wine-792877_1920The logistics of shipping liquids has taken a huge leap in the last few years with the introduction of (and subsequent improvements made in) liquid bulk shipping. In a study published in 2008 by Waste & Resource Action Programme UK (WRAP), they found that almost three times the amount of wine could be shipped in the same container if shipped in bulk.

The main advantage of bulk shipping is its full utilisation of the shipping container’s volume. A standard 20 ft. shipping container can hold 12,000 to 13,000 bottles in traditional packaging materials (which includes bottles, cardboard, and shipping protection). The same container can likewise hold a single Flexitank containing the equivalent of 32,000 bottles. Shipping costs for such containers are typically charged by volume, not by weight, so the prospect of transporting nearly three containers’ worth of product for the price of one is certainly attractive: a recent Rabobank report estimated an annual savings of over $140 million between 2001 and 2010 on bulk shipping.

There are several concerns related to bulk shipping, one of which is whether it might taint the quality of the wine. The same WRAP report states the reverse: there are environmental and logistical advantages unique to bulk shipping, specifically:

  1. A single shipment is less prone to experience wide variations in temperature during transit. The probability of accelerated fermentation due to high temperatures is significantly reduced, since the whole liquid travels in one piece.
  2. Extended shelf life for commercial wines. With the exception of those specifically made for bottle ageing, commercial wine begins to deteriorate the moment it is bottled – the shelf life is determined by this point. Bulk shipping defers the bottling date, thus, an extended shelf life.
  3. The end product is filled closer to the final market. This allows more flexibility for the wine sellers to adjust their marketing, change packaging formats and respond to promotional campaigns.
  4. Damage to the product packaging is minimized. The chances of delivering chipped bottles, scuffed labels and damaged corks can be reduced, if not eliminated, since the packaging is done locally. Problems related to these can also be resolved with a local supplier.
  5. A smaller carbon footprint. Environmental emissions are significantly reduced thanks to the minimized transportation requirement and by avoiding the transportation of bottles. A 2012 entry by the wine blog The Horse’s Mouth reports ‘[the] total carbon footprint of alcohol consumption in the UK is 1.5% of the total UK greenhouse gas emissions, of which one-quarter is attributable to wine.’

Using Flexitanks is by no means the only option for bulk shipping. However, it excels in overcoming the classic challenges of transporting wine. Oxidisation during transport, for instance. Excessive oxygen leads to flattening, the loss of flavour, colour and aroma. The container must be airtight during shipment. Flexitanks also have the added benefits of being resistant to breakage due to sudden impact and is also sturdy enough not to tear or leak. Additionally, Flexitanks are made with polypropylene, a type of plastic that does not interact with wine, i.e. cause chemical reactions.