Wine Shipper Options
12 options for shipping wine and other drinks (including beers, spirits etc.)
Any business selling drinks online – whether that is spirits, wine, beer, craft gin or even fruit juices and other non-alcoholic options – should know the importance of suitable bottle packaging.
In fact, choosing the right wine shippers or other bottle boxes, alongside suitable protective inserts, can be the difference between happy customers and costly breakages in transit.
So let’s get straight to the point. This guide covers 12 of the most common wine bottle packaging options, highlighting both their key strengths and weaknesses. The aim is to allow you to make an informed choice on the best option for your specific challenges, target market, and all whilst considering environmental factors too.
- A wide range of plastic based inserts
- Options for single and multiple bottle shipments
- Environmentally friendly options
- And can be applied to any glass bottles, not just those containing wine
Please continue reading for full details of each option, or use the table of contents to head straight to your area of interest.
Quick Reference / Contents
The UK drinks industry
Before we start, a few statistics are useful to frame the scale of the UK food and drinks industry.
For example, it is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing more to the economy than all other manufacturing sectors, including automotive and aerospace.
It employs around 440,000 people across around 11,000 manufacturing businesses, and has a turnover of £104.4 billion – around 20% of total UK manufacturing.
And exports of British food and drink also make an important contribution to the UK economy, accounting for in excess of £23 billion.
The role of packaging
So, as you can see, the (food and) drinks industry is big business. But, as with many areas, the Coronavirus pandemic has created seismic shockwaves that have changed the way that the sector operates – potentially for ever.
There were arguably 2 main impacts. Firstly, the Pandemic forced pubs and bars to close. As such, people who still wanted to enjoy a drink, would do so at home. Secondly, the rise of ecommerce extended to the drinks industry, meaning that firms were forced to grapple with finding suitable ecommerce packaging that would protect typically fragile glass bottles – often with expensive contents – during transit.
As a result, a huge amount of attention of scrutiny and focus has been put on wine bottle packaging. This is to ensure not only that customers receive online orders safely, but also that they are delighted with the whole unboxing experience.
Wine Bottle Box Guide
Protective inserts to use alongside cardboard shipping boxes
So what are the options for the safe shipping of wine bottles?
Well, this guide highlights 12 options that can be used in conjunction with conventional outer corrugated packaging. Taking the form of various inserts, sleeves, and other protective void fill, it covers the full gamut of wine bottle packaging options.
Please also note however that, despite referring to wine bottles, the vast majority of these protective bottle packs will work with beers and even unusually shaped spirit bottles as well.
12 wine bottle box options
So, in no particular order, here are 12 options that can be used for shipping wine and other glass bottles.
- Bubble wrap / bags
- Air sacs
- Cardboard fittings
- Foam end caps
- Flexi hex
- Polystyrene / Moulded EPS
- Pulp mouldings
- Divider sets
- Loose fill packing peanuts
- Wood wool
- Foam / plastic nets
Please continue reading for further details on each of the available options.
01: Bubble Wrap / Bags
Low cost, but poor brand experience
One of the oldest forms of protective packaging, bubble wrap is used in a huge range of applications (everything from TVs to flat pack furniture).
As such, it is commonly used for bottle packaging.
Taking the form of either a sheet / roll of material, or as prefabricated bags that the bottles can be placed into, bubble wrap does a reasonably good job of protecting bottles during transit (with the air trapped in the surface cushioning the glass in the event of knocks or mishandling. It is also relatively low cost.
So what are the downsides?
Well, perhaps the most glaring problem with bubble wrap is the difficulty of recycling. Classed as a flexible plastic, it is not accepted in kerbside recycling (although can be taken to supermarket collection points). This means however, that it frequently ends up in landfill.
Besides this – and something which is becoming a significant consideration amongst a majority of consumers – the general unboxing experience is also poor. This is particularly important if you are shipping high value wines or spirits.
And finally, depending on the type and amount required, using bubble wrap can add to the size of the outer corrugated box. This in turn can increase transit costs (with less bottles possible per shipment).
- Reasonable protection during transit
- Relatively cost effective
- Increases outer pack size and delivery costs
- Can slow down order packing
- Difficult to recycle
- Poor brand experience
02: Air Sacs
A higher performance alternative to bubble wrap
Air sacs work in a similar manner to bubble wrap, in that they use a cushion of air around the bottle to absorb any knock or impact caused by mishandling during delivery. This means they offer excellent protection, and can vastly reduce costly damage / returns. The multi-chamber design means that even if one inflatable section bursts during transit, the bottle will still be protected.
It performs much better than bubble wrap however, as there is a larger pocket of air around the product. It can also help to eliminate movement of the bottle within the outer pack too, further improving protection.
A number of the issues that affect bubble wrap also apply here, however.
