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Beverage Industry in Troubled Waters, Attempting Conservation Efforts

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Water is a finite resource, which is becoming constrained with the growing population and climate change. It is a vital component in production of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. From growing raw materials (such as wheat or barley) for beverages, through product development, till the production process, water is indispensable at each step. The beverage industry has come to realize that water scarcity could tremendously impact businesses, forcing them to reassess water management strategies and tap into efficient conservation measures.

Water covers around 70% of the earth’s surface and only 3% is available as freshwater, which can be used for various commercial and non-commercial activities. Unfortunately, this quantity of water is inadequate for growing population and thriving businesses using this resource without considering its limited availability. According to WWF, an international NGO for preservation of wilderness and nature, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortage by 2025, with demand for water exceeding supply by 40% by 2030.

Beverage production is highly water-intensive, with water being used at each step across the value chain. According to Water Footprint Network, it takes at least 70 liters of water to produce 0.5 liter of soda, 74 liters of water for a glass of 0.25 liter of beer, and 132 liters of water for a cup of 0.125 liter of coffee. Water footprint for beverage companies is evidently high, and this can be mitigated by implementing water management technologies across the value chain, from farming to beverage production.

Water scarcity posing challenges for beverage producers

Water stress is a pressing problem for all beverage industry players, causing various operational challenges that are impacting business operations.

Opposition to water extraction from natural resources

California suffered a searing seven year drought that ended in 2017. Distress from water scarcity impacted communities, as well as companies operating in the region. For instance, Nestlé, a Swiss multinational food and beverage company, faced opposition from local communities and criticism from conservationists for extracting large quantities of water from Californian springs even during the drought-stricken years.

These events impacted Nestlé’s operations and eventually, succumbing to the pressure, Nestlé invested US$7 million in conservation projects across five of its bottling plants in California in 2017. The projects focused primarily on reducing the amount of water used in filtration process while simultaneously maintaining hygiene of the processing plant. Only after consistent water conservation efforts, Nestlé was granted a three-year permit by US Forest Service in 2018 to extract water within the limit of 8.5 million gallons annually from Californian springs.

Similarly to Nestlé, Coca-Cola faced opposition from local communities in India resulting in closures of two of its bottling plants located in the states of Kerala (in 2004) and Uttar Pradesh (in 2014), due to extensive water extraction from local resources. In order to sustain operations, Coca-Cola announced plans to invest about US$5 billion between 2012 and 2020 to help replenish groundwater in India, allowing the company to also use water for beverage production.

Water shortage impacting business operations

According to global survey of 600 companies by Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), water scarcity and stricter environmental regulations cost businesses around US$14 billion in 2016. Many companies agreed that water-related issues have affected their businesses directly or indirectly.

For instance, severe droughts in Southeast Brazil in 2014 and 2015 disrupted water supply in the area, limiting production capacity and disturbing operations of Danone, a French multinational food and beverage corporation. As a result the company suffered sales loss of ~US$6 million in 2015.

Not only Danone was affected. As Brazil is one of the world’s leading coffee producers, limited availability of water for irrigation due to the drought, crop production in the region took a hit. Eventually, the situation threatened supply, which led to higher raw material prices for coffee manufacturers. One of the producers that felt the repercussions was J.M. Smucker, an American producer of food and beverages, reported a net loss of US$90.3 million in 2015 due to higher coffee bean prices in Brazil.

Tapping into innovations to reduce water consumption

Water risk for beverage companies highly depends on external factors, such as water quality and availability either through natural resources or municipal bodies. Industry players have very little control over the external factors but can regulate water usage in their internal manufacturing operations to reduce consumption.

Recycling water using zero water technology

Beverage companies are collaborating with technology providers to incorporate innovative water recycling methods.

For instance, in 2014, Nestlé collaborated with Veolia Group (a French company providing water, waste, and energy management solutions) and GEA Group (a German food processing technology firm), to introduce Cero Agua (zero water) technology across dairy production plant in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico. Using the technology, the factory does not have to rely on external water sources. Instead, it recycles and reuses the waste fluid extracted from milk – Nestlé extracts 1ml of water from every 1.6ml of milk. The treated water is used in non-food production applications such as cooling, irrigating the gardens, and cleaning, thus, eliminating the need to depend on external water sources. The company has invested around US$15 million to introduce zero water technology in the plant.

