The global food industry finds itself in the midst of a battle. A battle that sees sustainability at the forefront and in many more ways than one.
The rise in global costs is having varying effects on the markets within consumer & retail. Within the food industry it brings it’s own unique challenges forcing shoppers to reassess their own personal balance between cost, environmental impact, origin, fresh vs frozen, nutrition, as well as where & when to shop. High inflation in the UK & Europe is driving more budget friendly product development, positioning and packaging design, with the US market showing signs of following suit, however at a smaller scale due to considerably lower inflation.
As a result, we’re successfully delivering more reactive and fast paced talent campaigns, with our clients looking to commission and complete projects within reduced timeframes, across all functions. For example, a UK Food Group briefed us on an urgent need for an NPD Technologist. As specialists, we presented a candidate from our network for interview and managed through to acceptance just 6 days after receiving the brief.
Our food practice have added further PSL agreements for three major UK food manufacturers, with a large number of roles available throughout Q3 and Q4 of 2023, including Engineering, Supply Chain, HR, Finance, Procurement, and Commercial. We have also been retained on a range of Executive roles with existing clients based in the UK and Europe, with headhunts ongoing.
The Commercial arm of our dedicated Food team is working with a number of high-growth SME’s, with a particular focus on building international sales teams to break into new territories. Our Finance specialists have also reported strong growth in their markets, supporting a number of new clients with multi-role team expansion and targeted market maps.
Many of the world’s major food groups have also continued to develop their long-term sustainability and environmental initiatives, including Nestle, Del Monte, and General Mills who aim to be net-zero by 2050 as well as PepsiCo and JBS by 2040.
At MacGregor Black, our global Food practice attended the Retail Supply Chain & Logistics Expo in London, consulting with a number of emerging brands in the market. In April, a selection of our dedicated team attended the Food & Drink Expo at the NEC Birmingham, to support a number of clients with upcoming projects, discuss future vacancies, and offer advice.
If you’d like to discuss our support on a current or future role, or are looking for your next career move, get in touch with our dedicated Food Practice today via firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling +44 (0)191 691 1949
Just a few short generations ago our planet’s natural resources seemed cheap, easy to acquire, and plentiful, with the consequences of our actions too often an afterthought. The hard truth is that the responsibility has fallen upon each one of us to make better decisions, as the choices we make in our everyday lives, known or unknown to us, have a cumulative impact on the world we live in.
Fast forward to present day and with the domino’s beginning to fall, the race to repair, redesign, and replace has begun.
With the combat against climate change now one of the most important conversations of our generation, a rising number of corporations have pledged to increase their sustainability efforts in the name of ‘going green’. But what does that really involve? How does a business ‘go green’? And why are some of our favourite household brands slow to following suit?
What does ‘Going Green’ really mean?
To understand what it takes for a business to go green, first we must understand what the term means. In short, when a company decides to ‘go green’ it means they are making a conscious effort to reduce/offset the negative impact their operations have on the environment.
Why Would a Business ‘Go Green’?
As mentioned in our last article, ‘MB Insights: Vertical Farming – Is the only way up?’, many of the earth’s natural resources are depleting. From the soil we plant in, to the fabrics we weave, it’s reported that there aren’t enough materials to sustain the population’s ever-growing demand for commerce. Therefore, aside from the main incentive of, sustaining the delicate ecosystem that is our planet, businesses are continuing to go green for a number of different reasons.
One reason for adopting a greener strategy is, for the cynics among us, because it’s expected of them. In 2021, Deloitte conducted a study to explore how consumers are adopting a more sustainable lifestyle and found that an overwhelming 61% of consumers had consciously reduced their usage of single use plastics. The study also revealed that nearly 1 in 3 consumers claimed to have stopped purchasing certain environmentally impactful brands or products entirely. A clear sign that a growing number of customers are judging their favourite brands, based upon their impact on the environment.
