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Boxed wine rises to the occasion with big sales growth during pandemic

Boxed wine rises to the occasion with big sales growth during pandemic


Boxed wine rises to the occasion with big sales growth during pandemic

Brent Schrotenboer
USA TODAYPublished 11:41 AM EDT Jul 2, 2020Demand for certain supermarket staples has surged in strange ways since COVID-19 began shutting down the economy in March, sometimes causing a panic over products that never were as popular as they are now:Toilet paper.Disinfectant wipes.Even wine in a box.Each has seen a dramatic increase in sales as shoppers load up under lockdown orders during the pandemic.But none seems to have risen to the cultural occasion quite like those cardboard boxes of wine – a cheaper, alternative to bottles that have been around for decades but haven’t been considered even borderline cool until recently.Boxed wine sales jumped 36% for the 15-week period ending June 13 compared with the same period last year, outpacing the 29% increase in overall retail wine sales during the same period, according to Nielsen research. Some stores temporarily have sold out. Some consumers are even daring to admit they buy it.Finding a home: COVID hasn’t stopped the housing market, but good luck finding a home you can affordAnother downturn? Will infections spike, state reopening rollbacks hurt recovery or spur a new recession?“Been buying so much wine lately, we decided to just start going with boxed wine,” says a message posted on Instagram in May by a user identified as Sara Stephenson. “Shh!! Don’t tell my wine snob friends!”The secret has taken time to spread. Consider the brand Franzia, which has been selling wine in boxes since the 1980s and notched a 27% increase in sales for the 13 weeks ending June 13, compared with the same stretch last year, according to Nielsen. Franzia is not just the world’s biggest boxed wine brand in terms of volume, it’s also been the biggest wine brand, period, leading in volume sales for the past 23 years, including 26 million cases sold in 2019, according to Shanken’s Impact Databank, an industry information resource.Yet its popularity has been relatively hush-hush among wine buyers, largely because of the American cultural stigma attached to boxed wine in general – that it’s cheap, sold in bulk and widely available down-market, from Walgreens to Walmart.In 1999, the Los Angeles Times posed the question of whether boxed wine was “socially acceptable” and called various restaurants asking if it would be OK for a father-in-law with a “passion for wine-in-a-box” to bring his own supply. One restaurant responded by saying, “I can’t have that in the restaurant. It’s a five-star restaurant. I can’t have boxed wine in here. I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious. “The marketing director for Franzia, Collin Cooney, acknowledges the general stigma but says “as more brands have entered the category, the stigma is being overcome.”The pandemic has accelerated that. Inexpensive, easy-to-find brands in big supply are now coveted, especially if it’s wine that prices out at less than 55 cents per five-ounce glass. Instead of being a badge of poor taste, boxed wine even has become a popular quarantine prop for Instagram photos, a symbol of stocking up and having fun despite the restraints of social distancing and the widespread loss of income.“With everything that’s been going on the past three months, consumers are looking to stock up,” said Cooney of Franzia, which is owned by The Wine Group, based in Livermore, California. “They’re looking to reduce their overall number of trips to the store, and having a format like a box, particularly Franzia, which has five liters of wine in a single unit and that can stay fresh for up to six weeks after opening it, compared to less than a week for a traditional glass bottle, that is a very appealing set of features.”Even before the pandemic, there were signs that boxed wine was coming of age. Companies that make it have a common marketing pitch to meet the moment, saying that its packaging is recyclable, helps reduce waste and better preserves the freshness of the drink, which is kept in a plastic bag, tapped by a spigot and encased in cardboard. Instead of toting six or seven regular glass bottles of wine and recycling them afterward, consumers can get roughly the same amount of wine in a single box.Other brands have entered the market after Franzia and have grown for similar reasons. Three-liter boxes, like those offered by competitor Bota Box, also have exploded in sales during the pandemic, rising 78% for the 13-week period ending June 7 compared with a year earlier, according to IRI Worldwide data cited by Bota Box, which along with Barefoot On Tap, is among the sales leader in that category.“The challenge has been overcoming barriers for new consumers to try boxed wine, which has now been occurring in large numbers over the past few months,” said Brent Dodd, spokesman for Bota Box, a part of Delicato Family Wines in California.Boxed wine generally provides much more bang for the buck than glass bottles even though wine sophisticates over the years have derided it as cheap in both cost and taste. A five-liter box of Franzia contains roughly 34 five-ounce glasses of wine, all for about $15 to $18, which amounts to less than 53 cents per glass. Even premium three-liter boxes retail for only around $20, which is the equivalent of four regular glass bottles.Anna Bell, vice president of marketing for Barefoot Wine, noted that Barefoot On Tap has increased in sales by 182% for the 16-week period ending June 14, compared with a year earlier. Such sales growth has provided a bright spot for the wine industry in California, where wineries, especially smaller ones, have suffered from the economic shutdowns caused by COVID. A recent economic report for the California Farm Bureau Federation noted that “the largest increase in (wine) sales had come from large volume products such as boxed wine, indicating that domestic consumers were buying greater quantities.”A grocery store shopper on Instagram illustrated this in April with a photo of a shopping cart filled with at least seven five-liter boxes of Franzia wine.“Just the essentials,” said the post underneath the photo.The stigma and shame of it being too cheap and tacky is long gone, boxed out by the coronavirus.“More consumers are perceiving wines to be accessible and enjoyable and not necessarily pretentious,” Cooney said. “It’s becoming more accessible to the masses.”Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail:

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