With the help of this technology Nestlé claims to have saved 168 million liters of water in the first year of implementation, reducing water consumption by more than 50%. Zero water technology has been rolled out across its other diary factories located in water-stressed areas of South Africa, India, China, to list a few.

Moreover, between 2004 and 2014, Nestlé claims it was able to reduce water consumption globally by one third and by 50% across its Mexican plants.

Onsite wastewater treatment

Brewing companies are not far from adopting technologies to reduce water footprint. Waste water treatment is one of the effective ways to reuse water and several brewing companies have jumped on the bandwagon to conserve water using this approach.

Since 2014, Lagunitas Brewing Company, a subsidiary of Heineken, has been using EcoVolt membrane bioreactor, a wastewater treatment technology that removes up to 90% pollutants from water so that it can be reused onsite for cleaning purposes. Using this solution, the company has reduced its water footprint by approximately 40%.

In 2016, Bear Republic Brewing Company, a brewery based in California, invested US$4 million in a waste water treatment system that uses electrically active microbes to purify wastewater, which helps the brewery to recycle about 25% of water that it uses to clean factory equipment.

Furthermore, in 2015, a Boston-based craft brewer, Harpoon Brewery, collaborated with Desalitech, a US-based water treatment company, to produce beer made from treated Charles River water. Desalitech uses its ReFlex Reverse Osmosis systems to purify the river water and has been able to recover 93% of the treated river water to brew beer.

Innovative farming techniques

Farming is highly water-intensive and sustainable beverage production can only be achieved if water consumption is cut down during farming. Hence, companies are employing various water management solutions to check water utilization during farming.

In 2014, Anheuser-Busch, an American brewing company installed six AgriMets, a network of agricultural weather stations, in Idaho to provide farmers with real-time weather and crop water use data. Using AgriMet data, growers can monitor rainfall and soil conditions, which helps them to cut down on the amount of water required in irrigation and decide when to irrigate. This ensures efficient use of water across the fields.

Further, for improving water management, the company is employing various seeding and harvesting techniques – for instance, it plants and harvests winter barley earlier in the year, resulting in 30% higher crop yield and 40% lower water usage.

PepsiCo and Coco-Cola have been promoting drip irrigation (a type of irrigation system where water is allowed to drip slowly to the roots minimizing evaporation) in water-scarce Indian states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana, among others. Coca-Cola started with drip irrigation project in 2008 with 27 farmers covering 13.5 hectares of agricultural land in India, which expanded to over 513 drip irrigation systems installed, stretching across 256.5 hectares of agricultural land by 2011. Drip irrigation leads to significant water conservation, with an average saving of 1200 kiloliter/ hectare of water for a cropping cycle of 110 days/hectare (an agricultural cycle comprising activities related to the growth and harvest of crops). Additionally, savings on account of electricity, fertilizers, and pesticides are estimated at about US$ 29/hectare/year.

Beverage Industry in Troubled Waters - EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

For decades, water has been regarded as free commodity in processing and manufacturing environments, but this notion is beginning to change with growing awareness about water scarcity. Limited availability of water puts pressure on industrial activities and often pushes operational costs of beverage companies up. Availability of water is likely to get worse in the future, which could jeopardize operations of food and beverage companies unless the crisis is treated as a priority.

The solution to water scarcity lies in the hands of businesses as much as the governments of various countries. Water management requires stringent policies by the governments to better regulate the use of groundwater or natural resources for irrigation. The governments also need to implement efficient wastewater management and recycling technologies to conserve water. Countries such as Singapore have undertaken water recycling and management measures, but unfortunately such examples are relatively scarce in other parts of the world, with most conservation efforts being implemented only by large food and beverage companies. It is time that the governments as well as all industry players (including small-to-mid sized companies) wake up to the challenges that lie ahead owing to water stress.

Solutions to water scarcity do not always need to be expensive. Small-to-mid sized companies could start with small and inexpensive measures such as installing flow meters or leak detection systems, measuring water usage at each step and setting short and long term goals to reduce consumption across those processes.

Other measures could be to reduce water consumption across most water intensive processes, such as cleaning, which typically accounts for 60% of a beverage plant’s total water consumption. Water could be replaced with dry ice to manually wash equipment or it can be physically cleaned using vacuum systems or high-pressure hoses that can be used to move debris.

