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Welcome to Sustainable Packaging with Cory Connors. Today's guest is Rowina Curlewis. She's the c e o and Co-founder of Denomination. How are you, Rowina?Rowena Curlewis:
I'm very well. Thanks, Corey. Very well indeed.Cory Connors:
And you. Doing great. Thanks for making time for us all the way from, the other side of the world there in, Sydney, Australia. really appreciate you. it's all the way the next day there, and that's so fascinating for me to see. It's evening here and you're at nine 30 in the morning and, it just love how. Small this world has become with Zoom meetings and things like that, soRowena Curlewis:
that's nice. Oh, it's fantastic. And you live in one of my favorite cities in the world in, in Portland, Oregon. So I'm kind of envious that you're there.Cory Connors:
Well, we'll have to trade for a while cuz that Okay, neat. A neat vacation for both of us. Perfect. let's talk about your background a little bit. what got you to start this company and, be in charge of it?Rowena Curlewis:
Yeah, so we started the business 21 years ago, next May. And with my business partner, Margaret Nolan, who's, this wonderful creative genius and myself started the business with, With babies in arms. My eldest was about four months old, so we were absolutely crazy. But we started this business, knowing that we wanted to do things a little bit differently to, some of the businesses that we'd been in before. So one of the things we wanted to do differently was, Was be a specialist and to be a specialist in the drinks category. So it had been an area that both Margaret and myself had worked in, in, in various companies, and we knew that's where. How passions li lay. we just loved it. I'm from a farming background, so I love the agricultural side of, of making drinks, be it, spirits, beer, cider or wine. And, and my, my partner had worked. In the UK for a really long time on single malt whiskeys and champagnes and ports and so forth. So we sort of brought that collective passion together to create our business. We are a bit unusual too, in that we are two female co-founders and leaders. And unfortunately we are still a minority in that, in that fact. It is getting better than man. It's slow.Cory Connors:
Right. Yeah. Well that's very impressive to hear, you know, starting a family and a business at the same time. Incredible. hats off to you and your co-founder that. I absolutely love to hear that kind of a story. I interviewed, my friend Laura Botta, who, is the c e o of a company. and she told me the story of her grandmother starting her packaging company during the war and Wow. out of their basement. And so when I hear the stories of, of female founders in overcoming adversity, I'm just so impressed. So well done.Rowena Curlewis:
Thanks, Curry. That's very kind. We're here to support you. So that's how we started the business. And we've just grown very organically since then. We obviously started in Sydney, and then we opened up our London studio in 2014 to service our European clients. And then we opened our office in California in, 2018, and that's now based just outside in the Bay Area in Emeryville. So, yeah, so we are kind of, you know, we're spamming lots of different wine and spirits drinking regions in the world.Cory Connors:
So that's a, that's an interesting segue. So tell us a little bit about what you, what your company focuses on drink packaging. So, wine, spirits, All kinds of beverages, allRowena Curlewis:
kinds of alcoholic beverages. Having said that, the non out space is growing. Yes. But we're kinda coming at that from an alcohol, lens. So doing non out wines, gins. You know, different spirits, beers, et cetera. So you know, we do see that non out component to continue to drive, but it will be sort of related to that traditional alcohol experience or occasion. So that's where we can apply our insights and our knowledge on continued behavior. Into that emerging category. So yeah, so we just do alcohol and what it's meant for us and ultimately for our clients is that we really understand the category in depth, right? So we know about distribution models, we know about competitive movements, we know about how consumers purchase alcohol and the differences in the similarities between major, Major drinking regions. And we understand how luxury works. And at the end of the day, most alcohol is a luxury. It doesn't really matter what price point you are, you are able to indulge in, but it's always a luxury. It's always a treat to yourself, and to your friends. So, so we sort of understand how. Consumers behave in that area and what some of the opportunities and challenges we have.Cory Connors:
Yeah. And your firm, designs and, procures packaging for these brands, you're supplying the, it's a one-stop shop for the wholeRowena Curlewis:
thing. So, no, we don't do any procurement as such. So we, are responsible for, often the strategic positioning of the brand. So where it is, maybe where it needs to move to in light of, you know, global trends that brand needs to, Be across and be in tune with. And we also do then moving on the brand identity and the brand packaging. Cuz obviously the pack is your core piece of advertising you have in the hand at all times. and then, and then we also do all of those visual touch points around the brand. So, Be that point of sale websites, social media content, that kind of thing, beauty, photography goes on and on. But all of those sort of visual touch points so that when you experience a brand, there is this real synergy between all of the different executions of that particular brand. And that's where we stop. We pass on to our suppliers to provide the glass and the labels and, you know, this cartons and the, you know, web backend and all of that sort of stuff. So there's a whole kind of array of suppliers, that we, have built fantastic relationships with over the past 20 odd years.Cory Connors:
that's really interesting and very insightful into the space because I agree, spirits and alcohol packaging is very specific. Yeah. And you know, for a while there we were doing, cans here in the northwest and. it's, it's not easy, that's for sure. But, yes. Orora is Orora my parent company is very famous for their beverage packaging, number one, wine bottle manufacturer there in Australia, and, aluminum cans. And, but let's talk about the way that we found each other was through your very famous, creation, which is, for packaging for Crate. Wine. Tell us about that. How did that come about? And tell the audience what it is.Rowena Curlewis:
Yeah. Well, it's, Crate is generating a lot of discussion, everywhere. So, we have, one of our clients is very into sustainability. He has literally every brand that we've either developed for him or, Who repositioned for him has sustainability at its core. And so that, that really goes from vineyard management's, you know, the fruit that he's sourcing right through to wine making, packaging and beyond. We've done some brands like Tread Softly, which is available in the us through Whole Foods. And that was a su that was an early sort of sustainable brand. That was, a really interesting pack. But also we were plant, they were plant a tree for every case that was sold. So last October they planted their millionth tree. So in, in just a very short space of three years, they've really, really had this sort of, blockbuster brand based in sustainability. So with Crate, we wanted to take that a step further. So, so the client's brief was pretty simple to us. It was like, I want to spend. All this is not a great brief for a packaging designer. But anyway, so that I wanna spend all my money on the fruit, what actually goes into the bottle, and give consumers a high quality, sustainably produced brand that has sustainability at its core. Like, how can we minimize packaging in order to minimize our footprint? So, We went about that, in a very kind of systematic way. So, just as a sidebar, we spend a lot of time, training our staff in sustainability. So this has been a three and a half year journey. We have external, Consultants and advisors and trainers that come in and train our staff every two weeks, our core sustainability team. And then every two months, our entire business is trained in sustainability. So for us, it's actually, something that we are thinking about all the time for every project, but for this, it just meant that we had a deep bench knowledge that we could then. Pull upon to do this. So one of the first things we decided was okay, if we look at. A pack. Do we actually need a label? Is there a way you need a vessel to contain the liquid and you need a casual to seal it? Is there any way that we can get rid of a label? Because when you get rid of a label, you get rid of. Paper, you get rid of a whole lot of chemicals, bleach, et cetera, that goes into making that paper. you reduce the water, and we all know water usage for labels is extensive. Then there's a whole lot of blue and adhesives and other chemicals. The fact that you then, you know, the paper, label. It's on a p e t backing, and so you've got plastic involved. So if you just remove that paper and that label, you are actually removing a whole lot of different, parts of the production chain. Then we move to the bottle. How can we actually make use, like get the most sustainable glass bottle available? So, As you would know at Orora, in fact, we did get the bottles through you, so Oh, wow. So when you're changing tanks from. An arctic blue glass into a French green glass. there is this process while one tank empties and the other fills that, that you'll get this kind of oddly colored glass as it sort of transitions from one to the other. Now, normally, because these, tanks are so huge, it's like a two day production of this glass that is kind of a bit odd. What we did was to say, well, that normally is waste, right? Normally Orora and other glass manufacturers will then crush that and recycle it, put it back through, so it is recycled, but there's a whole lot of energy that's wasted, right? You've got the energy that's wasted, produce it, and then you've got more