Studies have also shown that such practices aren’t just influencing our shopping habits. A further investigation revealed that 74% of employees interviewed, say their job is more fulfilling when they’re provided with the opportunity to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues. Evidence that developing a sustainability focused corporate social responsibility programme is not only directly influencing customers, but also candidates. So much so, that ‘going green’ is now one of the top five internal practices that encourages an positive corporate culture.
Going green isn’t just a positive change for the environment, it’s also good for your wallet! Although a number of large upfront costs are difficult to avoid, in the long-term, efficiency saves money. As companies look to reduce their energy consumption, minimise their use of wasted materials, and decrease their carbon footprint, with that eventually comes a reduction in operational costs. Not to mention the potential for a higher sales value, as consumers actively seek out ‘greener’ options.
But perhaps the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. With many complex moving parts, and a large initial outlay, there comes a reduction in available capital, which in turn brings risk, a dampened ability to react, and a potential need to reduce costs elsewhere. For example, people. Which raises the question. Would you begrudge your favourite company for choosing survival over sustainability?
As mentioned earlier, both consumers and employees are favouring businesses based on their environmental impact. Unfortunately, this leaves us with the opportunity for businesses to appear to be more climate conscious than they really are. Typically, these companies only one goal in mind…fattening their profits. When companies use ‘green’ as a status symbol, this is often referred to in the industry as ‘greenwashing’. A term coined in 1986 by environmentalist, Jay Westerveld. One such example of this is the oil giant, Chevron. With the release of their TV, radio, and print advertising campaign in the 1980’s, the company proudly declared its dedication to executing positive environmental practices. Yet in reality, they were regularly violating the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act bills, while continuing to ‘spill’ tons of oil into wildlife refuges.
Something brands should be wary of crossing is the thin line between promising eco-friendly practices and actually delivering on them. In a world where consumers increasingly demand accountability, it is all too easy for companies to accidently ‘greenwash’ their brand. Despite having the best initial intentions, situations like these arise as implementing a whole new sustainability strategy may not be a quick or smooth sailing process for some businesses. Ultimately leaving the company overwhelmed, underprepared and under-delivering on their promise.
Finally, big or small, it’s clear to see that businesses can benefit from being more eco-friendly. For those sitting on the fence, a tip in the right direction might now come in the form of legal and regulatory compliance standards. For example, the UK government has recently committed to achieving a net zero society by 2050. Something that can only be met with the uncompromised support of businesses across the country.
Is It Easy Being Green?
Is it easy being green?
If we were to ask Kermit the frog, the answer would be no.
If we were to ask the businesses out there that are making eco-friendly changes, the answer would probably still be no.
However, we’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘nothing good comes easy’ and it’s safe to say that although it may be tricky, making greener choices has its benefits. So, what are the choices that businesses have and how do they make them?
One of the first, and arguably most important things a business might look at when starting their sustainability journey, is reducing their carbon emissions output. There are many ways to do this, one of which is a business dialling back on the amount of energy it consumes, or its partners consume. For example, if there’s a piece of equipment, large or small, that can be swapped out for a more sustainable alternative, such as energy saving light bulbs, motion sensitive lighting and smart thermostats, make the change! Or perhaps powering operations with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, or trading petrol fuelled HGV’s for hybrid or fully electric fleet vehicles.
You know that meeting that definitely could have been an email, well… put it in an email! And if that can’t be done, switching to online meetings, or even offering a working from home option could not only this save businesses money, but also requires less travelling from the team– meaning less harm done to the planet – and… side bonus, no changing out of your PJ’s! As more and more people lean towards a remote/hybrid role, with sustainability (and PJ’s) being a huge factor in their decision, working from home is looking like it may be here to stay, with some businesses even claiming an increase in staff productivity as a result. According to a study performed by global job site, Indeed, searches for remote work have increased by more than 500% since February 2020, and job postings mentioning remote work have increased by 180%, now totalling 10% of all job posts on the site. Of course, this has been heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, which could also be another key driver in the demand for increased climate consciousness, with many people believing the lockdown gave the planet ‘a break’ from human interaction.
