – absolutely.

Will that be red or white sir?

David Birkby is president/CEO, Westbridge PET Containers Corp.


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