energy to crush and, recycle. So if you can actually make use of that waste product, you are actually again doing the world and our climate a favor. So we put in a very lightweight mold, the lightest weight possible and used, that transition glass so that we're utilizing a waste resource. That's awesome. So that was the second thing that we did. And then the third, which was the really challenging thing is how do you get. Your brands, some brand commentary, all of your Aries, your barcode, and a QR code on a tiny little space up on the capsule, right? And so, and so we, because we are drinks designers and typography is incredibly important for drinks, we have some incredibly talented designer. who just like a little Tetris puzzle, just mixed them all around until you had this very kind of harmonious design that looked like it was a quality piece of design, even though it had all this stuff on it. And then the, that came with it. we then were very, we used a hundred percent recycled curtains, no liner on it, and then we just used a simple two color print that was actually just very clearly stating to consumers what we were doing. No labels, no adhesives, no blue, you know, Lightweight glass and so that we're not green washing, we're actually being really transparent with the consumers so that they can make their mind up as to, you know, whether that's something that is, I don't know, appealing to them.Cory Connors:
I think it's a, it's an amazing insight into the concept of totally sustainable packaging. you know, you've light weighted the glass. I know Aurora's factories are incredibly efficient, sustain in sustainability wise. we're real leaders for that in the industry. And then you take, and you don't put a label on it and then you know, there's no glue, there's no paper, there's no adhesive, like you said. I think that's awesome. And it's totally stands out on the shelf. Why not having a label? You know, the absence of, artwork, you know, sometimes screams the loudest and yeah. So well done. really excited about that. I can't wait to try to find some of that wine. Do you know if it's, distributed here in the us?Rowena Curlewis:
I don't think it is yet. Yeah. But I would say that based on the, a number of comments and interests on, our LinkedIn posts and Instagram, that, that there is obviously a real hunger for people to do things differently. Yeah. And in a lot of the. Interviews that I've given on Crate, you know, I've been very clear that this is just one solution. I think what it has shown is we all collectively, from at all aspects in the supply chain need to think differently about our packaging. And so this is one solution, no label. There might be a solution that has a label but is more sustainable in other ways. I think we need to just really think about, How else can we brand our products differently, better, and moreCory Connors:
sustainably? That's it. That's the show. That's it. That's the challenge. that's the whole show and 215 episodes and we still haven't figured it out. So we're trying new things and I think. What you're saying is exactly right. We need to continue to innovate. Yeah. and do a test and see, oh, did that work? What, how did the economy respond to that? Yeah. How did consumers react when we didn't put a label on a bottle? You know, that's an important discussion. And, you know, I'd love to know what the response has been so far. It sounds like it's rave reviews.Rowena Curlewis:
Yeah, well, I, it'll be early, it's early days yet from a retail perspective because it only went in a couple of months ago. but, but I would say, you know, it, it's had the fact that it's had a lot of commentary, bodes well for it. And I think our client is, The ultimate entrepreneur and innovator, he's willing to fail, right? And so this may fail and that's okay. he's okay with that. but what is a failure in his mind is actually not taking the chance, not taking the opportunity, not trying to do things differently and just. Sitting with the status quo for him, that's a failure. not actually, you know, how it ends up performing in the market longCory Connors:
term. I love that mindset. And I'd love to know your thoughts on other trends in the world of spirits and drinks packaging that you're interested in from a sustainability standpoint.Rowena Curlewis:
Yeah. I think that the thing that interests me a l most is, is circularity. Yeah. And how we do that within, our category. I see how easy it is to do with. Things like cereals and pastures And that kinda thing when it comes to a product that is very fragile. so not necessarily spirits. But beer requires, you know, a totally airtight space. and wine is incredibly, sensitive to everything, to light, to oxygen, to anything in the atmosphere. So, so we have this very sensitive product and we also in the wine category have oh my goodness, a zillion different brands. So, so how do you continue to have a branded. Wine that is in a circular. A, a reusable vessel. Yeah. And that is a big conversation. It's a big conversation with. Suppliers like a Aurora. It's a conversation with, with retailers how we do that and obviously with big brand owners to actually drive and for consumers to, to accept the fact that there is an effort that is required to actually reuse those bottles. Yeah. But if we look to France, they've been doing it for years. You, right. They take their big flag and they go to the local, you know, often the local service station, fuel station, and they get it filled up. Something that's really, interesting me at the moment. exploration of materials for different vessels is happening. There's a lot of, experimentation happening in that space. I think to your point, you've been doing this podcast for 200 plus episodes and we have not there yet, but I'm sure we will. if we don't experiment, we won't getCory Connors:
there. That's it. that's the sentiment behind this show, and thank you for reiterating that. We, we need to keep trying. We need, yes. we'll never give up because we owe it to, the future generations to provide them with a planet that's, inhabitable and thriving. I, yeah, I see that as possible. I'm, optimist for sure. But, what else, did you wanna talk about? Anything else that we didn't mention? IRowena Curlewis:
think the only other thing that we are thinking quite hard about is form. You know, does it have to be seven 50 mil? Does it have, like what other forms can we think of that actually, You know, can be, can swap out for, you know, cask or bottle or whatever. Again, that's a hard ask because, you know, one of the things about glass, for example, and again I'll go back to wine here, is that glass, there is no other. vessel that will allow a wine to age apart from glass. So, so we really need to make sure that our wines are, don't have a shelf, and that there's no wastage through having it in another, material that doesn't allow for those wines to last more than 12 months. Right. So, So there's, and also glasses in it, right? So if it happens to go into the ground, it's not going to do anything. It's not gonna leech out horrible stuff. Right? Right. it's just gonna stay there. but we definitely need to just continually. Push, just push our ideas and thinking about what other forms are possible.Cory Connors:
Yeah, well said. Very true. important point to talk about, high-end wines. It's very challenging to put them in anything that isn't glass. Yeah. something very popular here in, in the US is, for the millennials and younger generation or. And even older generations is wine in cans. are you seeing that in Australia as well?Rowena Curlewis:
yes. We have quite a, quite a good little category of, wine in cans. It is, I would say relatively small compared to, glass bottles. I think mining cans is really interesting for me because it sort of tackles two different things. It tackles, Actually three. It tackles sustainability because obviously the recyclability of aluminum is fantastic. Aluminum, I should sayCory Connors:
you, you can say it the right way for you. Yeah,Rowena Curlewis:
so that is fantastic also because you are getting a. Smaller portion, there is less likely for waste. And you can probably tell a theme here, like waste for me is a real issue. So if you don't drink the rest of your seven 50 mill bottle in time and you have to throw it out, that's a whole lot of resources that have gone into creating that wine that you just thrown down the drain. So I think point, the wastage part is good. And then I think it also plays into health and wellbeing because, you know, as we are in the alcohol category, we are about making sure that consumers want to drink responsibly. And some of that is, I only want a glass of wine on a Tuesday night. I don't wanna open a bottle, I just want one. And so it allows you to have that portion control that you may not have when you open a bottle, because it's very easy. We all know you open a bottle, you're well. The second glass, I'm sure. Let's goCory Connors:
for second. just one more bottle, right? yeah, exactly. Oh, I know the feeling and I agree. The cans are so simple and such an easy. Alternative, with the 2, 250 milliliter, small cans, or even the 500 milliliter cans is easy to split with a friend or consume on your own. Well, thank you so much, Rowina. This has been, a lot of fun and I appreciate it. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you and your company?Rowena Curlewis:
Oh, if they just go on for our website. so www.denomination.com, that is the best way of, we've got all of our, address details and contact details there. And, Our Instagram as well. Denomination Do Design has all of our latest work, so, so, and obviously follow us on LinkedIn as well. we try and post some sort of, piece once a week. A lot of it's on sustainability as you can imagine.Cory Connors:
Well, thank you for keeping the mission of sustainability in, in the forefront of your work. We appreciate it.Rowena Curlewis:
That's an absolute pleasure. LovelyCory Connors:
to Cory. Appreciate you. Thank you, Aurora, for sponsoring this program, and if you're listening, make sure you subscribe so you don't miss the next episode. Stay tuned for more.