Nonetheless, sustainable water management efforts by large beverage companies have resulted in lowering of operational costs, improvement in quality of final products, and in building better brand perception among customers. These strategic advantages could motivate all industry players to reduce water footprint and play their part as responsible water users.

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The Smoke around Legal Cannabis

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Till date, 31 countries and 41 states in the USA either legalized cannabis in various forms, including making it legal for medical or recreational use, or decriminalized it while still maintaining its illegal status. Few countries are preparing to legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana for all purposes while many countries are still debating over the legalization of this plant only for medical and not for recreational use. With the rise in education about cannabis and its benefits for humans, economies, and culture, chances of positive changes in laws around cannabis are growing across the world. As legalizing cannabis is still a topic of debate with variety of business, political, and cultural views involved, we are looking at how the legalization of cannabis might impact the economy and businesses in the countries taking the step towards less restrictive approach to handling the issue.

Cannabis – a controversial medicinal plant

Cannabis or marijuana plant and its alleged benefits and risks for human body have been a difficult topic of debate amongst law makers, medical professionals, researchers, economists, politicians, and (of course) cannabis users. In many parts of the world, it still has negative connotations with a narcotic drug, due to presence of psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which brings an intoxicating effect to human mind.

In many countries, cannabis has been treated similarly to other chemical drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, etc., in terms of its legal status, by banning from legal cultivation, purchase, or selling for any purpose. However, there has been a continuous development in spreading awareness by the medical professionals, researchers, and scientists on the benefits of using cannabis for medical purposes. This has been followed by voices being raised on people’s right to legalized cannabis also for recreational purposes, comparing it with alcohol and tobacco, which are claimed to have far worse impact on human health, yet are enjoying legal status in many countries.

In addition to this, many economists too are coming forward in favor of legalizing cannabis to bring a boost to economies. As a result of such strong petitions, more and more countries are considering legalization of cannabis and the future might see countries such as USA (including all 50 states), Mexico, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Columbia, France, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Jamaica, and Portugal legalizing the plant for all purposes, along with legalization of personal cultivation of cannabis with an aim of bringing cure or relief to several diseases, helping to control healthcare costs, curbing illegal drug businesses, and stimulating country’s economy through adding another taxable business activity.

The Smoke around Legal Cannabis

Countries signal green light for marijuana

The league of countries with full legalization of cannabis for all purposes is still a small, two-member club, which was most recently entered by Canada (in October 2018) with more than 100 legal cannabis retail stores running across the country. After Uruguay that started this league in December 2013, Canada is the second country in the world to completely legalize cannabis, and it does not seem that the club will expand any time soon.

The USA are considering to gradually legalize cannabis for recreational use along with medical use. As of November 2018, The District of Columbia and 10 states including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have legalized the recreational use of cannabis. An addition of 30 states along with US territories of Puerto Rico and Guam allow the use of cannabis only for medical purposes.

Amongst the European countries, none of them has legalized smoking cannabis or using it for recreational purposes yet, but there are several countries which have legalized the medical use of cannabis under a treatment process, while also decriminalizing the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. Malta, Greece, Luxemburg, and Denmark are amongst the European countries that legalized medical cannabis in 2018 adding to the group of other European countries such as Italy, Norway, Poland, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Slovenia, to name a few.

Some Asian countries are also moving towards legalizing cannabis but exclusively for medical purposes and that too with strict policies. Recently, in November 2018, Thailand legalized medical marijuana, but with very stringent rules to get access to marijuana plants. Also, in November 2018, South Korea became the second Asian country to legalize medical cannabis, while Malaysia is expected to be the third nation to fall into this group. Interestingly though, India, known to be the origin of cannabis sativa plant, has not legalized the use of cannabis for any purpose yet, although the country runs a huge illegal trade of marijuana as well as hashish (a drug made of cannabis resin). There are many petitions already submitted by various Indian economists and politicians in favor of legalizing cannabis for use in cancer patients and even hemp cultivation for horticulture use, but due to changing political environment in India, the petitions are still pending to be considered by the relevant law-making bodies.

Cannabis business – boom in economies

According to a report published in 2018 by Brightfield Group, with the on-going trend of countries moving towards legalizing cannabis, the global legal cannabis market is expected to reach US$ 31.4 billion by the end of 2021, owing to the growing adoption of medical cannabis in treatment or relief in a range of diseases and ailments, such as cancer, mental disorders, chronic pains, and others.

