How Boisset Family Estates, the third-largest French winery, launched an eco-smart alternative to the wine bottle that’s remaking the industry.

U.S. wine consumption topped 300 million cases in 2007, an all-time high. The largest growth is among 21-to-31-year-olds and in $12 to $15 bottles. In fact, 70% of all wine is drunk on the day it’s purchased. Boisset Family Estates sought to capitalize on this casual wine trend with French Rabbit, and for marketing and environmental reasons, “we wanted to break the tradition of presenting wine in a glass bottle,” says Jean Charles Boisset, president.

Glass alternatives include aluminum -- Francis Ford Coppola’s “Sofia Mini Sparkling Wine” comes in a can -- but for French Rabbit, that didn’t make sense. “We had to be mindful not to generate extra waste, because aging or keeping it extra cool was not the primary concern,” Jean Charles says. “The packaging has to be an expression of the wine inside.”

Boisset chose “Tetra Pak,” an aluminum-coated paperboard known for its versatility. (Everything from orange juice to soup is packaged in it.) The recyclable material is superior to glass in protecting wine from oxidation, and its thinner walls let wine chill more quickly.

Designers at Paris-based Linea explored a look that would attract a progressive, eco-savvy consumer. They picked a landscape to evoke a “vineyard at sunset,” suggesting that this was an earth-friendly wine. Graphics needed to be playful but not cartoonish. The rabbit was added as a fun, active element -- alongside a sophisticated typeface.

Early mock-ups played with a variety of off-the-shelf Tetra Pak options, including the Tetra Brik, often used for soy milk, Boisset decided on an “octagonal one-liter” shape, a radical departure from typically dowdy bag-in-box wines. Jean Charles also liked its rounded, ergonomic qualities. “I really liked the way it felt to hold and pour out,” he says.

Designers chose a “metallic finish” over a standard matte one to be more eye-catching on shelves and to lend the packaging an upscale look.

The Tetra Pak French Rabbits arrive at stores in branded, recyclable cardboard boxes that can be used to build “distinctive displays,” eliminating the need for additional, bulky point-of-scale elements. This spring, Boisset launched four-packs of “single-serving” French Rabbit to promote the wine as picnic friendly.

Boisset introduced French Rabbit in Canada in 2005 and then the United States in late 2006. It toured the country, holding blind taste tests with wine journalists, who’ve given the vino high marks. Consumers have too, buying more than 4.5 million French Rabbits in Tetra Pak in North America (the company also sells glass-bottle versions, so as to offer a choice). And the industry has noticed. “Over 70 wineries have launched the Tetra Pak wine since our launch,” Jean Charles says.