“The simplest ideas are the most effective and have the best chance of success,” says Santiago Navarro, CEO and co-founder of Garcon Wines, who thinks his company’s product has the potential to transform the global wine industry.
Navarro has developed a flat wine bottle made from recycled and reusable plastic. In an industry that has essentially been packaging its product in the same way for more than 200 years, it could be a remarkable breakthrough. The bottles weigh far less than traditional glass bottles and are much more spatially efficient – that transforms logistics, reducing cost and creating new opportunities for both bulk shipments and individual deliveries. Plus, there’s an environmental dividend.
“The traditional Burgundy-style wine bottle is beautiful and has stood the test of time, but we could see no reason why it couldn’t be improved upon,” says Navarro. “From a packaging perspective, it’s probably the worst design you could come up with for 21st century supply chains and the digital economy.”
After all, glass is so heavy that moving large numbers of bottles over long distances – by road and air, for example – requires significant fuel consumption, adding major cost at the distribution stage. That problem is compounded by the fact the wine bottles don’t fit together well, so transporters travel full of unused space. Nor can a bottle be posted through an individual customer’s door, undermining the e-commerce business model.
By contrast, Garcon Wines’ plastic bottle weighs somewhere around a tenth of the traditional product and the flat design makes it much easier to bulk-pack – a standard pallet can carry two-and-a-half times as many bottles. Individual bottles, moreover, fit through the letter box.
The cost saving potential is obvious, but Navarro also points to the heavy carbon footprint of the wine industry’s current logistics operations. His bottles could cut the size of that footprint by 60%, he calculates. And while plastic is hardly considered an environmentally-friendly material, it requires less energy to produce plastic bottles than glass one and the PET material Garcon Wines uses can be easily recycled.
In fact, the environmental arguments for adoption may be more powerful than the cost savings in an industry that is often characterised as conservative, Navarro argues. “The world needs to slash its carbon footprint to save itself, but the wine world needs saving too,” he points out. “Many parts of the industry are already suffering desperately at the hands of climate change.”
This is one reason why the product is receiving a warm welcome – from new world producers but also from those in France, who might have been expected to profess horror at a departure from tradition. Garcon Wines’ sales are now beginning to take off. Having launched at the beginning of the second quarter of last year, Navarro has seen sales more than double over the past year, with more to come. “Our conservative forecast would see us grow 22 times, year-on-year, for the full year 2020 in comparison to what we will have shipped in all of 2019.”
There’s certainly plenty of opportunities to go at. Garcon Wines sees big markets in areas such as airplanes, trains and cruise ships, where space is at a premium and weight reductions mean significant improvements in performance and carbon footprint reductions. Events and hospitality provide another opportunity – durable, recycled PET bottles are more practical and safer than glass, and e-commerce is another area where the applications are obvious.
Navarro believes he’s hit upon a product that will genuinely transform its industry. “The climate emergency alone will ensure a product like this is adopted,” he argues. “And we have the first mover advantage.”