Passion for Packaging Innovation

The grandfather of closures, cork, is under challenge

The Wall Street Journal has an article on plastic cork closures in today’s edition. There are some rather interesting industry facts that are revealed in the article.

Cork was first used as a bottle closure by Dom Perignon in the late 1600s. Natural cork still has a 69% market share today, but that market share is being eroded by competitors. In certain markets such as Australia, screw caps are now dominating the market. In others, synthetic closures are making inroads. That certainly brings up the question as to why. The short answer is package functionality and usability.

We have long been advocates of package usability, and are generally against using tools to open packages. In some cases, however, like the 400 year old tradition of uncorking a bottle with a cork remover, the motions of removal become part of the tradition enforcing the authenticity of the item (wine) and enhancing the sensory appeal of the package.

In some markets, package functionality, and in particular, package usability, seem to be trumping tradition. In markets such as Australia, where the culture of wine did not have 400 years of embedment, there is less resistance to move towards higher usability solutions, in this case, screw caps.

In more traditional markets, other factors come into play, like Oxygen Transfer Rate, or OTR as referred to in the industry. Cork, being more breathable, allows for a higher OTR. Consequently, cork does not have adequate barrier properties for 2-4-6 Trichloroanisole or TCA. This chemical, once it gets into the bottle or the barrel, renders the wine undrinkable.

Once this shortcoming of traditional cork was identified in the early ’80s, the stage was set for challengers like metal screw caps and synthetic corks to enter and make inroads in the market. Judging from the numbers, we can safely state that package usability and functionality is starting to win over tradition and sensory appeal in some markets.

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