Are paper bottles the future of whisky?

Sustainable product innovation isn’t something new. It’s been around for decades, although it has started to shift into the mainstream market in recent years. What’s interesting to us is product innovation and whisky.store.gos


A high-quality, bottled whisky is a timeless commodity. It can’t change. Can it? We’re going to twist the cap on paper bottles, a potential rival to the traditional glass bottle.


Are paper bottles in the alcohol industry a new idea?

In short, they’re not. Carlsberg outlined its intentions to create scalable paper bottles in 2015 - the first major brand to do so. They’re no longer alone, and many brands have had similar ideas, albeit with little interruption of the mainstream market in the UK.


But they are growing

Perhaps the largest signal that paper bottles are a serious possibility in mainstream markets was Diageo’s founding of paper-bottling technology company Pulpex. They describe themselves as ‘a proven, patented and scalable packaging technology company ready to be deployed globally and promising to herald an exciting and greener future’. And they are starting to make an impact.


Diageo is expected to release paper bottle versions of other household names, including Guinness, Tanqueray and Captain Morgan this year. Closest to home for whisky drinkers was their paper bottled Johnnie Walker Black Label bottle. Interestingly, Unilever and PepsiCo have also joined Pulpex’s consortium, so it will be no surprise to see the introduction of more soft drinks in paper packaging. In our World of spirits, Diageo isn’t alone in this by any means, with Bacardi and Pernod Ricard’s Absolut also developing their own paper bottling.

Many distilleries and industry groups - including Deaston and the Scottish Whisky Association respectively - are also working to make sustainable whisky a mainstream staple. You can find out more about their work in our previous post around organic whisky. However, there remain some question marks around paper bottling.

  Above: How Pulpex is positioning some of the benefits of paper bottles. Courtesy of Pulpex.
  Above: How Pulpex is positioning some of the benefits of paper bottles. Courtesy of Pulpex.
Above: The paper bottled Johnnie Walker Black Label, Courtesy of Diageo

 

It’s not without its floors

Most strikingly, the bottles aren’t transparent. Not ideal. What’s less apparent is that paper bottles generally require several times more mass to be as functional as their plastic counterparts. Therefore, the overall environmental impact tends to be higher for paper, except in its carbon footprint. What’s more, replacing plastic with paper could lead to a serious supply problem. Until there is a greener way to produce at scale, paper is somewhat of a quick fix solution.

It’s also worth noting that paper is not the only area of bottle innovation that is being explored. Diageo has also recently piloted sustainable glass bottles. Working with glass manufacturer Encirc and leading industry research and tech body Glass Futures, they used waste-based biofuel-powered furnaces to reduce the carbon footprint of the bottle-making process by up to 90%. The project resulted in 173,000 bottles of Diageo’s Black & White Scotch whisky - which Diageo describe as a ‘growing whisky in key global export markets’, suggesting the pilot may be less of a public relations stunt and more of a forward-thinking strategic decision.

Above: Alternatives to paper bottles are being developed. Courtesy of Diageo 

Have your say


As with the vast majority of sustainable product innovation, paper bottles have proven divisive, and are yet to crack the mainstream market. They may make a splash, but it’s still unclear whether they are the future for mainstream commercial whisky production. 

 

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