In order to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of the future, not only do we need to improve sustainability in the workplace, but we also need to review and improve on the products being produced, including how they’re packaged. Many organisations are already making huge strides towards combating this issue, such as the global home, gift, and party accessories specialists, Talking Tables. Founded in London in 1999 by Clare Harris, with the ethos of bringing people together around the table, Talking Tables is a clear example of a company that truly takes responsibility for the impact their operations have on the planet. With sustainability at the heart of their brand, supporting the planet through their business success was a natural step for Talking Tables, who are keen to lead by example.
One of the first things the company wanted to improve on was their packaging. In particular, reducing the ‘P’ word, plastic. With packaging becoming a prime focal point for those that wish to be more conscious of their personal environmental impact, a great start to becoming more sustainable is swapping out plastic packaging for natural, biodegradable, or recycled alternatives. And so that’s exactly what Talking Tables did. After thorough research, the brand now packages most of their paper tableware products, such as paper plates and napkins, in card-based packaging. Producing an effective, attractive, and recyclable alternative. Along-side cardboard, another alternative is compostable packaging, which can be made entirely of bio-based polymers and non-toxic wheat or corn materials. However, Talking Tables avoided the use of bio-based polymers, such as PLA, due to fact that there’s a limited amount of bio plastic recycling facilities in the UK and an increased risk of potential contamination to plastic recycling streams.
Once their packaging got the ‘green’ light, Talking Tables were able to look at the overall design of their product and how they can make their range eco-friendlier. For those of us with a house party or two under our belts, or for the American Pie fans out there, the famous red party cup is legendary. But what most consumers don’t realise is that the well-known cups, aren’t quite as much fun for the planet. In-fact, most party cups contain an inner plastic lining that means they can’t be recycled and could even take a whopping 1,000 years to decompose. An issue that Talking Tables had to address. Thankfully, not only have they successfully created the world’s first recyclable party cup but have also taken further steps towards a ‘plastic-free’ status across 95% of their product roll out, as well has having launched a range of home compostable napkins.
In the case of Talking Table’s, a key factor to their success has been partnering with the right suppliers. A practice that a number of multinational corporations have adopted, pledging to only work with suppliers that adhere to social and environmental standards, who in turn must expect the same from their suppliers. Therefore, creating a cascade of sustainable practices that flow smoothly throughout the supply chain. Ironically, one of the most prominent difficulties issues suppliers currently face, is automation. The more a supply chain is designed for mass production, the more likely it is that it’s automated, therefore the more difficult it is to make small changes to that cycle. As a result, some companies turn to overseas suppliers that use less automated equipment, although this still leaves them with the issue of transporting the goods across larger areas, which ultimately tips the scales back toward increasing their carbon emissions output. Therefore, cultivating loyal relationships with local suppliers becomes hugely important when it comes to relying on them for support when making changes.
Talking Tables’ Director of Supply Chain, Daniel Fagan, comments on the need to build long-lasting relationships with reliable suppliers and how this affected their environmental goals:
“When looking at the sustainability of our products and packaging, we found that one of the most important things to us was collaborating with the right suppliers. Over the years we’ve built long-lasting relationships with our partners, some of which we’ve worked with for over 10 years, and when the time came to looking at our collective environmental impact, everyone was all too happy to help. I think these trusting relationships and the loyalty we’ve built with them have played a huge part in the support we’ve had during our sustainability mission.”.
To work out exactly how they were impacting the environment, Talking Tables sent out detailed surveys to their suppliers, asking about their waste management, their use of hazardous materials and chemicals (if any), and any other impacts they may be having on the planet.
“From there, we worked hand-in-hand with our partners to make improvements and set action plans for our operations moving forward. Every two years, we hold a suppliers’ conference, as well as regular workshop sessions to keep everyone on the same page. As sustainability isn’t always at the forefront of supplier’s minds and they can often face issues like rising material costs, transport issues and high shipping costs, it’s up to businesses like us to drive the mission by supporting them through the process and keep them wanting to support us on our journey.” Said Daniel.
We asked Daniel, if he was to offer a piece of advice to businesses going green, what would it be?