Apart from medical applications, the recreational use of cannabis too has led to a continuous rise in sales of cannabis for direct and indirect use, thus giving a push to retail businesses as well as tourism sector in countries that moved towards legalization. As a result of the rise in sales, governments of these countries and states have registered increased tax revenues and a boost to local economies. For instance, California that legalized cannabis for recreational use in January 2018, generated US$74.2 million of tax revenue during second quarter, with a rise of 22% over the first quarter. In another, more hypothetical example, according to a report by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer, Canada could generate US$463.74 million in tax revenue by 2021 if the projections of nearly 734 metric tons of legal cannabis to be consumed by that year are correct.

Similarly, according to a study by New Frontier Data, if cannabis was legalized in all American states, it would generate a combined US$131.8 billion in federal tax revenue between 2017 and 2025, considering 15% retail sales tax, payroll deductions, and business tax revenue. In fact, according to a research study by Ameri Research Inc. in 2017, in the USA, tax revenues from legal cannabis are now comparable with revenues from other products, such as draft beer and e-cigarettes, a fact highlighting the recent growth of sales in legal cannabis market in the USA.

Apart from tax revenue generation, creating new business opportunities is also one of the reasons for countries to seriously consider legalization of cannabis. States such as Colorado, for example, have registered some 431,997 new business entities between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, it also experienced a 17.7% rise in employment over 2016 with 17,281 full-time equivalent jobs. Also, in 2017, across the USA, there were 9,397 active licenses with slightly more than 3,000 licenses active in Colorado. These licenses were made active for cannabis businesses dealing with cultivation, manufacturing, retailing, distributing, delivering, and even lab testing that generated 121,000 jobs in 2017 across the District of Columbia plus 10 US states. This number is expected to reach 1.1 million jobs by 2025, if cannabis is legalized in all 50 states, across all ends of cannabis industry supply chain, from farmers to transporters to sellers.

It is expected that through legalization of cannabis, several countries, especially Mexico, USA, and Canada, are also expected to witness significant drop in illicit activities related to drugs industry. According to a study by Deloitte in 2018, cannabis users in Canada are willing and in fact looking forward to pay more for legal purchase of cannabis grown and processed under federal laws and sold through legal channels rather than going for illegal drug purchase options. This goes hand in hand with Canadian government’s hopes to crack down on illegal drug trade while also finding new sources of stimulation to the country’s economy.

Impact of legal cannabis market on other business sectors

The emergence of legal cannabis market has raised many business opportunities in various sectors such as retail, food and beverages, real estate, and even tobacco and alcohol industry.

Amongst these sectors, real estate has been developing strongly in many countries allowing for legal cannabis for medical as well as recreational use. Properties and facilities that are well-suited for cannabis-related operations are experiencing rise in industrial rents and sales price premiums owing to the rise in demand for warehouses, industrial and storage facilities, agricultural, and other properties.

In Canada, legalization of growing and sales of recreational cannabis has fueled a six-fold surge in plant-growing facilities to 8.7 million square feet in 2018 according to data from Altus Group, Canadian real estate company. Aurora Cannabis, one of Canada’s leading cannabis companies, has already started its project for cultivation of cannabis in a new 8 million square feet facility in 2018. Canopy Growth, market leader in cannabis industry of Canada, has announced plans in October 2018 to develop 3 million square feet of greenhouse space in British Columbia through October 2019, which will be more than double its production surface as of 2018. With the legalization of cannabis, the demand is also rising for commercial real estate thus giving an opportunity for struggling retailers to make a move into a new market. Alberta, where cannabis industry is fully private, has experienced a sharp surge in demand for 1,200 to 3,000 square feet retail real estate to set up cannabis shops and dispensaries in malls and street-front locations.

Similarly, within the USA, Colorado, experienced a rise in real estate sector through increase in housing values by about 6% owing to increasing development in retail sector through legal cannabis pharmacies, dispensaries, cafés, and retail shops. Going beyond real estate, the retail industry is also likely to receive a push thanks to opportunities in auxiliary businesses such as accessory shops, cannabis cafés, weed gardening products stores, bakeries, and candy shops, contributing to rising demand for retail locations.

