Thinking BIG by Going Small: The Single-Serve Category is Rapidly Expanding

Posted on | October 1, 2008   Bookmark and Share
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While purists might squirm at the idea of drinking their wine out of anything other than a standard 750 ml bottle or a magnum, the reality is that modern times are calling for more convenient packaging. Single-serve bottles of wine, otherwise known as 187 ml bottles, and lightweight, environmentally-friendly Tetra Paks are poised to make everyday wine consumption a possibility.

Even as the economy slows, wine sales in the United States are still on the rise, and no size category is currently hotter than that of 187ml bottles. According to ACNielsen, in the last 13 weeks (mid May to mid August 2008), 187ml sales were up 7.6% versus 5.8% for 750ml and 3.5% for 1.5 liters. For the last 52 weeks, 187ml were up 8.9% versus 6.6% for 750ml and 3.6% for 1.5 liters. And from July 2004 to May 2007, the 187ml category exploded with a massive growth increase of 33% by case volume, which was nearly three times the rate for the overall market during the same time period. As American attitudes towards.

consuming wine change — no longer just for special or celebratory occasions — the need for smaller sized wine formats will keep increasing. “There are plenty of occasions when we only want a glass or two of wine, and yet, since a full bottle is too much, a consumer turns to craft beer or something else. Single-serve wine options are a terrific answer to this dilemma. It’s no surprise that with more Americans drinking wine it’s a fast growing category,” says Charles Bieler, one of the partners at Three Thieves, which has built a following by offering unusual sizes in alternative packaging containers, such as their Bandit line of single serve 250ml Tetra Paks. “As Americans lead more active lifestyles, these sizes are just more convenient.”

Expanding Brand, Varietal and Packaging Offerings
Only a few years ago, there were just five or six key brands competing for the 187ml business, such as Sutter Home, Beringer and E&J Gallo. Now, higher end wines have entered the category such as Alice White from Australia and Georges DuBoeuf from France. “Over the last three years there has been a proliferation of brands in this package format. Today there are over 400 187ml SKUs in the marketplace versus 320 two years ago,” says Matt Foley, brand manager for Beringer Premium. As consumers become more comfortable with this size, more brands, varietals and alternative packaging choices are sure to
enter the marketplace.

Even brands such as Sutter Home, which have been in the 187ml category far longer than most, are seeing substantial growth in both production and sales. Wendy Nyberg, senior director of marketing at Trinchero Family Estates, comments: “As Americans consume more wine for everyday occasions, the usage opportunities increase for alternative packaging and size offerings. 187ml are easily portable and can be used for a multitude of reasons, especially for outdoor music and sports venues.” Sutter Home has also expanded their 187ml product line from more traditional offerings such as White Zinfandel and Chardonnay to include lesser known varietals like Moscato.

The 187ml category has also traditionally been very limited in terms of its packaging; up until quite recently it was only available in glass. ACNielsen only started tracking 187ml PET bottle and cans as currently as July 2005. From May 2006 to May 2007, the segment grew 75% by volume, whereas 187ml glass only grew six percent during the same time period.

“During the initial launch of Stone Cellars 187ml in 2006, we decided to differentiate our product by using PET,” states Foley. “Our PET bottles are shatterproof, lightweight and great for consumers that are looking to take this package with them to the beach, a backyard barbecue or even camping.”

Bieler adds: “Since our Bandit single serve wines are packaged without glass, we have the added advantage of being lighter and non-breakable, so the consumer can bring wine with them to places beyond the norm. We’re interested in making wine available for all occasions.”

Retailers and Restaurants React
In the past, retailers have been slow to commit more shelf space to the 187ml category, stocking just the traditional lower-priced wines. However, brands such as Stone Cellars have tried to make it as easy as possible for retailers to increase their 187ml offerings by developing fixtures, floor racks and cooler display cases for individual single-serve bottles. “Retailers have been expanding shelf space as more brands continue to innovate into this package size,” adds Foley. “As a result, more consumers are shopping this area of the store as their brand choices have increased.”

And it’s not just retailers that are benefiting from offering single-serve options to their customers. The Four Corners Taverns Group in Chicago plans on selling single-serve French Rabbit Tetra Paks in at least three out of their six restaurants very soon. “Not only are these single-serve wines more environmentally friendly, they also offer an ease of service for our outdoor seating and a guarantee of freshness for our customers,” says Mark Epstein, operating manager.

Who is Buying 187ml?
The Wine Market Council’s most recent 2008 tracking study performed by Merrill Research cites that 9.4% of “core” wine drinkers (those who drink wine at least once a week or more) and 8.5% of “marginals” (those who drink less often than weekly) purchase the 187ml size at least occasionally. 3.1% and 3.3% (respectively) say that is the size they most often buy.

Of special note, the survey reveals that there is a definite younger age skew with 19.6% of the Millennial generation citing occasional purchases of the 187ml size compared to only 8.9% of Generation X and 6.7% of Baby Boomers. Bieler concurs, saying, “Single-serve is perfect for the Millennials who are open to different formats and want to experiment in their wine choices.”

In regards to Sutter Home, Nyberg notes that, “We experience more female consumers across all age groups purchasing wine from this size category.”

Looking Forward
According to a report by Mary-Colleen Tinney for Wine Business Monthly, there will most certainly be a broader range of varietals available. In 2007, Chardonnay and White Zinfandel still made up over 50% of all the sales of 187ml, with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon covering an additional 30% and Pinot Grigio, Shiraz/Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc making up the remainder. Only one percent of other varietals were represented in the 187ml category, and with Americans experimenting with a broader range of varietal choices (Riesling had the strongest growth rate in 2007), there is definitely room for expansion.

As wine consumption continues to be embraced by Americans on a day-to-day basis, the user base of single-serves will continue to see steady growth because of its flexibility and ease of use. “Not only are these wine formats less intimidating, but they support the idea of drinking wine with your everyday meal,” concludes Foley. “The 187ml segment is being driven by the consumer’s need for a convenient and portable package alternative.”


Consumers might relish the idea of a lightweight Tetra Pak to bring to their next outdoor concert. Or, for a simple night at home when they’re craving just a glass and don’t want to trouble themselves with storing an open bottle, a single-serve bottle certainly comes in handy. But, how does that enthusiasm translate into sales?

“In the past two to three years, we have seen a steady increase in the sales of single-serves, so much so that we now dedicate an entire four-foot section to this category in our stores,” says Maria Brous, spokesperson for Publix Super Markets.

Gary Itkin of Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit in New York City agrees the single-serve trend will undoubtedly continue. “We have been offering the Three Thieves Tetra Paks in the 250ml size since day one of opening the store. And the 187ml Francis Coppola Sofia sparking wine in a can has always done very well. People like these sizes for picnicking in the park because they are so easy to carry.”

However, this trend celebrating convenient design hasn’t caught on with all stores just yet. “Single-serve wines are really not a factor for my customers,” points out Steve Zanotti of The Wine Exchange in North Orange County, CA. “I think stores in highly trafficked areas or near shopping malls tend to do much more business with these wine sizes.”

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