Canada’s Struggle for Sustainability – Wine Industry Advisor


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Canadian winemakers are grappling with a lack of supplier diversity, resulting in less sustainable packaging options and hampering market reach.

Andrew Monro

When it comes to the wine regions of the world, Canada is not the first place most people think of, let alone where one can expect leadership in sustainability.

The country is the 27th largest wine producer in the world[1], but that hasn’t stopped the Canadian wine industry from thriving over the past 20 years, increasing its wine production by over 75 percent, although less than 1 percent is exported, most to China , the United States and the United Kingdom.[2]

“We work very hard to maintain a low carbon footprint,” says Paul Speck, co-owner of Henry of Pelham, one of the oldest wineries on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario. Part of its sustainability efforts is the use of lightweight glass bottles for the majority of its still wine production. “In a time of climate change, we need to be sober and waste conscious. “

Over 85 percent of Pelee Island wine is sold in lightweight bottles
Over 85 percent of Pelee Island wine is sold in lightweight bottles. / Courtesy of Pelee Island Winery

Speck notes that the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is playing a leading role in this regard. As the world’s largest purchaser of alcohol, the LCBO has run its lightweight bottle program since 2010, requiring Canadian and foreign winemakers who want to sell their products in Ontario to limit the weight of their bottles.

The policy specifies different weights, or exemptions, depending on the type of wine, the size of the bottle and the retail value of the wine. For example, a 750 ml (29.36 fl. Oz) shankless bottle should contain 420 g (14.82 oz) or less if the wine sells for C $ 17.00 or less.

Winemakers exceeding these weight limits must pay a non-compliance fee per bottle. This policy has been very effective, as according to the LCBO, it has enabled more than 90 percent of wines sold in 750ml bottles to meet its requirements for lightness.

Beginning in October 2021, the LCBO is expanding the scope of this program to include more expensive bottles of wine that were previously exempt. April 2022.

Speck comments that this affects demand and public perception. “There is a strong public perception of ‘weight as quality’. Packaging is still how most people perceive the elegance and quality of our product. It’s a marketing issue, but it does mean that for our more expensive wines there is a kind of luxury with a heavier bottle.

Glass bottle packaging is extremely limited for Canadian winemakers looking for light bottles / Courtesy Pelee Island Winery
Glass bottle packaging is extremely limited for Canadian winemakers looking for light bottles / Courtesy Pelee Island Winery

This means that the LCBO policy and the planned changes are both good news and bad news: the policy affects all wines sold in Ontario, whether Canadian or imported, keeping a level playing field for everything. the world – everyone should adopt light bottles or make their wine cost more than their competition. At the same time, it can influence the purchasing decisions of consumers.

With these restrictions on packaging and competition in a global industry dominated by larger and older wine regions where it is easier to use economies of scale, Canadian winemakers have a concerted interest in l ‘sustainable packaging to keep costs down.

The problem for Canadian winemakers, however, is the availability of local, sustainable bottling options.

“Nothing is more sustainable than buying locally, and we are trying to do it,” says Speck. “But we are not always capable of it,” he adds, referring specifically to glass bottles.

Although there are several local suppliers of glass bottles across Canada, the majority of glass bottles sold to Canadian wineries (either directly or through distribution) are dominated by a small group of large corporations, most US based or owned, including Ardagh Group, Owens-Illinois (OI), United Bottles & Packaging and Berlin Packaging.

“There’s not a lot of leeway… the business is very monopolized,” says Walter Schmoranz, president of Pelee Island Winery, Canada’s largest private winery. Over 85 percent of Pelee Island wine is sold in lightweight bottles. (Schmoranz did not disclose its specific suppliers.)

He notes that over the past decades, as the Canadian wine industry began to grow rapidly, winemakers had access to a wide variety of manufacturers and could take advantage of group buying programs between wineries.

The declining power of local Canadian manufacturing, combined with the effects of free trade, both from the early 1990s, led to market consolidation and greater reliance on foreign firms, leaving less options from local suppliers for Canadian vineyards, whether for bottles or any other manufactured product required for winemaking.

light bottles represent less than a quarter of the selection offered by major suppliers in Canada.
Lightweight bottles represent less than a quarter of the selection offered by Canadian bottle suppliers. / Courtesy of Pelee Island Winery

While we were unable to reach company representatives for direct comment, the product catalogs of each US company listed above offer lightweight cylinders that meet LCBO specifications (as well as other jurisdictions. in Canada). Wine industry advisor has previously reported that Ardagh Group, in particular, has made inroads to offer its light bottles that comply with LCBO policies to Canadian wine growers.

In comparison, lightweight bottles represent less than a quarter of the selection offered by major suppliers in Canada. While there is a plethora of choices when it comes to color, shape, and closure types, very few of these customizations are available in the required weight. So Canada now has a marketing problem (all bottles tend to look the same) and a sustainability issue.

Additionally, the combination of a consolidated market, lack of local manufacturing, and heavy reliance on US and overseas suppliers of glass bottles has led to fragile supply chains. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the current shipping crisis, which, according to Speck and Schmoranz, has resulted in a distressing dependence by major suppliers on glass manufacturing in Asia. East. They have resorted to regions as large as Spain and Turkey, which are not so crippled by the shipping crisis.

“We have seen shipping costs triple and delivery times have gone from six weeks to four or five months,” explains Schmoranz. This means that sustainability eventually takes a back seat to wineries that need bottles – any bottles – to put their wine in.

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[1] Based on 2018 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); calculated in metric tons.

[2] 1998-2018 comparative data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); calculated in metric tons.

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Andrew Monro

Andrew Monro is a marketing copywriter currently based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He grew up in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, as the wine industry began to flourish there in the early 2000s, which gave him an enduring respect for winemaking and a deep curiosity for it. wine and its manufacture. Follow him on Twitter at @AGMonro, where he talks about digital marketing and wine (sometimes both).

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