Looked at your wine shipper lately? Well, look at it now. What
do you see? Plain white box? Maybe your winery name and the varietal?
Anything to tell potential customers that theres something
good inside? Anything to make them think positively about your
winery? Anything to make them think they might like your Merlot
with dinner? That your Chardonnay would be the one to take to
that party on Saturday night? Anything to connect this box with
your investment in marketing and advertising?
According to Eli Kwartler of Kwartler Associates, a marketing
consultant specializing in graphic packaging in Amherst, MA, about
66% of retail purchases are made on impulse. But something has
to make the consumer stop and consider your wine. A blank case
certainly wont do that.
A graphic shipping container makes consumers stop,
Kwartler says. It entrances them; it motivates them to pick
up your product; it sells the consumer on the features and benefits
of the wine inside.
In an environment where store clerks are rarely knowledgeable
about the products they sell, a graphic shipping container can
tell the story of your wine. Consider how many people will see
your wines shipping carton during its lifetime. From the
container manufacturer to the trucking company, the warehouse,
distributor, back of store, retail floor, consumer, moving van,
and ultimately, to the recycling center everywhere that
shipper goes it could be selling your wine.
More and more wineries are switching to value-added graphics
on their shipping cartons because they get attention, says
Charles Wertheimer, manager of Longview Fibre Companys Oakland,
CA, container sales district. A shipping carton with high-impact
graphics helps sell the wine; it is a winerys silent salesperson.
Fortunately, the wine industrys growing recognition of the
need for value-added graphics has coincided with a similar push
from the beer and high-tech industries and with advances in the
pulp and paper industry that have helped make such packaging more
affordable. Longview Fibre is one of the leading producers in
this relatively new trend in wine packaging.
Longview Fibre opened its doors in 1927 with a pulp and paper
mill on the Columbia River in Longview, WA. Since then, the mill
has become one of the largest in the world, with production capacity
of up to 3,500 tons of paper and containerboard per day, and the
company has added 16 converting plants in 11 states from coast
to coast across the U.S. They manufacture corrugated and solid-fiber
boxes, point-of-purchase displays, paper bags, and other paper
Recently, corrugated wine shippers with high-impact graphics have
been an ever-increasing proportion of production at Longview Fibres
three West Coast container plants in Oakland, CA, and Longview
and Seattle, WA.
Until seven or eight years ago, wine and beer boxes were
plain and simple, says Tom Craig, manager at the Seattle
packaging plant. But big-box/club stores and wine shops
created a demand for shippers that were a sales tool. The wine
industry has helped push the box industry to upgrade and refine
the flexo-printing process over the last five years.
Investing in value-added graphics
Longview recognized the trend and began upgrading at the mill
and at its packaging plants to serve this market.
We looked at our industry and discovered that high-end graphics
are its fastest growing segment, explains Wertheimer. Corrugated
sales demand grows every year, but slowly. We determined that
we want to be a leader in the value-added part of our business.
Thats good news for wineries.
Value-added graphics require high-quality printing, with four,
six, or even more colors, with varnishes to add flash and UV coating
to prevent fading. When the printing on shipping cartons was basically
limited to This End Up, issues like resolution, registration,
and ink trapping werent important. Now, in meeting wineries
demands for near photographic-quality printing, they are vital.
To achieve this quality (in both linerboard and corrugated boxes)
and become an industry leader with its paper mill and box plants,
Longview Fibre has invested more than $1 billion in equipment,
time, and education in the last decade. But this effort alone
It has been a unique thing, says Craig. Everybody
related to the industry has had a part in getting us to this new
quality level. The printing-plate manufacturers had to get better
by improving their registration and quality. The inks had to get
better. We all had to work together.
At Longview, the pulp and paper mill has spent many millions
of dollars annually in the last 10 years to upgrade equipment.
Before that, the box linerboard (outer surface of a corrugated
box) would not have allowed us to do the quality of printing required
for this type of wine shipper. The paper quality, although suitable
for conventional box graphics, didnt have a smooth enough
surface or density required for high-quality printing and consistent
The past five years have seen dramatic upgrades at the Longview
Seattle, and Oakland container plants, as well, with approximately
$40 million invested in equipment to upgrade every phase of the
process. The new Bobst 200s, now in Oakland and Longview, are
six-color printing presses that offer the highest quality flexographic
printing available, according to Oakland plant manager Don Armstrong.