The impact of cannabis legalization is visible also in food and beverage industry thanks to new products such as cannabis-infused edibles such as cakes, candies, and drinks. In 2017, California reported sales of US$180 million of edibles, whereas Colorado has seen about a 60% rise in edibles sales volume (with 11.1 million edibles unites been sold in the same year). The future of food and beverage industry with cannabis-infused edibles is projected to be promising due to the benefits of cannabis plant for using it in food products. According to a food and beverage industry expert, Sylvian Charlebois, cannabis offers good nutrients (proteins, vitamin E and C, to name a few), hence for food products manufacturers looking for new avenues of growth, cannabis could be deemed the next ‘superfood’.

On the other hand, the legalization of cannabis has affected alcohol industry due to the emerging inclination of people towards choosing the “green high” over alcoholic drinks.

According to a study by Deloitte in 2018, in Canada, cannabis is likely to be increasingly perceived as a substitute to beer, spirits, and wine which could negatively impact the alcoholic beverages-related revenues for governments, liquor companies, and retailers. This is already observed in the USA, where a joint recent research study of 10 years conducted by two US-based universities, namely University of Connecticut, Storrs and Georgia University, Atlanta in cooperation with Universidad del Pacifico in Peru, has suggested that the counties located in medical marijuana states showed almost a 15% decline in monthly alcohol sales between 2006 and 2015.

At the same time, some industry experts believe that since it is part of American and European food culture to drink alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine with food, the legalization of cannabis is not going to affect the demand for such food-complementing alcoholic drinks. In fact, cannabis legalization is also coming out to be a stepping stone for large alcohol brands to enter the cannabis industry with cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages, mostly through mergers and acquisitions with leading cannabis growing companies. In August 2018, New-York based Constellation Brands acquired more that 50% stake of Ontario-based Canopy Growth for US$4.0 billion, the largest investment registered in cannabis industry so far. The received investment is believed to help Canopy Growth strengthen and expand its leadership position in Canada and other countries with legalized cannabis. It is expected that in the future, other alcohol industry leaders will also consider getting involved in cannabis industry in order to expand through cannabis-infused drinks, creating a new segment of products with combination of alcohol and cannabis.

EOS Perspective

The benefits of cannabis on human body in diseases such as cancer, acute and chronic pains, or neurological and mental illness, have resulted in a growing count of countries legalizing use of cannabis. On the other hand, the legalizing of cannabis for recreational purpose is still receiving mixed views by industry experts and public opinions in several countries. The only way to make this experiment work, is to follow the steps of those countries that have legalized recreational cannabis and are simultaneously focusing on implementing a completely regulated system to scrutinize the whole supply chain in order to curb illegal drug activities and over-dose of cannabis by the users.

For this purpose, the leaders – Uruguay and Canada – have created systems of registration cards with a specific limit to purchase a quantity of cannabis for recreational use per month. As a result of this, the situation is expected to be under control and authorities believe that this will help in curbing illegal trade activities while keeping check on personal consumption of cannabis.

It is also recommended to consider the fact that legalization of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes is likely to reduce the use of other, more harmful and addictive drugs, as well as curb (at least to some extent) the over-consumption of alcohol that is associated with serious health hazards and many deaths, generating huge social burden and healthcare costs in many countries.

Considering all these factors, the success of legalizing cannabis for all purposes in any country depends on how the processes across cultivation, distribution, retail, all the way to the end buyer is regulated and scrutinized by the law makers and law enforcers of the country. There surely are both pros and cons of legalizing cannabis but with solid work towards improved awareness, and, more importantly, a regulated system with proper (enforced) laws, it can give the countries a boost to their economies along with rise in employment, better medical treatments, and decline in illegal drug activities.

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Infographic: Wine Industry Expects Healthy Growth in the Midst of Intense Competition and Demand Shifting Eastward

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Winemakers across the globe are not having an easy year. Global wine production is expected to hit a six-decade low in 2017, caused mostly by unfavorable weather conditions (frost and droughts in key European wine producing countries – Italy, France, and Spain, as well as severe fires in California). Even without the weather throwing roadblocks under winemakers’ feet, their line of business is not an easy one, challenged by tough competition, high import tariffs, and shifts in consumer demand. Wine market dynamics are changing, with several emerging trends that affect the way winemakers operate and the focus markets they increasingly cater to.

Global Wine Market

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China’s Wine Market: Will Challenges Crush the Growing Appetite for Imported Wines?

