Here’s Why You’re Seeing More Spirits in Different Bottle Sizes

Photography of orange backlit alcohol bottles.
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When Simon Ford, founder of London-based Ford’s Gin, set out to release a limited-edition sloe gin bottling, he didn’t expect to be able to release it worldwide—because he didn’t plan to bottle it twice.

At first, he anticipated bottling the plum-infused gin in 750ml bottles, the standard size accepted by the U.S., even though Europe and most other markets use 700ml bottles. “It’s a giant investment for a small company to have two sizes of glass [bottles],” he explains. That would have left most smaller markets out of the launch.

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But in December 2020, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) expanded “standard of fill” regulations for wine and distilled spirits available in the U.S., including 700ml bottles for spirits. And when Ford’s Sloe Gin debuted in 2022, it was bottled in the 700ml size.

Over the past year and half, a small but growing number of bottles in these newly-approved sizes have begun to appear on U.S. shelves. U.S. consumers can expect to see more ahead—and inside many of those bottles, a broader array of wine and spirits that have never made their way to the U.S. before.

What changed and why?

The final rule added seven new container sizes. For distilled spirits, that includes 700ml, 720ml, 900ml and 1.8 liters (in addition to previous container sizes, which include 50ml, 100ml, 200ml, 375ml, 750ml, 1 liter and 1.75 liters).

For wine, that includes 200ml, 250ml and 375ml, in addition to an already broad range of sizes ranging from 50ml to 3 liters, plus larger quantities packaged in even liter sizes (4 liters, 5 liters, etc.). There are no standards of fill for malt beverages.

Designed to provide bottlers with flexibility, facilitate domestic and international sales, and provide broader purchasing options to consumers, the revised law also opens the door for American distilleries to produce 700ml bottles for export markets (as well as for sale in the U.S.) for the first time, although adoption has been slow so far.

Meanwhile, it’s been a particular boon for small independent bottlers and distilleries seeking to export products to the U.S.—and sometimes elsewhere, as in Ford’s case.

“It’s been restrictive for smaller companies,” Ford notes. “Now, there are so many good advantages for smaller companies to bring their products to market.”

Expanded options for importers

Raj Sabharwal, founding partner of Glass Revolution Imports, was among those eagerly anticipating expanded bottle sizes for spirits.

His initial test-run was an import of Blackadder 15-year Panama rum. Since then, he’s also imported 700ml sizes of Murray McDavid and Lady of the Glen Scotches, English single malt whiskies from London’s Bimber Distillery and, most recently, Renegade Rum.

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At Bimber, for example, only two of its 20-plus single malts are bottled in 750ml sizes because the extra bottling run “would be too much of a pain,” Sabharwal says. Now, more of its portfolio can be exported here, with the addition of a U.S.-compliant label. And if demand is high, it’s also easier to re-stock.

“I get more options and opportunities for what we import,” he explains. “we’re not constrained by having to dictate, we’ll take 10 cases of this in 750ml and we can’t get anything more after that. It gives me greater scope in depth and breadth of our product lines.”

The switch can also help ease supply chain-related issues, he adds: on a global basis, far more 700-ml bottles are produced than 750-ml counterparts.

How to combat perception of “shrinkflation?”

One potential challenge: convincing American consumers that slightly smaller bottle sizes aren’t the result of “shrinkflation,” the practice of reducing the size or quantity of a product while keeping the price the same (or higher).

Yet, smaller bottle sizes may not automatically equal smaller prices. Even advocates like Sabwarhal, who had announced intent to “keep prices 6% lower than a 750ml” in January 2021, when his first 700ml label was approved by the TTB, note that steep increases in shipping costs and raw materials (like glass) may prevent that from happening.

“We’re paying four times more than we were three years ago for a bottle, and it takes longer to get there,” he explains. However, “Most people are aware of the impact of shipping costs on everything; it’s not limited to the drinks industry.”

Will standards of fill be eliminated?

What’s next? The TTB is exploring a more comprehensive proposal to add even more sizes, specifically for wine, or eliminate all standard sizes, except for a minimum size for wine and a minimum and maximum size for distilled spirits. The proposal also refers to distilled spirits in metal containers, specifically cans “that cannot be readily reclosed after opening,” in addition to bottles. The comment period for the proposal ended in July; a final decision is slated for May 2023.

If this proposal goes through, it will please those like Gordon Little—owner of Little Peacock Imports, which specializes in products made in Australia—who would like to see an even more expanded range of bottle sizes and shapes.

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For example, while the 2020 expansion has enabled 50ml mini-bottles for import, now the smallest sample size for spirits, some producers would love to bring in 40ml and 30ml bottles to include in boozy Advent calendars or promotional offerings.

“I think there should be lots more sizing available,” Little says.Every other product can come in its own size, why are we disallowing that with alcohol?”

Published on September 19, 2022
Topics: Latest News