Boxed wine continues to show progress even as the growth for top brands slows, with more brands and new players entering the space with each passing year. This once-dull category has become a proving ground for innovative concepts, including better-for-you products and alternative packaging that emphasizes convenience and sustainability. The 5-liter and 3-liter box remain the dominant formats, with the 3-liter size continuing its multi-year climb. And while the move upscale continues to be somewhat elusive for boxed wine, the entry of new high-end players has enlivened the category and bodes well for future premiumization trends.
Franzia remains the largest boxed wine player by volume in the U.S. and globally, at around 22 million cases in the U.S. Last year it launched a new sub-line of Franzia Refreshers, targeted at entry level consumers—a 3-liter box lineup of single varietal wines blended with all-natural fruit flavors that has 6.5% abv and 75 calories per 5-ounce serving. Individual SKU’s include Peach Moscato, Tropical Pinot Grigio, Strawberry Rosé, and Wild Berry Moscato, all priced at $14 a 3-liter box. Impact Databank includes Franzia Refreshers in the “better for you” category and estimates that it’s the largest player in that growing space.
The 3-Liter Stars
Beyond Franzia, the main competition in premium boxed wine is between Delicato Family Wines’ Bota Box brand and E. & J. Gallo’s Black Box, as well as Gallo’s Barefoot on Tap extension. Despite falling 3.5% to 10.9 million cases in 2021, Bota Box remains the recent star of the 3-liter boxed wine sector, continuing to outperform Black Box, which fell 4.5% to 7.5 million cases, according to Impact Databank. After a big year in 2020, Barefoot on Tap fell 1.5% in 2021— though stablemate Barefoot Fruitscato performed strongly, rising 70% to more than a million cases, according to Impact Databank.
At Delicato Family Wines, two different Bota Box labels earned “Hot Brand” status this year— Bota Box Nighthawk and Bota Box Breeze. Bota Box Nighthawk is a range of eight varietals touting flavors and eco-friendly packaging, with innovative offerings including Bourbon Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon, Lush Pinot Noir, and Dark Malbec. Nighthawk reached 2.6 million cases last year, rising 13% from 2020 and up nearly 2 million cases since 2018, when it stood at just 825,000 cases.
Bota Box Breeze is Delicato’s foray into lighter drinks, in terms of both alcohol content and calories. “The better-for-you wine category seems to be the next step in giving consumers what they want, and Bota Breeze answers that— 40% of people are choosing lower-alcohol wines at least on some occasions, and that’s what drove us to release this wine,” says Delicato CEO and president Chris Indelicato.
The four offerings in the Bota Breeze line-up—Pinot Grigio, Dry Rose, Red Blend, and Sauvignon Blanc—all are made with grapes picked earlier in the season to reduce their natural sugar level, resulting in an 8% ABV product that’s features around 80 calories per 5-ounce glass. Launched early last year, the brand jumped out to 365,000 cases in its first year. “Bota Breeze is on fire,” says Indelicato. “It’s the No.-2 better for you brand in the U.S. and the No.-5 premium 3-liter brand. It’s a home run for us, and for the Bota brand.”
Bota Box is now offering a nearly complete array of boxed wine concepts, from the traditional to the better-for-you, as well as other products like wine-based cocktail Bota’Rita. “We’re seeing different consumers drink different categories of Bota, which is great because we’re not cannibalizing our own brands,” Indelicato says. “There’s some crossover, and it’s allowing a large brand like Bota to participate in different categories, which of course builds the brand image. Bota’Rita is one of the most successful launches in the category. Our velocity is No.-2 in the category behind MPL Brands’ Rancho La Gloria. So we’re very happy with Bota’Rita; it puts us in a new category out on the shelf.” The wine-based cocktail competitor Rancho La Gloria also did well last year, up 28% to 1.7 million cases.
Meanwhile, Bota Box’s archrival Black Box rolled out six new wines in its franchise this March. The newcomers include three new offerings under Black Box’s “Taste-Forward” range: Tart & Tangy Sauvignon Blanc, Vibrant & Velvety Red Blend, and Deep & Dark Cabernet Sauvignon, each priced at $22 a 3-liter. Additionally, Black Box introduced a lower-calorie “Brilliant Collection,” featuring Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Cabernet Sauvignon, also retailing at $22. The Brilliant Collection wines have 70 calories per five-ounce serving.