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Over the past decade, China’s wine industry has evolved significantly and is at the forefront of becoming one of the most promising emerging wine markets globally. Globalization and massive socio-economic transformations among Chinese population have revolutionized consumers’ preferences and taste, which in turn created demand for high quality foreign wines in the country. Imported wines have been pouring into China, with approximately one out of every five wine bottles opened being imported. In 2016, China imported 638 million (15% y-o-y growth) liters of wine, valued at US$ 2.4 billion (16% y-o-y growth). The Chinese wine buyers are enthusiastically purchasing a variety of labels across all price ranges, making it an important market for global wine sellers. However, the burgeoning imported wine industry in China faces a few impediments. Faced with stringent import regulations, supply chain impairments, language barrier, counterfeit products, and exorbitant tariff rates, importing wine into China is not a simple process. Nevertheless, importers and producers need to overcome these challenges to establish themselves in the flourishing imported wine business in China.

China is one of the ten largest wine consumers in the world with over 2,000 brands of wine sold in the country, out of which 1,500 were imported in 2015. Consumption of imported wine is the highest in tier I cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, which together account for 53% of imported wine sales volume. These cities are populated with expatriates, western-educated young professionals, and consumers, who prefer imported wines. France has consistently been the key wine exporter, accounting for a share of 40% in total wine imports (by volume) to China in 2016, followed by Australia, Spain, and Chile.

China’s Wine Market

Imported wines are quickly trickling down among the wealthy Chinese citizens in urban areas, as consumption of wine is considered a status symbol, influenced by westernization. Growth is further driven by youth population and growing middle class learning about foreign liquor brands and demanding imported wines. In addition, increased consumer spending and government’s promotion of wine as a healthy substitute to the traditional alcohol ‘baijiu’ have accelerated demand for wine in the country.

Despite the growing wine demand, the imported wine industry faces several challenges including dealing with high import tariff rates and circulation of fake wine, breaking through the language and cultural barrier in China, and facing the complex distribution system along with strict import regulations.

EOS Perspective

Chinese consumers are typically interested and enthusiastic about overseas goods which explains their yearning for imported wines. The growing demand for foreign wines is driving the import business, with over 24,000 wine importers present in China, located mostly in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. Although obstacles continue to hover above the imported wine market, certain steps have been taken to ease the hassles and this could help alleviate challenges to some extent.

What steps have been taken to overcome challenges?

The Chinese government is actively trying to curb the counterfeiting issue in the country and has introduced an anti-fraud initiative called Protected Eco-origin Product (PEOP) which is a label placed on wine bottles that acts as a guarantee of authenticity by the government. Several technologies are being adopted, including radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, Near Field Communication (NFC) chips, QR codes, etc., to combat counterfeiting. RFID tags and NFC chips offering unique serial identifiers are incorporated into wine bottle’s capsule. Using an app, users can quickly check the authenticity of wine bottles.

The government is also focusing on infrastructural development of tier II cities, which is likely to improve distribution channel across these cities, resulting in better access to imported wines.

What does the future hold for imported wine market in China?

Over 2016-2019, the Chinese wine market is forecast to reach US$ 69.3 billion, growing at a CAGR of 15.4%, with imported wines likely to occupy a significant portion of the market. In near term, imported wines are likely to filter down to tier II cities, as consumers’ knowledge and preference for imported wines is growing amidst government’s efforts to make wine more accessible across these cities.

Further, the imported wine market is likely to undergo certain structural changes. Presently, the Chinese imported wine market is very fragmented, comprising several small importers focusing and operating locally within one city. These smaller importers might realign themselves by joining forces through mergers and acquisitions, in order to take advantage of economies of scale to be able to better compete on price.

Online distribution of wines is likely to gain more popularity, as China offers highly developed e-commerce infrastructure to sell products online. Consumers are slowly opting for online channel to purchase imported wines due to the availability of wide selection, transparency of information, and ease of comparing different brands with each other through information available online. Some producers started selling their wines through marketplaces such as Tmall and JD.com, as well as through specialized alcohol platforms such as Yesmywine, Jiuxian, and Wangjiu. Further, importers use delivery apps such as Dianping and ELeMe to sell imported wines.

The foreign wine market is expected to continue thriving in China and remain an attractive proposition for importers and producers. However, the key challenges will most likely persist in the market amidst other weaknesses including slow implementation of regulations, corruption, and weak administration.

Nevertheless, wine importers and producers foresee tremendous growth opportunity in China’s imported wine industry, and they are likely to continue making efforts to navigate through all obstacles, hoping to make the struggle worthwhile in the long term.