The Bobst 200 provides process printing and ultra-violet (UV)
All three plants have also added new five-color flexo-folder-gluers.
Just as their name implies, flexo-folder-gluers print, fold, and
glue boxes in one pass.
Upgrades of the corrugating equipment have improved the quality
of the corrugated board, while other improvements have enhanced
ink application, die-cutting, and more.
One secret to value-added graphics is ink control,
explains Armstrong. We have computerized controls for the
ink. We buy our ink in bulk and blend colors in our ink kitchen,
and we monitor the pH and viscosity of the ink to maintain consistency.
We take the subjectivity out of determining ink color with light
tables and spectrophotometry, so the variation from run to run
Weve done this, adds Craig in talking about
his ink kitchen in Seattle, because wineries have so many
specialty colors, certain tints and shades that they want. We
also have to have the ability to keep the same color for a winery,
whether the job is printed on Kraft or full-bleached paper.
In addition, all three plants have added staff to handle the pre-press
work for value-added graphics. To do the job our customers
want, explains Armstrong, we have to have our own
graphics department we have to control the process.
Computer-aided design of the box structure and graphics, plus
computer-controlled sample tables, allow the design staff to present
a complete mock-up of any container design.
More affordable printing process
Longview Fibre offers three levels of graphics: regular flexography,
the traditional method of printing corrugated board; litho-laminating;
and direct-print or post-print. Almost all the wine shippers
we do are direct-print, says Armstrong, because it
is the most cost-effective and can do the job in one pass.
In direct-print, also called post-print, the printing is done
after the corrugating is completed. The Bobst 200 and flexo-folder-gluer
presses are used for this process.
Industry-wide, confirms Wertheimer, many wineries
doing value-added graphics are doing direct-print. Because of
the costs associated with printing on this equipment, the size
of a wine shipper and the quantities that wineries typically run,
winery projects fit the post-print process very well.
In the past, costs of value-added graphics were prohibitive due
to the state of the technology. The only way to create shippers
with high-quality graphics was a three-step process called preprint,
where the graphics were printed on paper that was then used to
make the corrugated board and then was made into boxes. For this
process to be cost-effective, wineries had to order larger quantities
and use entire rolls of paper, and lead-time on orders was longer.
Litho-laminating is similar to preprint but is more affordable
because the high-quality graphics are printed on sheets of paper,
instead of rolls, before being made into corrugated board and
then into boxes. Costs are still considerably more, in most cases,
Direct-print makes press runs as small as 1,500 boxes affordable.
Modern equipment can produce a box with only one pass through
the flexo-folder-gluer. Lead times can be much shorter with any
No more washboard
Improved corrugated board is a vital component in the success
and popularity of the post-print process. In the past, most wine
shippers were corrugated with a C-flute. The flute is the wavy
shape of the inside sheet of paper in corrugated board. A letter,
like C, indicates the size of the flute. A C-flute
is about mid-size, while an A-flute has a much wider, deeper wave,
and an E-flute has a much smaller, shallower wave.
Two layers of corrugated board can be combined for a box with
double-wall construction. More than 20 combinations of flutage
are possible, says Armstrong, to address issues of
strength, caliper (thickness), crushing, and printability. A tiny
flute, like E or F, makes a smooth printing surface, so there
isnt a washboard effect. Wine shippers for value-added
graphics often have double-wall construction of a B- or C-flute
inside, combined with an E-flute as the outside layer of the box.
Printing on corrugated board is so much more difficult than
printing a bag or a magazine, where you have a single layer of
substrate, explains Craig. In board with larger flutes,
the places where the flutes attach to the linerboard will be harder
than the spaces in between. During printing, those softer spots
in the board will want to pull down and sag [producing an uneven
layer of ink thats thin in the hard spots and thick in the
soft spots thats the washboard effect]. You cant
have that and achieve the quality of printing that is required.
The E/B double-wall has very nearly the same caliper as
C-flute, but you gain two things with the double-wall construction:
a much better printing surface and a stronger box. Rather than
three components of paper, you have five. The cost difference
is not that significant, because we have very lightweight inner
components available that allow us to hold costs down.