Black Box is now owned by E. & J. Gallo Winery, which finally completed its acquisition from Constellation Brands this past January. Not long after, Gallo began supporting Black Box with a national media campaign starring “Parks and Recreation” and “Big Little Lies” actor Adam Scott. “The Savvy Man” campaign features Scott using “his wit and charm to help demystify the category and make premium boxed wines more approachable and inclusive,” the company says. The campaign targeted streaming and digital platforms like Roku, Hulu, and YouTube.
Black Box is aiming to target younger consumers with its better-for-you lineup. Research indicates that “consumers aged 21-34 years old are more likely to say that they are ‘still drinking, but drinking less’ versus the general population, with almost half of those saying they are drinking less because they are trying to improve their health,” says Beth Orozco, vice president of brand marketing at E. & J. Gallo. “The interest in ‘better-for-you’ wines is as prevalent as this category.”
Sustainability continues to be an important selling point for all boxed wine players. “We’re doing a lot of work right now on our carbon footprint for the 3-liter box, and a lot of work around the production of glass and how much glass actually gets recycled,” says Indelicato, adding that the lighter weight of the 3-liter package naturally lends itself to reducing the carbon footprint, dovetailing with the convenience factor.
The boxed wine space is no longer simply a two- or three-horse race, as variety has entered the category. At Albertsons stores, director of beverage alcohol sales Curtis Mann cites the strength of Jorge Ordóñez Selections’ new premium boxed line Quadrum, which offers a red blend and white blend ($20 a 3-liter box), as well as the remarkably successful Box Wize, a 3-liter box offering that includes four varietals ($18-$23). The latter is the top-selling private-label boxed wine in the country, Mann says.
A rising boxed wine star is Washington label Top Box from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Top Box was named an Impact “Hot Prospect” this year, rising from a base of 29,000 cases in its launch year of 2019 to 133,000 cases in 2020. It matched that growth again last year, adding a further 107,000 cases to reach 240,000 cases. Although Top Box has boosted sales for Ste. Michelle, the company says they have no current plans to venture further into the boxed wine segment, though it will continue to explore opportunities for further innovation. With options including Chardonnay, Red Blend, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Top Box retails for around $20 a 3-liter and is distributed nationally, with the top markets being Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, and Massachusetts.
Precept Wines’ House Wine label and New Mexican wine Gruet also both achieved Hot Brand status this year. House Wine continues to experiment with new packaging and product types, marketing traditional bottles, cans, boxed wine, and frozen wine cocktail pouches. The Washington State brand grew by 10% to approach 650,000 cases last year. Gruet, which has tasting rooms in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, owns several vineyards spread across the state. All of them have elevations above 4,000 feet and terroir that emphasizes the desert’s sharp temperature shifts between day and night. Gruet’s sparkling wines were up 14% to 250,000 cases last year.
Oregon wine pioneer Sokol Blosser launched its Evolution brand into the boxed wine space last fall, with 1.5-liter boxes of its Oregon Pinot Noir and Lucky No. 9 White Blend, retailing at $25 and $18, respectively. “This is a first, and syncs up perfectly with two exploding categories in retail: ultra-premium wine from Oregon and wine in a box,” noted company CEO Alison Sokol Blosser at the rollout, adding that Evolution’s 1.5-liter boxes are also expected to perform well in on-premise by-the-glass programs, and potentially in the takeout and delivery segment. Initially the wines were targeted in 15 markets—among them Oregon, Washington, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas—with more to be added. And top French import La Vieille Ferme, owned by the Rhone Valley’s famed Perrin family, is also in the boxed wine arena with a 3-liter package.
All this new activity has certainly helped boxed wine premiumize its image. Miami-based Origins Organic Imports has affiliated offices in Bordeaux, Argentina, and Brazil, and annual sales of more than 750,000 cases globally. Its contribution to the boxed space is Natural Origins, a boxed wine label that’s gotten off to a fast start, hitting the 100,000-case mark after debuting in 2020. And a recent smaller player to throw its hat into the ring is Gratsi, a premium, low sugar, 3-liter bag-in-box wine. Gratsi launched in the spring of last year, and is on track to sell 20,000 9-liter cases this year. It offers three SKUs—Old Country Red, Old Country White, and Old Country Rose.
While quality has continued to improve at a rapid pace, progress to move the category upscale has been slower. The growth of the 3-liter boxed wine package some years ago touched off some higher priced offerings, but the $20 threshold remains a barrier that’s difficult to cross for the 3-liter pack. The sheer number of brands entering the space each year also present challenges and create friction on the pricing front. But the bottom line is that boxed wine, once considered an oddball supermarket product for the bottom shelf, is earning greater respect and attention in the overall wine space, and looks set to continue doing so.