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Alcohol in Pouches – Fad or Business Reality?

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Packaging and labeling are one of the key factors driving alcohol purchasing decision for an average consumer. For years, the alcohol packaging industry focused on developing sleek, sophisticated bottles with elegant labels, a significant factor in brand positioning. Beer was amongst the first alcoholic beverages to be poured into something other than glass container. Beer cans gained popularity several decades ago, however always posed the problem of lack of resealability, one of the most important package attributes for consumers. In wine segment, sales of carton box (e.g. Tetra Pack) and bag-in-box packaged wine started to accelerate in early 2000s, though these were mostly associated (sometimes not without a reason) with substandard quality products. This has continued to improve, however till date, it is the bottle that still rules alcohol packaging, and any other form of packaging in alcohol drinks generally meets with consumers’ skepticism and assumption of inferior quality.

With a relatively new concept of alcohol sold in pouches, it is unreasonable to expect a different reaction, with associations with baby beverage rather than classy adult drink. However, something is buzzing in the alcohol pouch packaging industry, and while still marginal, several launches of alcoholic drinks and beverages in this packaging format were welcomed with surprising consumer acceptance.

What’s the growth story so far?

In September 2012, Nielsen reports indicated that retail sales of pouch-packaged alcoholic beverages were about US$200 million annually (compared to US$12 million sales in a comparable period in 2010). This growth is being eyed by more and more producers, and invites market entries across new products, flavors, and alcohol types. Interestingly, it is being observed that this new packaging format brings additional sales and expands the market – while there is some level of cannibalization of existing sales with consumers shifting from purchases of bottled drinks to pouched drinks, there is a number of new consumers, who never bought such drinks before (and probably would not have tried them in bottled format, if it was not for the curiosity of trying a new drink in a pouch).

Ready-to-drink and frozen cocktails are currently the leading segment, in which pouches are gaining popularity. For instance, sales of several frozen cocktails such as margaritas and daiquiris, offered by brands such as Daily’s and Cordina in 187ml and 296ml pouches, are known to have witnessed healthy growth in 2012 in the USA, and it is expected that majority of growth will continue to be experienced in this market. The UK has also seen launches of pouched alcoholic drinks over the past few years; however, they were typically associated with summer season.

Another segment to have seen pouch launches was, surprisingly, vodka. In early 2013, Good Time Beverages launched its first Ultra Premium Vodka in flex pouches, positioning the product as an environmentally- and budget-friendly option. This was an addition to the existing line of pouched Good Time Beverages’ products, Bob & Stacy’s Premium Margarita and Big Barrel Spirits.

In wine segment, while multiple wineries in the USA, Australia, Europe, and South Africa have been using pouches for several years, the trend is yet to take off in mainstream use. This is mostly due to the fact, that the common perception of wine being a traditional and sophisticated product clashes with pouches being typically associated with hip, unsophisticated, low quality products. Launches of pouched wine products tend to focus around multiple-serve quantity pouches, e.g. launches by Echo Falls and Arniston Bay, both in 1.5 liter stand-up pouches with dispensers, launched in the UK in ASDA in summer 2013. The products were so popular that, ASDA followed with the launch of its own pouch wine brand. ASDA’s sourcing arm, IPL Beverages, which deals with bottling and pouching, said that the demand for pouched wines was so great that it led to sales forecasts being outstripped by 400% by the actual demand.

What’s so great about the pouches?

Contamination and oxygen barrier

Glass has long been considered the best material to store wine and other alcohols, mostly due to the fact that it is neutral and does not lend flavors to the bottle’s content, even during long-term storage. Alcohol was also too aggressive for most flexible packaging available in the market, affecting the layers of films used in such pouches and compromising their safety and durability. Therefore, previous limitations to the introduction of pouches in alcohols packaging were driven not by the problems with leakage or thickness, but rather with the right choice of materials and laminating – materials that would offer adequate protection and prevent product’s ingredients from changing their properties. The currently available pouches do not pose such problems, e.g. with triple-layer structure: polyethylene terephthalate, aluminum metalized film, and polyethylene. Instead, they offer very good oxygen barrier with around one year shelf life as the tap nozzle allows for one way flow, and once the beverage is poured, oxygen does not enter the container, extending the product’s freshness.