“As well as being really passionate about my role, a key thing for Talking Tables is that a lot of the energy and drive around sustainability has come from the founders, Clare, and Mark. They are truly invested in wanting to make a change and for any company wanting to go green, you have to have the buy in from the top.”
“For us, what worked really well was breaking down everything we planned to do. Each year we’ve set specific pillars of strategy, with sustainability being one of them, and within that we built out all the key areas we want to go for that year. Whether that be a target on reducing the percentage of plastic we have in our products, or on boarding new or recycled materials. I think breaking it down annually, then breaking that down again to around 90 days helped us put it all in a digestible format and made it easier to communicate to the wider team.”
After chatting with Talking Tables, we can all rest easy knowing that there are businesses out there with a true passion and commitment to combating climate change. So much so, that Talking Tables are even on track to becoming officially B Corp Certified. A designation that signifies they are ‘leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy’. A clear statement that the brand continues to invest in social and environmental practices, even offering all team members two volunteer days, a wellness budget and funding towards any training they wish to complete.
As you’ve probably worked out, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to a business going green. The whole process depends on whether the sustainability changes being made are affordable, accessible, manageable, and dependable. All of which can be difficult to achieve for certain types of businesses but is vital to the longevity of our existence. At some point in the cycle, the responsibility also falls upon consumers to take accountability and make greener choices.
However, with companies like Talking tables pioneering advancements in sustainability, there’s certainly hope for a greener future.
The rest they say… is up to us.
If you would like to speak with our team of dedicated Gifting & Accessories specialists, contact us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at email@example.com
To many of us, bees are simply seen as striped honey-making machines, that buzz around our gardens during the summer. However, our airborne accomplices actually play a much more important role in maintaining the planet than we may initially think.
Bees are the pollinators of crops, producers of honey, and pioneers in digital advancement, with some engineers even attempting to emulate their impressive swarm intelligence in today’s technology.
In light of ‘World Bee Day’, MacGregor Black dives deeper into the busy life of the beloved bee, exploring their enormous impact on the world around us.
Let the Truth Bee Told…
With the two most well-known species of honeybee and bumblebee often stealing the limelight, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there are actually over 25,000 different types of bees (which just so happens to be the same number of bee-related puns we’ve worked into this article…)! All of which belong to the insect or Super-Family ‘Apoidea’, which also includes Wasps, from which bees are believed to be descended from… but we don’t hold that against them.
The fact is bees contribute to our eco system in many amazing ways. With one of their most important contributions being, pollination. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, approximately 80% of all flowering plants are pollinated mostly by insects, with birds, bats and bees being ranked as extra important due to their ability to pollinate on such a large scale.
But what makes bees in particular such good mass pollinators? The answer to this question lies in a set of physical features that, in comparison to other animals and insects, gives our fuzzy friends an unexpected edge.
Firstly, they have tiny strands of hair all over their bodies, legs and even eyes, which the plant pollen sticks to and as a result, is shuttled around from flower to flower. These millions of little hairs are extremely important to bees, as they also help with regulating their temperature and detecting vibrations in the atmosphere. Isn’t that the bee’s knees! Secondly, the shape and size of their bodies plays a vital role in pollination, as they’re able to squish inside even the tiniest and most delicate of flowers.
Another factor in the bee’s brilliant ability to mass pollinate is the fact their lives actually depend on it. Honey made from plant pollen and nectar is the main source of protein that bees consume, and they need a strong amount of it in their systems to cope with the rearing of broods and the continued development of their sophisticated colonies.
It’s not just the bee-autiful flowers in our gardens that benefit from bees, many of our favourite fruits and vegetables like, broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, and strawberries, also rely on the pollination of bees, and since cultivated plants like these are an extremely important income to farmers, some are even partnering with beekeepers for support with targeted crop pollination. In fact, about one third of everything we eat globally has been pollinated by bees or other animals, and it’s even been recorded that some bees have been seen to travel a whopping 5-6 miles a day in the process! It’s also interesting to note that, in recent years, with more and more people are opting for a plant-based diet, what we eat being pollinated mainly by bees begins to hold a lot more significance.
