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Q&A: Santiago Navarro, CEO and co-founder, Garçon Wines

Published:  02 December, 2020

Harpers has something of a packaging focus in this month’s issue, due to be published this Friday 4 December. As a preview, we caught up with Santiago Navarro, the creative force behind flat bottle innovator, Garçon Wines. Made from 100% recycled plastic, this innovative new format scored a major partnership with Accolades Wines this year, which will see a number of the company’s brands launch with the flat bottle format. Starting with the installation of a ‘flat’ bottling line at the company’s Bristol manufacturing base – the first of its kind in the UK – the company is now looking ahead to its imminent UK supermarket debut with the re-launch of Accolade’s eco brand, Banrock Station, in the Co-op. We spoke to Navarro about his ambition to re-shape the wine aisle.

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to the market, with eco packaging designs racing to the top of the priority list for major companies. How have you earned the title of a sustainably packaged brand?

We are recognised as leaders in sustainable drinks packaging because we innovated ahead of the curve. We entered this new era of sustainably-sourced and produced packaging with a solution that showed how product design which considered shape, material, and recycling could result in ground-breaking primary packaging.

What we offer is understood by consumers and professionals alike. The space saving benefits of our innovative shape is clear for anyone to see and understand. This will become even more apparent for UK shoppers when they see the large amount of Banrock Station bottles in our innovative format which fit in one row on a Co-op supermarket shelf.

Tell us about the collaboration with Accolade. How did that come about?

We have been working for some time on striking a deal with Accolade, working towards a multi-brand, channel and country collaboration. This year, this partnership came to fruition, with several of their much-loved wine brands, including the UK’s number 1 wine brand, Hardys, offered in our sustainable, flat bottles which were launched in the Nordics over summer.

As you may expect in the Nordic countries, with their distinctive cultural commitment to environmental and ethical issues, the response to great wines from known brands in our sustainable bottles has been highly positive.

Now we are moving on to Banrock Station, which has just launched in the Co-op in the UK. The bottle design benefits from a strong visual advantage and its height and width should offer it greater on-shelf visibility. We trust this will result in first time purchases and hope this will continue to repeat purchases.

In your view, how will the Accolade partnership change things?

The collaboration with Accolade is likely to have a positive impact in multiple areas. One good example is the West London branch of Co-op which I visited recently. It fitted 11 flat bottles of Banrock Station in a row, compared to six bottles of the same 75cl volume on either side. Furthermore, recycled PET is by far the best-in-class material for making scalable bottles with the lowest environmental impact. This is very significant.

Garçon Wines is about to make its UK supermarket debut with the re-launch of Accolade’s eco brand, Banrock Station, in the Co-op

What does sustainability mean to you and what was the impetus behind launching a sustainable brand?

The data on global warming and plastics mismanagement is there for us all to see. When I saw at the beginning of 2017 that there was much interest in our flat bottle concept and that the likely volumes of product we might end up shipping could be quite significant, I decided to start the development of our bottles in 100% recycled PET in the spring of 2017. By the time [David Attenborough’s] Blue Planet II broadcast on TV screens, we were at the final stages of the development of our bottle made entirely from recycled PET, one of the world’s first bottles to be produced entirely from pre-existing material, not single-use plastic.

At the core of our direction then, now, and in the future, is a commitment to do what is right; to follow scientific data, and not to be swayed by short-term fads.

What do you think about the way other companies are setting and trying to meet sustainability goals?

Companies are making all sorts of wonderful-sounding sustainability claims, some of which I believe would be best labelled as ‘alternative facts’. Fortunately, it seems that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will start investigating greenwashing. This could not come soon enough. For example, some products are said to be recyclable when in fact, they are not recyclable in the market of distribution. Hopefully, this is a matter that the CMA will investigate.

However, our planet needs solutions today in 2020, and next year in 2021, as well as more advancements every year over the next decade, which is one of the most important decades in thousands of years. The core focus needs to be on greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the carbon footprint of drinks. Different types of drinks have different lifecycles and with a global product like wine, then shape, material, and recyclability will all help in slashing carbon footprint.

What’s next for you and Garçon Wines?

We are now just a few weeks away from the launch of a celebrity brand collaboration for the UK market. Wine drinkers in the UK have shown a strong purchase interest in wines that have been selected and fronted by a famous personality. Therefore, we are highly motivated to have the first celebrity collaboration in our sustainable bottles.

We’re also anticipating more growth. We appear to have reached a tipping point in 2020. This year, we have already surpassed 15 times 2019’s unit volume, which was double the volume of our launch year 2018. We are scaling rapidly and 2020 will likely close at 20 to 25 times last year’s unit volume. We are highly motivated by this as the more our bottles land in consumers’ hands, the more we will see consumer demand for more sustainable wine packaging.