In 2020, customer convenience became a top priority.
The move towards online sales and home delivery and away from in-store purchases was already growing before the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone indoors. But what was once a tactic that allowed consumers to stay in their pajamas while they shopped became a strategy to stay safe.
Because of this shift, online sales erupted. Without the ability to generate revenue through vineyard tours and in-person product sampling, plus the added pain of virtually no restaurant and bar sales, direct-to-consumer (DtC) shipments were necessary to pick up the financial slack within the wine industry. Branding, marketing, and social media presence became more crucial than ever. Fortunately, the regulations on shipping wine had already been relaxing by the time the pandemic hit, giving wine producers more channels through which they could get wine into consumers' hands.
Unfortunately for many wineries, they were playing catchup when the pandemic hit. Perhaps if you'd been wondering whether your operation should embrace DtC in January of 2020, you might have read that large increases in DtC sales were over. But within a few months, DtC would be one of the only channels, if not THE only channel many wineries had to sell wine. Finding alternative revenue streams and staying on top of revenue-generating sales trends is essential when the future is unpredictable.
There are still roadblocks and legal barricades that make shipping wine a bit of a headache, but it's worth the struggle to ensure long term success and viability. Let's discuss how you can maintain and even increase your winery's profits as the market adjusts and reacts to buyer behavior in both current and post-pandemic states.
Shipping Your Wine
Wine drinkers still care about quality and value more than any other factor related to their wine, but they also want to have it delivered right to their door, as evidenced by online retailer Wine.com’s over $100 Million revenue by June of 2020. Not only does your wine have to be available to purchase through your website or online retail shop, but it has to be well packed to arrive safely to the customer. Here are some points to consider.
- Horizontal or Vertical: If you’re shipping vintage or premium wine that’s been stored horizontally, it should be shipped that way. Wine that’s not been stored this way should be shipped upright vertically to avoid possible leaking.
- Strong Boxes: Only use boxes that were designed for shipping wine. Make sure the box can fit the intended bottles of wine with enough room for packing material between them. If bottles are allowed to rattle around and make contact with each other, the customer may get a soaking wet box and broken bottles. The package should also be sealed with water-activated tape in case of leaks. And always mark the boxes as “fragile.”
- Cushioning and Protecting: Cushioning the bottles with foam or molded plastic will keep them in place for shipment. Foam peanuts and air pillows also add protection. As for the corked bottles, corks should be appropriately inserted and sealed, and sparkling alcoholic beverages should have fitted wire cages.
- Temperature: Wine needs to be shipped in temperature-controlled environments. Fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature to keep from harming the wine.
You also need to be aware of potential legal issues with shipping your wine. While most states allow alcohol to be shipped directly to residential addresses, you can’t ship wine to Delaware, Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Utah. The US Postal Service does not allow for the shipment of alcohol, and even though UPS and FedEx do, they still have strict rules about the practice. Both companies require accounts, clear labeling that the boxes contain alcohol, documented shipping, and adult signatures upon arrival. UPS requires an alcohol shipping license, and FedEx requires an alcohol shipping agreement.
More and more alternative containers are being embraced by winemakers. Wine cans and wine boxes, once derided as a sign of low quality, offer benefits that fit consumers' lifestyles and allow them to enjoy wine on their terms. For instance, 3L boxes mean consumers can drink what they'd like, saving the rest for another time (and preventing oxidation in five days or less), and they don't need a corkscrew. Giving customers more options shows you want to cater to their needs.
That said, 750ml bottles still reign supreme, and customers care about the quality of containers as much as they care about the quality of the wine they contain. No matter what you use to get your wine to customers, it can't feel or look cheap. When purchasing bottles, make sure they don't have surface imperfections that prevent a label from sticking properly or even making the bottle look crooked or wonky. Plus, cheaper glass is more likely to break in shipment.
A popular trend for wine in 2020 was including more information on the label. Wine drinkers are, in general, curious about the story behind their wine. Even newcomers and less experienced wine enthusiasts want to know more about the history of the winery and the wine itself. Showing the “why” of the winemakers connects them to consumers, builds trust, and makes people more likely to try their products. The image that wine is an elitist drink breaks down and makes it more accessible without alienating traditional wine connoisseurs, who will also enjoy the increased information anyway.
Another part of many wineries’ stories is the increased presence of women winemakers. While winemaking has traditionally been male-dominated, many wine producers are not only hiring more women but are being run by women, as well. For many consumers, demonstrating inclusion and diversity can be compelling enough to sway their purchasing decisions. Labels that tell stories win customers.
Grabbing and Keeping Attention
Higher quality labels make consumers think your bottle of wine is more expensive. The longer you can get a potential customer to look at your label, the more likely they will buy your wine. Spending time ensuring your wine's label appeals to your target demographic is time well spent. Pictures vs. text, bold vs. subtle graphics, and traditional vs. modern styling must be considered when developing a design. Wineries are also beginning to adopt bolder graphics styled like popular drinks such as hard seltzer. Some are simply offering fun visuals that would have never been acceptable 20 years ago. You may even want to put some thought into creating an entire experience with your packaging and labels — the more interesting, the more likely tickled buyers will share it on social media.
Remember, potential customers notice everything. This is why every detail matters, including label placement and appearance. What good is a well-designed, attention-grabbing label if it's misapplied? While on-brand and attractive labels should be a priority, it's just as important that they look good and are applied correctly each time. From grape choice and fermentation process to packaging and label placement, each piece has the potential to represent the high quality that your brand stands for — don't risk shortcuts with any of them.
To be sure your labels are applied correctly on every bottle, consider upgrading from manual labeling to automatic labeling. An automatic labeler will not only prevent misaligned, misplaced, bubbled, creased labels, but the right one can save you time and money. How? Check out our guide, The Winemaker's Guide to Labeling Equipment, to learn how to choose the best labeling machine for your bottles and to discover machine-related benefits, including money and time, that you might be missing by hand labeling.