These hard-working furry invertebrates have been around for millions of years, not only leading the way in the pollination of flowers, fruit, and vegetables, but also producing the delicious golden delicacy that we all know and love, honey.
“Honey, I’m home!”
As you read this, billions of bees all around the world are busy gathering precious nectar, flying it back to their colonies, and turning it into sweet, sticky honey to see them through the winter. But how does this popular sugary treat make it from their hives to our homes?
Once the flower nectar is gathered, it’s broken down into simple sugars and stored carefully inside the honeycomb. The design and shape of the honeycomb, accompanied by the constant fanning of tiny bees’ wings, causes evaporation inside the hive, resulting in the thick gooey liquid delight that is honey. Luckily for us, bees usually produce more honey than necessary for their hive, meaning beekeepers can harvest and bottle it without impacting the colonies overall food supply. It’s said that on average, a hive will produce a whopping 55 pounds of surplus honey each year!
When ready, beekeepers will harvest the honey by collecting the honeycomb frames, removing the protective wax cap that bees make to seal off the honey, and placing the frames into an extractor. The extractor then rapidly spins the honeycomb, forcing out all the honey in the process. After it’s extracted, the honey is strained to remove any remaining wax or particles.
After straining, it’s then time for the honey to be bottled, labelled, placed on shop shelves, and spread straight across our morning slice of toast. If the honey is pure, not one single additional ingredient is added from bee, to hive, to bottle. It’s also fascinating to note that the taste and look of honey all depends on the type of nectar the bees are collecting. For example, honey made from orange blossom nectar has a zesty kick and can even be lighter in colour, whereas honey from avocado or wildflower nectar can have a darker, more amber colouring to it.
To Bee or Not to Bee?
Beekeeping by nature, surprisingly, doesn’t need a huge investment, large amounts of land or even a complicated technical knowledge. Yet like most other livestock sectors, beekeeping still comes with its fair share of challenges.
One of the largest threats to the beekeeping industry is unfortunately, species decline. When researchers analysed bee records collated by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility from museums, universities, and citizen scientists, they found that there’s been a steep decline in bee species recorded since 1990. In fact, there were approximately 25% fewer species reported between 2006 and 2015 than before the 1990’s. Beekeepers also face a range of other constraints that can contribute to species decline, such as bee pests and predators, the misuse of pesticides and herbicides, bee diseases, colony absconding and a shortage of resources.
However, despite the many challenges that beekeepers have to overcome, the honey industry is currently buzzing. Research from a study conducted by the University of California Agriculture found that in the US alone, the honey industry is responsible for over 22,000 jobs and in 2020, the global honey market was estimated to be valued at just over $8 billion US dollars, which is expected to rise to over $10 billion US dollars by 2026.
Beauty is in the eye of the Bee-holder
Cleopatra, a woman highly renowned for her mesmerising beauty, was known to regularly bathe in milk and honey, helping her maintain her youthful glow. Throughout history, ancient Greek women lathered their faces in honey and olive oil to keep their skin looking as radiant as the infamous Helen of Troy. Queen Elizabeth the 1st, a beauty icon to Elizabethan women, used honey, lemon juice and rosewater as an effective remedy for spots and blemishes. As far back as the days of Tudor England, mythical Greece, and even ancient Egypt, the beauty enhancing qualities of honey have been documented and well utilised by some of history’s most famous faces.
Although we’re far from the days of bathing in milk and honey, today, honey can still be found in most of our much-loved modern-day cosmetics. According to a study conducted by Mintel, a huge 75% of us are likely to use cosmetics containing honey in our every-day lives. From glossy hair conditioners to silky face creams, this natural ingredient has remained a firm fan favourite throughout the decades.
To some, such uses of honey may be surprising, however it’s remained so popular in the cosmetics and healthcare industries because honey and its extracts, like royal jelly, are high in antioxidants and nutrients. Some honey variants, like Manuka honey, have even been proven to contain high levels of antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties.