Ability to compete in economy price range

Selling alcoholic beverages, such as wine or vodka, in a pouch, enables the producer to compete against the glass bottle in the economy price range, both in single serving capacity, as well as larger 1.5-2 liter pouches. For instance, in 2012, the single-serve 10-ounce pouches of fruity malt-beverage alcoholic drinks by Parrot Bay or Smirnoff retailed for around $1.99 in the USA. Thus, it was a cheap, easy-to-carry option that offered these alcoholic drinks at a fraction of a bar or bottled equivalent price. In Europe too, economy packs of wine, sangria, and other drinks in larger 1.5 liter pouches meet with customer acceptance, allowing the producers to increase sales.

Lightweight for reduced transportation costs and greener label

The traditional glass bottle always brought challenges, due to its energy intensity in production process, as well as weight and fragility in transportation. Pouches, on the other hand, offer reduced weight and by far greater resistance in transportation, considerably reducing transportation costs (using less fuel to transport same amount of the product), at a lower risk of breakage. Pouches are also presented as a greener alternative to glass, as they do not require such energy-heavy production process. Additionally, many currently available pouches are increasingly made with recyclable materials. Overall, pouches are believed to offer an 80-85% reduced carbon footprint compared to glass (i.e. flexible film pouch is said to offer a carbon footprint of approximately 20% of traditional glass bottles). Also, producers indicate that in alcohol packaging, the cost of pouches stands at around 68% of the cost of traditional bottling.

Frozen single- and multiple-serve convenience

From consumer’s perspective, too, pouches have the potential to deal with some of the disadvantages inherent to glass bottles. Several alcoholic drinks launched in a pouch are positioned as straight-from-the-pouch, instant, ready-to-drink cocktails, that do not require the use of cork pullers or even glasses. Currently offered pouches, thanks to metalized layers, allow for faster cooling (about half the time required to chill a bottle), and can be frozen, while cans and bottles cannot. Such ready drinks are typically launched in single- or double-serve size, allowing the consumer to save time of preparing a real drink. There have been several launches in larger capacities as well, such as Pernod Ricard’s Malibu rum launched in 2010, at 1.75 liters pouch size. The product was not positioned as a single serve but rather emphasized it was enough for 10 cocktails, for use in larger gatherings or over period of time, thanks to resealable nozzle. Also in wines segment, pouches, thanks to their reduced weight and resistance, can be larger, at 1-2 liters. 2-3 liter pouches are particularly popular in food service sector, e.g. in restaurants selling wine by the glass.

Lightweight for on-the-go use by consumers

Reduced weight and resistance to breakage have found consumers’ acceptance, as pouched alcoholic beverages are often positioned as on-the-go, convenient, easy products for use in outdoor situations, picnics, concerts, boating, barbecues, etc. Convenience of pouches also comes from the pack’s stability thanks to the popular stand-up design, commonly offered reseability (in a form of a tap or screw cap, a considerable advantage over vast majority of cans). Pouches are believed to be stronger, safer, and more convenient for consumer transportation, and they eliminate the risk of an unpleasant realization of having left the cork puller at home.

Challenges and question marks

It is unlikely, to say the least, that the nearest future will see pouches enter the mainstream dinner-table use. As of 2013, pouches had rather limited application in retail alcoholic drinks markets globally, with differing levels of popularity across regions and seasons. The most significant challenge for this packaging format is still to build consumer trust in quality of an alcoholic drink sold in a pouch. Equally important challenge is to overcome the consumers’ perception that classy alcoholic beverages (wine, vodka) should come only in a bottle and perception of mismatch of pouched wine and traditional wine etiquette.

While the list of potential advantages of pouches in alcohol packaging is unquestionably robust, there is still a key question of the consumer’s long term acceptance of this packaging format. It remains unclear what it will mean to a range of alcoholic beverages, especially in wine, whisky, and vodka segments, which have traditionally positioned themselves in upper to premium segments. Will the pouches, no matter how sleek or elegant in design, affect such a brand positioning? Will they ever go beyond the outdoor use, and enter mainstream use (dinner tables in homes and restaurants)? Will a pouch be ever fully accepted in such sophisticated setups, or will the association with juices, baby drinks, or inferior quality remain too strong? And finally, while producers emphasize green aspects of pouches in terms of production and transportation, what is the real environmental impact of such pouches ending up in a landfill, considering that not all used pouches will enter recycling stream?

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