s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe

[caption id="attachment_25063" align="alignright" width="266" caption="Constellation Brands recently redesigned the iconic HRM Rex Goliath package."][/caption]

The "giant 47-pound rooster" will still strut its stuff on the HRM Rex Goliath label, but the new design for the top-selling popular-premium-tier wine brand is getting a makeover as part of a trend in wine packaging somewhat away from the fanciful and more toward the traditional.

Constellation Brands has tweaked the label to include more "quality cues" such as metallic inks, a simplified border and a more straightforward presentation of the brand name, which some consumers had problems figuring out, according to Leslie Joseph, vice president of consumer research.

"The brand has always been about fun," she said. "We want to be true to the brand but have a label that is less cartoonish."

Hahn Family Wines President Bill Leigon, who launched HRM Rex Goliath in 2002 and sold it to Constellation in 2005, is set to talk at length Tuesday at the Wine Industry Financial Symposium in Napa about a movement back to brand authenticity with conventional-looking labels. That means less cuteness and frivolity and fewer critters.

Constellation Wines U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Chris Fernstrom said many wine brands five years ago were moving toward the "lifestyle" presentation, featuring animals, striking colors and other images, but that trend started reversing a couple of years ago.

"While we're moving to traditional designs, in the last six months in independent retail there has been more experimentation with labels that are lifestyle-driven," Mr. Fernstrom said. "There are consumers who enjoy traditional packaging. Others want to know, 'What is in it for me?' There is room for both."

[caption id="attachment_25132" align="alignright" width="202" caption="The former Rex Goliath label design"][/caption]

A driver for the shift to the whimsical was the emergence of the "Millennial" generation of wine consumers, as a major growth sector for fine wine sales. Millennials, the oldest of which now are in their early 30s, were characterized by higher consumption of fine wine than Generation X and proportionately comparable to that of baby boomers.

That younger core wine consumption group also was distinguished by interest in greater experimentation, less "stuffy" presentation of wine and more opportunities to have wine on the dinner table, according to Ms. Joseph.

Yet Constellation is finding that with the initial and persisting pullback in spending during the economic recession, a number of consumers are less willing to "gamble" on unknown brands, she said. But Millennial consumers continue to purchase a lot of wine.

The company conducted a large wine consumer research project in 2005-2008 called Project Genome, which sought to find common purchasing factors. One of the defining factors of the "traditionalist" wine consumer was interest in "tried and true" brands, but now the "savvy shopper" and "enthusiastic" consumers also are wanting to have more of their purchasing criteria met before buying wine, according to Ms. Joseph.

Because of the return to frugality trend and other significant changes in consumer behavior in the past two years, she wants to update the research project next year and have results in hand in 2012.

Paul Tincknell of Headsburg-based wine marketing and design firm Tincknell & Tincknell, said the "strong" trend toward conservative design is going into luxury-tier brands too. Also feeding that movement is a better understanding of Millennial drinker interest in the age-old mystique of conventional cork-pull packaging.

"We are not seeing the next new packaging brand theme of the month, as was happening in 2007-2008," he said. "We're getting a few inquiries from the East Coast with theme branding, but we're not being pursued."

The movement toward conventional-looking branding is keeping design firm CF Napa busy, but the conservative design is going hand in hand with conservative deployment of funds, according to owner David Schuemann.

"Companies are just being very careful and expect a high degree of ROI," he said.

That return on the marketing investment has to translate into immediate cash flow for a number of smaller vintners to make it through various phases of the annual business cycle, namely purchases of barrels, bottles and grapes, according to Erica Harrop of luxury-bottle broker Global Package LLC.

"Right now, these wineries are asking themselves how much money they have and even if they can afford to bottle," she said, referring to wineries producing up to about 15,000 cases a year. "Bigger wineries have been squeezing glass companies to reduce prices, but there has been a less of a percentage change because the wineries already are using domestic and light-weight glass."

Slightly lighter bottles -- 400 grams versus 500 grams for a mass-market brand or 700 to 800 grams versus around a kilogram for luxury wines -- can save up to one-third off the cost of glass without shattering the image of the brand, according to Ms. Harrop.

A side benefit of this lightening of the fiscal load of glass on winery financials is the lessened cost of "greening" the winery, according to Ms. Harrop and Mr. Tincknell.

Glass and cork are recyclable, and alternative packaging such as PET plastic bottles and boxed wine largely are too. Though recycling of the plastic bladders in boxed wine remains challenging in some states, Mr. Tincknell notes.