To learn more about the mystical range of qualities possessed by Manuka honey, MacGregor Black sat down with Darren Robinson, Commercial Director at Steens Honey, New Zealand’s leading producer of high-grade, raw, unpasteurised Manuka honey.
“What can you tell us about Steens?”
Steens was started by Paul and Sheryl Steens because they wanted to pursue their passion for bringing a better-quality Manuka honey to the market. Both Paul and Sheryl have been beekeeping for over 34 years, so they know a thing or two about honey, and Steens itself currently manages over 10,000 hives across some of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand.
To sum it up, what we do is produce and sell some of the finest raw and unpasteurised Manuka honey, straight from New Zealand.
“What makes Manuka honey so special?”
Manuka honey is truly a unique product and one of the most incredible things that nature provides. It’s made from bees who have fed only from the Manuka bush, which is unique to New Zealand’s rich native forests and is the vital ingredient in taking honey from a natural sweetener, to so much more. The Manuka plant only flowers for six days a year at the height of summer and it takes 12 bees to make a single teaspoon of honey in their lifetime, so it’s all hands-on deck as soon as the plant is ready. We have land teams on standby that notify us when the plant flowers, and we move in as quickly as possible to harvest the pure Manuka honey, sometimes even using a helicopter for efficiency.
We position our hives in some of the most remote parts of New Zealand to make sure the honey isn’t congested with any other type of flower nectar, and to also support the natural economy of the area. When it’s harvesting time, we’ll leave enough honey in the hives, or replace it with a different honey to keep the bees happy and healthy.
“How do you determine that your Manuka Honey is actually Manuka Honey?”
Good quality Manuka honey isn’t just made in New Zealand, it’s also tested there before it leaves the country to confirm its genuine and pure quality Manuka honey. When testing, what we’re looking for is the presence of key signature markers like MGO, Leptosperin and NPA, which are only found in high-quality Manuka honey from New Zealand. All of the Manuka honey made by Steens is UMF Certified, meaning it’s been through the complete advanced testing procedure, and each one of our jars can actually be traced with a code to ensure its authenticity.
“Is it true that Manuka honey has ‘magical’ qualities?”
Well, yes. You could say that!
Manuka honey is probably most renowned for its wound-healing capabilities. Similar to Savlon, it’s been approved in children’s hospitals because of its anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. It also holds special value to me because I use it to combat the symptoms of my diverticulosis. Which is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about working with Steens. I can truly say our product is out in the world, making a difference.
Well, there you have it!
Beyond its sweet, sticky deliciousness, honey has a whole host of beneficial properties, and as more and more people play closer attention to the ingredients in their products, the demand for this natural resource is only set to rise.
All of which can be accredited to one very small, but mighty friend of ours… the bee.
Once dubbed, ‘the juice of the gods’ and given its own official deity, wine has been a well-enjoyed beverage for thousands of years. From the range of alcoholic drinks in circulation today, arguably none have impacted society in quite the same way. The history books show that this much-cherished drink has bridged the gap between ancient cultures, opened up channels for philosophical ideas to spread across Europe and even played a key role in the evolution of worship.
And so… in celebration of Wine Day 2022, MacGregor Black explores the rich history of wine. From how it’s produced, to the popular variations we know today, and how they could be changing for modern wine-lovers all over the world.
Where Does Wine Come From?
Unfortunately, no one can be 100% certain about the exact origins of wine. As with any new innovation, as it journeyed across cities, countries and continents, the birthplace slowly became more story than substance. Fast forward to today and there equally as many new theories as old as to where this beloved beverage began its journey.
If we were to turn to Greek mythology, it’s said that Dionysus, the son of Zeus and ‘God of Wine’, invented wine whilst living among ancient mythological creatures called Nymphs. As much as we’d like to close the age-old case of ‘who did it first’, it’s likely that grape culture, or viticulture, outdates Greek civilisation itself.
