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May 19, 2014

E. Hartford importer tests wine on-the-go market

Photo | Contributed Spotwine's package design is similar to a kid's juice box and allows for a cap to be screwed off and on.

Back in 2012, Chris Didden was relaxing on the beach in Cape Cod when his wife asked for a glass wine, presenting a logistics issue. There was no way to chill a bottle, or even open it without a corkscrew, making it a tough drink to carry around, particularly to a beach.

But that problem opened Didden's eyes to a potential business opportunity: offering consumers a way to drink wine on the go. So In 2013, Didden, who runs an East Hartford wine import and distribution company, founded Spotwine, which has developed a single-serve, ready-to-drink pouch that holds premium wine.

“No one is going to lug around a heavy, breakable wine bottle, especially where glass containers are prohibited,” said Didden.

Spotwine's easy-to-use package doesn't require a corkscrew to open or glassware to consume the wine; instead the corner top can be screwed on and off. Those on the go can drink straight from the pouch, or pour the wine into a glass or cup.

A straw can also be inserted into the pouch, similar to a kid's juice box, explained Didden.

The new 6.3-ounce pouch is designed with a bifurcated bottom gusset to allow it to stand upright and help wine connoisseurs immediately recognize the Spotwine brand.

Spotwine's major competitive advantage: It allows consumers to have a glass of wine anywhere, anytime, without the hassles that come with traditional wine bottles, said Didden.

“Spotwine goes everywhere, from poolside parties, camping trips and picnics to larger events like tailgating and outdoor concerts,” said Didden, a former government relations consultant turned wine importer and distributor.

Spotwine's target market is the millennial female population, large crowd venues, cruise lines and the military, said Didden.

“Our research shows us that these people want wines that allow them to experience the unique blends while having fun,” said Didden. “They don't necessarily want big portions, and they don't want the hassle of a traditional wine bottle.”

The company's portable pouch is also being marketed to hotels, casinos, and live entertainment vendors, Didden said.

During a recent Las Vegas trade show, Spotwine generated more than 300 leads, said Didden, who is currently talking with execs at Live Nation, NASCAR, Centerplate, Delaware North Corp., Hilton Hotels, Walgreens and Regal Cinemas about carrying their product.

Didden expects to fill between 1.5 million to 2 million pouches this year, and double the size of the company in 2015. He said many corporations are seeking to take his package and private label it under their own logo.

Food and beverage packaging is a booming business. According to Frost & Sullivan, flexible packaging sales reached 25.4 billion in 2011, a number expected to jump to 30.63 billion by 2016.

Spotwine's wine is made by two different California wineries and is a proprietary blend of both red and white, Didden said. He declined to provide specific information about the wineries, or any of his firm's financial details such as revenues or how much each package cost to make.

Didden recruited Chief Operating Officer Paul Winter and a wine expert with broad operational experience in the alcoholic beverage industry, to launch Spotwine in 2013.

The company also employs a chief financial officer and a sales manager, while most other duties are handled by contracted consultants.

“If and when we can establish ourselves in Connecticut and provide filling operations to the agriculture industry, we anticipate hiring quite a few employees as it will take skilled and non-skilled labor to create and run a filling room, a warehouse, delivery and sales,” he said.

The company's VierTeck technology enables its pouch-packaged wine to be cooled quicker and stay fresher longer than if it was in a bottle.

Didden is working with UConn's School of Engineering to develop a package that extends the wine's shelf life from 12 months to 18 months, which would give Spotwine a competitive edge over rivals like Nuvino and AstraPouch.

UConn students designed and built the prototype enclosure and loading system that enables Spotwine pouches to be filled at the required production rate, said UConn mechanical engineering professor Vito Moreno.

“They performed computer stimulations using fluid dynamics and mechanical design principles to verify that the design would work,” said Moreno.

The relationship between the wine startup and the university is a win-win deal for Spotwine and the school's senior design program, Moreno said.

Spotwine will distribute its product through Didden's distribution company, 2Fly Wines, and Didden expects it will debut on the shelves this month.

“We are fairly certain Spotwine will outgrow 2Fly Wines' distribution,” he said. “Therefore, we are already in discussions with statewide distributors for Connecticut as well as a dozen other states.”

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