2013 Closure Survey Report
Natural cork ubiquitous, screw caps attain parity with technical and synthetic closures; Curtis Phillips - Wine Business Monthly, June 2013 Issue
This year the WBM Closure Survey Report focused on the perceptions of closure performance. As with past WBM surveys, wineries were asked to rate closure types overall, as well as in terms of price, bottling line performance, product performance, consumer acceptance, ease of removal and perceived environmental impact. WBM has been conducting this survey at one- to two-year intervals since 2004.
Natural corks continue to be the standard by which all other closure-types are measured. The ratings for natural cork remain highest across the board with the exception of the average ratings given for price and ease of removal. In both these categories, screw caps were given slightly higher ratings by the respondents than natural cork. In addition, the average rating for the product performance of screw caps has reached parity with that for natural cork.
As a general rule, the respondents from midsized and large wineries rated screw caps and technical closures higher than, and natural cork and synthetic closures lower than, respondents from very small and small wineries.
In broad terms, the overarching result has been for respondents to rate natural cork increasingly as "Positive," technical closures as "Neutral," synthetic closures as "Slightly Negative," and screw caps as "Slightly Positive" (see chart below). When these responses are compared to previous WBM surveys, we see that they are in line with previously established trends. The overall rating for technical closures and screw caps have trended up very slightly, while the average overall rating for natural cork has seen a bit more of a steady increase. The average overall rating given by the respondents for synthetic closures has been trending downward for every survey over the past nine years.
The average ratings for closure price saw slightly larger than expected increases for the ratings of natural cork and screw caps and a larger decrease than expected in the price rating for synthetic closures (see Chart 2). Natural cork has indeed closed the perceived price-gap with the other closure styles, with natural cork, technical and synthetic closures all falling in the "neutral" rating range while the respondents rated screw caps as "slightly positive" in terms of price.
The respondents from midsized and large wineries gave higher price ratings for technical corks and screw caps and a slightly lower price-rating for natural cork than did the respondents from very small wineries (see Chart 3).
Bottling Line Performance
The most noticeable trend in the responses for "Bottling Line Performance" was that after remaining essentially flat since 2007, the average rating for screw caps saw a slight upward bump (see Chart 4). Since little if anything has changed in either screw caps or capping equipment, it would appear that this bump is due to wineries' increasing familiarity with using screw caps, although this is hard to demonstrate as a specific cause beyond citing anecdotal evidence.
The ratings for natural cork and technical closures remained more or less the same as in previous surveys. Even the slight decline seen in the rating for the bottling line performance of synthetic closures was in line with prior WBM surveys.
Survey respondents from midsized and large wineries rated the bottling line performance for all closures other than natural cork more highly than respondents from small and very small winerys (see Chart 5). This makes sense because larger wineries tend to be more likely to appreciate the consistency of the alternative closures the most, while smaller wineries are more likely to value the greater tolerance of natural cork.
When the different closure classes were rated as to their "Product Performance," by which we mean, "How well does it protect the wine after bottling," we see that both natural cork and screw caps received positive ratings from the respondents while technical and synthetic closures were rated more neutrally (see Chart 6). As we have seen in previous WBM surveys, the respondents from wineries producing more than 50,000 cases per year rated natural cork lower and screw caps higher for "Product Performance" than survey respondents from wineries producing fewer than 5,000 cases per year.
As Chart 7 shows, winemakers' perception of the "Consumer Acceptance" of natural corks and technical closures has changed little since 2003. In the same interval, the rating for synthetic closures has gone from "Neutral" (average rating 3.0) to "Slightly Negative" (average rating 2.4) while the consumer acceptance of screw caps has risen in winemakers' estimation by a comparable amount. Taken by themselves, the respondents from wineries producing more than 50,000 cases per year yielded an average rating of "Slightly Positive" for the "Consumer Acceptance" of screw caps (Chart 8).
Ease of Removal
The survey respondents have taken an increasingly favorable view of screw caps in terms of "Ease of Removal." This shouldn't be surprising considering that screw caps are one of the few closures that don't require a separate tool for the consumer to open the bottle. When the responses are broken down by winery size (Chart 9), we see that the "Ease of Removal" ratings for natural cork and screw caps did vary somewhat according to the size. Respondents from wineries producing more than 50,000 cases per year tended to rate natural cork lower and screw caps higher for "Ease of Removal" than respondents from wineries producing fewer than 50,000 cases per year. By contrast, both technical and synthetic closures received comparable average ratings across wineries of all sizes.
Perceived Environmental Impact
This is only the third time that the WBM Closure Survey has asked about the perceived environmental impact of the different closure types. The responses were in line with the previous two surveys (Chart 10), but there were slight differences in the average rating between respondents from different sized wineries (Chart 11).
Overall Trends in Closure Usage: 38 Percent of Wineries are Using Screw Caps The overall closure usage trends, as seen in Chart 12, show that the overall use of any particular closure is still changing. Eighty-four percent of wineries are using natural corks for all, or part of, their wines. At the same time, the number of wineries using at least some screw caps has risen from a mere 5 percent in 2004 to 38 percent in 2013. The number of wineries using technical corks has been hovering just above 30 percent since 2006.
Perhaps the most interesting result of the responses is the number of wineries that use synthetic closures has declined to a mere 14 percent. This seems at odds with evidence that indicates that more bottles than ever are being closed with synthetic closures. One synthetic closure company (Nomacorc) quite reasonably claims to have a 14-percent market share of the entire global closure market (about 2.4 billion closures). Fewer wineries, but more bottles, would seem to indicate that the use of synthetic closures is being concentrated in the largest wineries.
Once again, the WBM Closure Survey shows that while almost all wineries use natural corks, an increasing number of wineries are supplementing them with some or all of the other closure alternatives. In this way, wineries are demonstrating that they think there is no single "correct" closure. Rather, the perceived relative price, performance and customer acceptance are leading wineries to use different closure types for different wines in different market segments.
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