If we turn to archaeology, recent discoveries suggest that the earliest known ancient wine production evidence dates between 6,000 BC and 4,000 BC during the Neolithic era, with winery sites, grape residue or clay jars being discovered in Georgia, Iran, and Egypt. However, some researchers argue that the earliest evidence of a non-grape-based drink, often compared to wine, was found in ancient China as far back as 7000 BC and was made from fermented rice, honey, and fruit.
Many people believe that wine is central to civilisation as we know it in the west. We use it as a medicine, a means of celebration, a social lubricant, a religious symbol, and last but certainly not least, to unwind after a long day at work. Whilst we can’t say exactly where it originated, we do know that we have sea-fairing civilisations such as the ancient Phoenicians to thank for spreading wine throughout much of the Mediterranean, along with olive oil, the alphabet and glass! The Phoenicians shared their understanding of viticulture and winemaking to several world-renowned wine-producing nations such as, Spain, France, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Portugal to name a few. Not only that, but the Phoenicians also had a direct influence on the expanding winemaking cultures of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which would later spread their understanding of viticulture across the rest of Europe.
Although we can’t say with certainty where wine began, one thing we can be certain of is that we all owe our well-deserved appreciation for wine to one single plant. The grape vine.
As there are many different variations of wine, you’ve probably guessed that there are also many different variations of grape. In fact, there are over 10,000 different species in existence today, with the majority of the world’s wine stemming from just one. Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris. Over the course of its ancient existence, and as early humans spread the desire for high-quality wine to varied climates across the globe, the Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris grape vine mutated and evolved to adapt to small variations in its new home. All culminating in the rich variety of grapes we know today, and hence why we’re lucky to have so many different delicious wines! Unfortunately, in more recent years, such high demand for particular wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, has led to a decrease in the world’s natural grape diversity. As many regions join the race to produce in line with demand, many vineyards have begun digging out their niche, native vines in favour of more mainstream varieties.
How Was Ancient Wine Made?
Whether it be a thousand years ago or this very evening to celebrate US National Wine Day, the process of turning grapes into wine is as impressive as ever. With modern-day technology playing its part in providing us with a smoother and safer drinking experience.
For ancient cultures to produce wine, workers would spend long, exhausting hours harvesting ripened grapes. Followed by pouring them into a large open top vat, with some opting to leave the grapes to dry in the sun beforehand in order to concentrate their flavour. Then comes the part many of us have seen and heard about. They would use their bare feet to repeatedly crush the grapes, producing enough pressure to both release tannins throughout the wine and break the skin encasing the grape. Yet, just enough pressure to preserve the seed inside, as breaking this would leave the wine tasting bitter.
After hitting their step count for the day, the liquid was then left to settle for a period of time while native yeasts converted the sugars in the grapes into alcohol, leading to the fermentation process, with some cultures then adding a variety of spices to sweeten the taste. Over the ages, many civilisations have fine-tuned their methods. The ancient Greeks invented a winepress to crush the grapes, followed by the Romans later using barrels and other techniques that helped them produce greater volumes at a quicker pace and lower cost.
With a limited drinks on the menu at the time, often including fruit juice, goats’ milk, or stagnant water, it should come as no surprise that some ancient cultures even chose to sweeten their foul-tasting water with wine. In fact, wine provided not only flavour but a safer and more sanitary drinking option for many. Although even our ancestors had to learn to pace themselves, with excess consumption leading to… well you know the rest. And so, it was common to also add water to wine thus avoiding over intoxication. So much so, that in some cultures drinking undiluted wine was considered scandalous and some Jewish Rabbis would even refuse to bless ceremonial wine if it hadn’t been first mixed with water.
Wine & Religion
Throughout time, wine has played an integral role in the course of human history as we know it, with religion being no exception. Where some religions, such as Islam, forbid the drinking of alcohol, others like Christianity and Judaism have been known to use wine as a ceremonial symbol. In fact, the Christian church may well be the ones to thank for improving the tase of ancient wine, as it’s recorded that around the sixth century, priests, monks and nuns cultivated vineyards in areas that weren’t as familiar with every-day wine drinking, which largely increased production and ultimately improved wine knowledge.
