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Bulk wine can bulwark against environmental criticism

Published:  18 October, 2019

Bulk wine would benefit from a name change to flip perception onto its lower carbon credentials, while highlighting what it it can now offer in terms of flexibility to many sectors of the trade.

These were among the main points raised at a joint Harpers-Lanchester Wines ‘Boutique Bulk’ debate at the Highfield in Edgbaston, where the need to balance environmental responsibility with sustainable trade was debated by a cross-trade panel.

The aim of the session was to further a constructive conversation around the potential benefits of shipping in bulk and packaging in market, while highlighting the control over quality and flexibility offered, including to smaller operators such as independent off- and on-trade, by such wines.

Lanchester has been actively pushing the concept of ‘Boutique Bulk’ in an attempt to shift away from what Tim Robbins of Nickolls and Perks described as a perception of “stuff that’s mass produced and shipped in enormous quantities where origin isn’t important”.

Jo Eames, director of Peach Pubs, added: “There is a pejorative clue in the title, the category title ‘bulk’ doesn’t tend to make you think positively about it from start… but in an era of global warming, perhaps it’s time to get past the name bulk and come up with something new.”

The reasoning for this was rooted more in a perceived necessity than a nicety designed to in some way cover up wine shipped in bulk, playing to its virtues and the benefits to the trade - and for good reason.

The consensus was that the tide of consumer opinion could rapidly change from one of (unthinking) acceptance of bottles being shipped around the world to a situation where – as with the recent tipping point reached with plastic – a groundswell of eco-awareness would bring the carbon footprint of such distribution under close scrutiny.

Henry Boyes, wine buyer at Mitchells and Butlers, developed the theme, focusing in on the rising importance of sustainable and ethical credentials among today’s consumers – and especially the younger generations that the trade is having difficulty engaging.

“Sustainability is really important and that will become ever more so,” he said.

“If you step back from the wine category and see what is happening in the market, and then think about who is drinking what, if millennials are the next generation of drinker, then sustainability, carbon footprint, ethical drinking, are an increasingly important part of how they spend their money - to the extent that they will chose to invest their money in products and businesses that are recognising those global issues.”

Mark Roberts, sales director at Lanchester, explained that the company had introduced the term Boutique Bulk to help a “transition” in perception, with “a lot of bottlers doing really interesting, really cool stuff, and for some time", but with the “stigma” around the term bulk holding back what it can offer in terms of quality and thus also holding back an obvious route for the trade to reduce its carbon emissions.

Referring to consumer research undertaken by the Coop, the company’s wine buyer Ed Robinson questioned whether consumers really understood or cared whether their wine had been shipped to and bottled in the UK, suggesting that any stigma lay more within the trade than with customers looking for an everyday drinking wine in a fresh and accessible style.

The situation was compared with the battle to introduce screwcaps - one which saw the trade convulse itself over a relatively modest innovation, while a majority of consumers simply accepted that it was better for their wine and embraced the advance with interest.

Eames agreed, saying: “It’s more of a back of house issue, trying to convince the gatekeepers, not the final consumer.”

Moreover, when considering the possibilities offered in terms of dispense and formats to boost engagement and sales for differing drinking occasions – wine on tap, bag-in-box, cans, etc – from a business perspective the embrace of bulk increasingly looks to be a no brainer as an easy step to greater sustainability. 

A full report on Harpers Boutique Bulk round table will appear in our November print issue and online at