Air sacs are difficult to recycle and can (more so than bubble wrap) increase the size of the outer pack to accommodate them. They are also arguably do not provide a “premium” experience when opening – which can be important for higher value items.
There is one other negative regarding air sacs, and that is that they add another process to your packing operation. The sacs have to be inflated prior to use, which can have a knock-on effect on your fulfilment times.
- Considerably better protection than bubble wrap
- Relatively cost effective
- Increase outer pack size and delivery costs
- Adds extra process to packing operation
- Difficult to recycle
03: Cardboard Fittings
Eco friendly alternative to plastics
One of the wine bottle packaging options fast growing in popularity is the use of corrugated fittings.
Typically tailored to the design / size of your bottle, corrugated fittings can offer a surprisingly high level of protection (and can also be drop tested to ensure a specific level of performance is achieved, if required).
However, the key benefits are that firstly, the inserts are fully and easily recyclable (along with the outer bottle box). They also provide a much more premium unboxing experience.
In fact, cardboard bottle inserts can even be branded with logos, as well as overprinted in specific colours if required.
The main drawbacks however would be that, as the designs are tailored to different bottles, it gives less flexibility than some of the other options. This means, if you send lots of differing bottle sizes, they may not be suitable (or you would need a number of differing inserts held in stock).
Plus, depending on the design and fragility of your bottles, using cardboard inserts can have some impact on packing times (due to the way in which they need to be assembled).
- Tailored to bottle shape / size
- Good levels of protection
- Fully recyclable
- Easily branded / premium experience
- Not suitable for differing bottle sizes / designs
- Small impact on packing times
A unique option combining cardboard frame and plastic film
Korrvu® is a fairly unique product. It uses a cardboard frame in conjunction with plastic film to either retain the item being shipped (to prevent movement) or suspend it (i.e. so it is not affected by impact and mishandling to the outer carton).
And whilst Korrvu® is more commonly used for smaller, consumer items – such as phones, electronics etc. – there are specific packs suitable for bottles.
There are other benefits alongside the excellent protection too. Namely, that they are quick and easy to assemble / pack, and that they also look quite impressive upon opening.
However, the film can be difficult to recycle, and must also be separated from the corrugated material before that part can be recycled.
They are also one of the more expensive options on this list, so are suited more towards the more premium end of the market.
- Excellent protection
- Quick to pack
- Film difficult to recycle
- More expensive than other solutions
05: Foam End Caps
Highest levels of protection
Put simply, if you simply cannot countenance a bottle being damaged in transit (for example the wine or spirit costs hundreds of pounds), then foam packaging inserts are you best choice.
These can take the form of end caps – sections of foam that cover the base and top of the bottle, or even full foam inserts that the bottle will be completely encased within.
Either option can be manufactured to provide exact levels of protection (using specialist design software), guaranteeing that it will be safe even in the face of the worst your courier or chosen transport provider can (literally) throw at it.
However, foam is a difficult material to recycle. This makes end caps or inserts unsuitable for high volume applications (foam is typically used for returnable packaging applications – something not usually possible with direct-to-consumer shipping).
This can also be a major negative for your brand and consumer perception, potentially highlighting a lack of focus on environmental impact. Saying that, more and more “eco” foam options are becoming available.
- Excellent protection
- Can be tailored to bottle, or generic
- Difficult to recycle
- Can be costly if shipping high volumes
06: Flexi Hex
Widest range of features (as standard)
Flexi hex is one of the newer products in the crowded bottle packaging market, and comes with a number of benefits.
The product comprises a flexible sleeve that expands to accommodate a range of bottles, and the provides a protective cushioning layer around them. This means they provide good levels of protection during transit.
Another key benefit is that being fully paper based, it is quick and easy to recycle. And whilst branding is limited when compared with other corrugated cardboard bottle inserts, by default it provides a unique appearance which is well received by consumers.
The only real drawbacks are that it is not suitable for all bottle types (most wine bottles can be accommodated, but some unusually shaped / sized spirit bottles may not be compatible), and that the levels of protection are not as high as some other options (meaning it may not be suited to very high value shipments).
- Suitable for majority of differing bottle styles
- Mid-range cost
- Not suitable for all bottles (particularly unusual shapes)
- Protection not as high as some other options
07: Foam / Plastic Nets
Higher performance equivalent to Flexi Hex
Very similar in appearance to flexi hex and working in the same manner, plastic / foam-based nets (that can often go under a number of differing brand names) provide the same levels of flexibility but with higher levels of protection.
However, whilst they incorporate the benefits associated with flexi hex (adaptable to differing bottle sizes, easy to use, quick to pack), they are missing one crucial ingredient – they are not easily recyclable.
This means they are competing more with bubble wrap / air sacs in reality, and have the potential to frustrate environmentally conscious consumers.
