Positive Luxury’s recent webinar on the Future of Premium Drinks provided insights from a panel of industry experts into sustainability within the luxury drinks sector. The extent to which this sector is impacted by the environment and climate change creates an inherent instability that other areas of luxury do not face to the same degree.

The wine industry has been trialing positive solutions towards sustainability for many years…

Using French vineyards as an example, winemakers there face the yearly challenge of weather patterns affecting the quality and timing of their end product. Winning vintages can be won or lost by late frosts, excess rain or unusual summer temperatures.

Despite these challenges, the natural landscapes around vineyards also present biodiversity opportunities for these winemakers. The wine industry has been participating in trialing positive solutions towards sustainability for many years but even more are now moving towards a range of agricultural and viticultural experts to help produce brilliant vintages. The planting of additional trees and shrubs in vineyards is helping to enrich the ground and roots of vines, whilst also increasing the presence of bees. However, solutions of this kind require consumer buy in, for them to understand the challenges faced and therefore care about the fragility of the end product and to involve them in the problem-solving process.

The panel further discussed carbon emissions and the need for all businesses to do their best to help reverse the 1.5-degree global increase seen in recent years. In the premium drinks industry, the largest issue is packaging and the use of glass for bottles of wine, champagne, and spirits. Shockingly, 40% of a winery’s carbon footprint is generated by packaging.

Many wineries are now seeking to reduce the weight of glass bottles used and looking into overseas shipping options as by changing the bottle shape a case could then include 14-15 bottles rather than 12, thereby reducing shipping quantities. The panel mooted whether use of clear glass could be replaced by brown or green glass which is more recyclable. Whilst this may be a sustainably responsible move, ultimately wine experts and consumers like to visually examine their rosé or white wines.

There are still hurdles to overcome in modernising regulations about bottling, and the location of bottling. The panel agreed that until the industry can challenge these regulations, it will be difficult to make sizeable changes to bottling or shipping processes. On top of this, when you factor in the legal hurdles in the varying legal systems across multiple jurisdictions, you begin to see the scale of the challenge that the premium drinks sector faces when it comes to furthering its sustainability credentials.

Tequila and its sustainability problem…

Tequila is made from the Weber blue agave plant, or agave tequilana, and goes through a six-stage process of harvesting, baking, juicing, fermenting, distilling and aging. In turn this creates millions of litres of wastewater which contains a very high oxygen content per litre if left untreated. Cleaning up the wastewater streams is more challenging than in other spirit categories and whilst there is not considerable focus on this sector of the premium drinks industry just yet, it will be coming. What tequila producers chose to do now will determine the spirit’s future.

Finally, let’s turn our attention to the next big trends in the industry:

  • Drinks brands should take note of the steps that other luxury sectors are taking to improve their sustainability, which should include becoming more consumer-centric in the level of service offered;
  • Vineyards will continue to look at climate resistance grape varieties, but brands will face challenges to bring about the necessary legislative changes required;
  • Change. Luxury brands needs to embrace change in all capacities, whether that is a change in consumer interest in the sustainability efforts of premium drinks brands, the changes we’re seeing in this post-Covid period, changes in purchasing habits or policy changes that stifle innovation.

In summary, it’s clear that the premium drinks industry is aware of issues of sustainability and that brands within the sector are taking active steps to protect the environments they operate in. But with every positive change, there main challenges to overcome, from consumer to legal. It will be exciting to see what innovative solutions the industry comes up with over the coming years.