Putting value-added graphics
to work for you
In the past, box companies like Longview have been essentially
married to the glass company next door. In the case of Longviews
Seattle plant, thats Ball Foster. In the past, when the
glass company sold the bottles, the box just came along, too,
so the glass customer would have a way to get the bottles or jars
home and then ship them full of wine or jam to customers.
Box companies in this scenario are third-party vendors, who have
little or no contact with the glass companys customers.
But Longview finds that in the value-added graphics environment,
this scenario is changing.
In many instances, Longview is still the third-party vendor, contracting
with the glass company, but as printing jobs get more complicated,
the winery and Longviews graphics and structural design
departments are working directly with each other.
Craig cites Beringer Wine Estates as a good example. The
winery does a Nouveau wine every year. They send us sketches of
what they have in mind and ask if we foresee any problems. Well
discuss the problems and the colors, and then when the job goes
to Ball Foster, its a slam dunk. Weve already resolved
everything that would have given us problems or given them problems.
Even though were third party, we have a very close relationship
with them. Thats not unusual.
In addition, more and more wineries are buying their bottles in
bulk, shrink-wrapped to a pallet, and then buying their shippers
directly from Longview Fibre.
Like most things, putting value-added graphics on your wine shipper
is more complicated than it might first appear. Thats why
the Longview, Seattle, and Oakland plants each have a graphics
center. To get the most out of the direct-print process,
sometimes we need to modify the winerys graphics to fit
the process, says Craig.
When a winery is ready to put its shippers on the marketing team
with value-added graphics, explains Michael Stevenson, graphic
packaging sales in Seattle, the first step is a meeting between
the winerys marketing people and Longviews graphics
people. Well get a general idea of what theyre
looking at, whos going to do the design, and how much were
going to be involved. Theyll ask us to put a bid in for
our design time. We have found our charge for graphic design time
is very competitive with what a design firm charges. Then we get
our graphics designers together with our structural design people.
They work very closely together on the structure of the box.
The next step is determining what printing method will work best
for the job. Quantity is a big issue in this, because there
are different costs associated with each of the three different
processes, says Stevenson. Primarily its balancing
cost and quality.
Many factors contribute to creating that balance. Which process
is chosen really depends on the nature of the job: size of the
box, quantity, number of colors, and the particular image being
printed. Most often the choice is direct printing, but not always.
Wine shippers are very large, as boxes with value-added graphics
go. They require a large printing plate, which contributes significantly
to the printing cost. If you have a fairly small quantity
to print, and its not going to be run again, youll
probably be better off going with litho-laminating rather than
direct printing, because tooling and printing plate costs are
much lower, Stevenson offers. The costs per box will
be higher using litho-lam, but if youre only going to run
a couple of thousand boxes one time, youll get higher print
quality and the overall cost might even be cheaper.
In the next step of creating a wine shipper, the Longview graphics
designer and structural designer create a full-size mock-up of
the box with all the graphics. They take it to the graphics team
meeting. Weve developed this process ourselves,
says Stevenson, and it works very well.
The sales person, graphic designer, production people, plate
makers, and the ink supplier get together and discuss the job.
We talk about how production sees it running and how its
laid out. We look for any problems, identify necessary changes.
We look for potential ink trap problems, where we have three or
four colors coming together in the same area. Production people
will raise a lot of good questions: How is this going to print?
Which colors go down first? Is this a process image, or is it
Then Longviews graphics designer does a new mock-up, including
the changes needed to resolve the problems uncovered in the team
meeting, and takes the results back to the customer. If
the customer isnt satisfied, we go back through that loop
again and again make changes, go back to the graphics team
meeting, manipulate the graphics, go back to the customer
until we get final approved art.
The entire process can take anywhere from two weeks, if all goes
smoothly, to two months. Stevenson adds, Well ship
your boxes two weeks from the day art work is approved.
Whats next for Longview
Despite the time and money invested in equipment and staffing
and developing the necessary procedures, Longview isnt finished
yet. The managers report that the company is committed to utilizing
the latest in printing technology in its container plants. Investments
in new equipment will continue as needed to maintain the highest
quality in corrugated board and printing.
Longview Fibre currently manufactures packaging for more than
200 wines at its three West Coast plants. Providing value-added
packaging for our customers, including the wine industry, is our
future, Wertheimer declares. Clearly, the company sees wine
shippers as an important niche market that it intends to aggressively