- Similar performance to flexi-hex
- Suitable for a range of bottle sizes / designs
- Difficult to recycle
- Relatively costly
08: Polystyrene / Moulded EPS
Traditional option for shipping delicate items
Everyone will have come into contact with polystyrene (also referred to as expanded EPS) at some point, with the product having originally been developed in the 1970s.
Similarly, almost everyone will know its main strengths- relatively low-cost cushioning for delicate items.
However, there are a growing number of reasons why polystyrene is not a great choice for shipping bottles.
Firstly, they only provide “first drop” protection – meaning that they are considerably weakened after the first instance of impact or mishandling.
Secondly, they are incredibly difficult to recycle.
Thirdly, consumers are becoming ever more conscious of how bad polystyrene is for the environment, as well as how difficult and bulky it is to dispose of. This can be a big turn off for consumers.
And finally, the additional bulk added by polystyrene can mean excessive outer packs sizes, which in turn generates more C02 from transport (as well as costs to your business).
- Low cost
- Not recyclable
- Poor perception / experience
- Single drop protection only
09: Pulp Mouldings
Fibre based alternative to polystyrene
Pulp mouldings could be classified as the environmentally friendly alternative to polystyrene. Manufactured using natural materials / fibres (effectively being paper based) they are easy to recycle and will biodegrade if they make their way to landfill.
They are also easy to use. Simply place the moulding top and bottom for end caps, or lay the bottle in the large mould depending on format, and place within the outer pack.
Pulp mouldings can also be tailored to specific bottle or supplied in more generic formats.
They do however offer slightly lower levels of protection when compared with some of the alternatives listed on this page. They are will also not be suitable for all bottle styles.
Overall, however, they are good all-round option for low value to mid-range bottle shipping.
- Tailored to specific bottles or generic
- Low cost
- Lower protection than some other options
- Not suitable for all bottle styles
10: Divider Sets
Prevention of movement in transit for multiple bottle shipments
Although bottle boxes with dividers have been included on this list, they differ from the other options in that they are only suitable for where multiple bottles are to be sent in a single outer container.
There main purpose is the effectively prevent the movement of the bottles within transit, as well as stopping them “clinking” and colliding with each other (all of which can lead to breakages).
They also offer benefits in terms of making packing quicker and easier too, as well as being fully recyclable.
However, they are obviously not suitable for single bottle shipments, and for higher value and / or fragile bottles they can often require the use of additional inserts / cushioning too.
- Ideal for multiple bottle shipments
- Low cost
- Not suitable for single bottles
11: Loose Fill / Packing Peanuts
Low cost and adaptable option
Put simply, loose fill items such as packing peanuts can be used for almost any item. Providing some (limited) cushioning, regardless of the size and shape of your bottle, they can be used to fill voids within the outer packaging. In turn, minimising movement (and damage). They are also quick and easy to empty into the outer wine shippers as required.
That is where the positives end, however.
For starters, the level of protection is quite low, as the individual loose fill items can move around. They are also incredibly bulky to keep in storage at your fulfilment centre.
But easily the biggest problem is the negative experience they provide for your customers.
Loose fill packing peanuts are nigh on impossible to recycle, and are difficult to dispose of (and take up lots of space in refuse bins etc.).
This combination proves incredibly frustrating for consumers – as shown in numerous studies – meaning they are not a great choice for shipping bottles.
- Low cost
- Ease of use / packing
- Not recyclable
- Frustrating for consumers
- Average protection
12: Wood Wool
Focus more on presentation than protection
The final insert option – wood wool – is often used more for presentation purposes than protection.
Manufactured from natural materials, it is biodegradable (although not always recyclable in kerbside collections), and provides an excellent aesthetic appearance. This makes its use common in gift boxes and similar presentation packs.
However, it also relatively expensive, and cannot really be compared to the other options on this list when talking about levels of transit protection (in fairness, the intended uses are different enough to make this irrelevant anyway).
So whilst wood wool is a great option for hampers and gift packaging, it is not suitable for bottle shippers.
- Excellent presentation
- Ideal for gift packs
- More costly than many options
- Low protection levels
So which wine bottle packaging should you choose?
The answer to the above questions is… that it depends!
If good protection with low cost is required, then the air sacs and similar products are probably your best choice (although their environmental impact is a big concern for consumers).
By spending a little more it opens up the options for flexi hex and – even better – corrugated cardboard fittings. The latter in particular can provide good levels of protection alongside excellent unboxing experience and even branding potential. Crucially, they are easily recycled.
For very high value items, options such as foam end caps can be used, as even though there are environmental concerns around these, it is absolutely critical that the bottle and contents are not damaged in transit.
If you are still unsure as to the best option for your business however, then please contact one of the experts at GWP. A dedicated team will be able to provide advice on what bottle packaging and inserts will be most suited to your specific application, as well as providing general advice and guidance.
So why not get in touch to discuss your wine bottle packaging (and other drinks packs) today.