From the Old World to the New
Following its unrivalled popularity, grape culture and winemaking was quickly transported from the Old World to the New and unsurprisingly many different cultures have since attempted to perfect the process.
Fast forward to today and you’ll be pleased to learn that the wine we drink now differs largely from the wine shared amongst our ancestors. For example, in comparison to today, ancient wines certainly packed a little extra punch. Converting them into today’s metrics, they were likely as high as 15% or even 20% ABV. Hence the rather wise desire to water them down. However, the most notable difference between ancient and modern-day wines are the preservation efforts. The modern bottles we use today help in protecting and preserving the quality of wine for many years to come, whereas many ancient wines we’re quickly spoiled by regular exposure to Oxygen. Thus, forcing Vintners to preserve them with resin, which unfortunately often compromised the wine inside, making it thick and sticky.
Now they say not to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of wine, there’s a lot to be said for the bottle labels…
When ancient Egyptians dominated the wine trade, even sending King Tutankhamen to the afterlife with over 26 bottles of the stuff! an issue began to arise around how to determine a bottle of wine’s origin. And so, the wine label was born. Appearing to date back as far as 1550 BC, or maybe even further, seals and etchings were placed on bottles as a way to simplify trade, but also to signify the date, type, and quality of wine.
By the 18th century, the wine trade was booming, and etched labels had become a thing of the past, replaced with bottle labels that were printed on parchment and tied to bottlenecks with string, much like the hanging tags we sometimes still see today. Fast forward to 1798 and thanks to the invention of the lithograph, bottle labels could now be printed in mass. This in turn brought with it new innovations in in design bringing bright colours and an emphasis on artistic design to the forefront. Today, this same practice has reached far and wide from the simple wine bottle, now extending to print media as we know it.
In the 20th century, far from the days of clay jars and oak barrels, an Australian winemaker called Thomas Angove filed a patent in 1965 for what would later be known as bag-in-box-wine. The design was actually based off a very similar product already on the market, which was a bag in a box used by mechanics to transfer battery acid. With Angove’s new design, consumers were required to cut the corner of the bag, pour out the wine and seal it with a special peg. In 2010, the Scandinavian state institutions, Systembolaget and Vinmonopolet analysed the environmental impact of various wines, finding that bag-in-box packaging generated up to 90% less carbon than bottled wine. Not to mention the fact that, since the wine is removed from the flexible bag without adding much air to fill the remining space, it greatly reduces oxidation, ultimately keeping your wine fresh for longer!
It’s clear to see why the method is very much being carried on today by companies like Laylo, manufacturers of Premium boxed Wines.
Co-Founder of Laylo, Laura Riches, commented:
“The reason we chose to box our wine, rather than bottle it, comes down to three factors. One, the wine stays fresher for longer, and as I’m a personal fan of the odd glass of wine whilst cooking, it meant that I could open a box and keep it for up to 6 weeks after. Secondly, sustainability. As you’ve mentioned, boxed wine generates up to 90% less carbon and our product can actually be 100% recycled through our ‘return by post’ scheme. Lastly, here at Laylo we love telling stories and people love to know more about the history of the wine they’re drinking, and since there’s 6 faces on the box, that gives us plenty of freedom to do that.”
We asked Laura, how is it that boxed wine generates less carbon than bottled wine?
“When making wine bottles, there’s actually a huge amount of energy that goes into that process, not to mention the amount of energy it takes to transport wine bottles. If you were to weigh a bottle of wine, the bottle itself actually accounts for a large portion of that quantity and their awkward shape often means they’re packed using lots of plastic to keep them safe during transport. At Laylo, we actually ship our product to the UK in large containers, then package it from there to reduce the amount of transport required, ultimately reducing emissions.”
Whether you’re a history buff, a wine connoisseur, or just brushing up ahead of your next vineyard visit, knowing how various cultures have produced and used wine since it began will without doubt enhance your appreciation for the brilliant beverage. From the first flowering grape vine to the beautiful boxes by Laylo, wine is far more than just fermented grapes, it’s a journey through history that you can savour with every sip.