Santiago Navarro

CEO & Co-Founder, Garçon Wines - Part 1

Santiago Navarro is a serial entrepreneur. His first start-up in 2011, Vinopic Wines, was an online retailer which was the first to use science to judge and score wines for their intrinsic quality. Following this, he went on to co-found, the world's only hotel booking site to split a traveller’s stay across two hotels to enable them to save as much as 70%. Santiago’s now focused on Garçon Wines, as CEO and co-founder, innovating the 35 billion bottles used annually in wine and aiming to make flat, sustainable bottles the dominant primary packaging in wine.

What motivated you to create Garçon Wines? 

Garçon Wines was born out of a wish to create a wine offering that was fit for a modern world. I had previously founded and built a wine business which was selling wine online and attempting delivery of this wine in round, glass bottles. The key learning from this business was that we were using 19th century packaging – a heavy, spatially inefficient bottle which shatters easily – in a 21st century world of ecommerce and complex supply chains. Therefore, Garçon Wines and the invention of a flat wine bottle was a response to a problem I experienced first-hand and could imagine that many other businesses across the supply chain of wine – from grape to glass – would be experiencing too.

Our initial motivation was to create wine packaging – both primary and secondary – which was better fit for purpose for ecommerce. We wanted to launch our own UK wine club and recognised that doing this with the 19th century wine bottle would be far from ideal. Recognising that the only other alternatives to round, glass bottles, were bag-in-box or can and not liking these formats as they lacked aesthetic appeal, we set about creating a new bottle, one with the emotional, visual appeal of the round, glass bottle but with the functional performance of bag-in-box.

We wanted to create a wine bottle which would look beautiful on a dining table, respect the heritage & tradition of wine, would pack safely with minimal protective packaging, would be easy to transport & deliver, and would offer a more sustainable packaging solution than the dominant round, glass bottle being used by most winemakers. Our eventual creation was flat wine bottles, cross-section versions of the round bottles we all know and like, which could be placed proudly on any dining table but that would be extremely efficient for packing and logistics.

The fundamental USP of our business Garçon Wines is a flat wine bottle made of 100% post-consumer recycled PET – a lightweight, strong and sustainable material. In addition to the multi award-winning flat bottle, we offer supporting secondary packaging to be able to move these bottles as singles or multiples from winery to home, and right through the supply chain, in secondary packaging which performs better.

Today, Garçon Wines is a wine wholesaler and wine packaging supplier with global ambitions and with a mission to develop & commercialise a range of primary & secondary packaging for wine, packaging which is fit for a 21st century world and which ensures complete sustainability, offering the wine industry advanced packaging solutions which results in a healthier planet, wealthier industry and happier consumers.

What do you foresee as being the future of packaging in the beverage industry?

What I foresee as being the future of packaging in the beverage industry and what I hope it will be, are very closely aligned. Just to be clear, I view the future as a point in time beyond a decade from now and that’s some way away, so it’s fair to say it’s uncharted waters. However, my future gazing is clear as I have a positive vision of the future – 10 years from now I am motivated that the leading beverage companies will have made meaningful changes to help mitigate against a climate change catastrophe. I am bullish in my vision as I benefit from a position of influence, running a company which is introducing significant innovation to beverage packaging, to help bring about the changes needed to make a positive impact.

Wine is arguably the most engaging of the drinks in the beverage industry and through it we, at Garçon Wines, intend to make a significant difference to make the beverage industry more sustainable and suitable for the 21st century through some of the most significant changes to primary & secondary packaging in the last two centuries.

I foresee that the future of packaging for the beverage industry will be packaging that’s designed for the 21st century, not inherited from centuries past and trying to be adapted for this century. This should be products which are designed with the emotional, functional and sustainable all given equal importance. This will hopefully result in packaging for the beverage industry that’s fit for purpose in a world of climate change, resource scarcity, waste pollution, changing consumers, digital sales, and complex supply-chains.

What are the three biggest challenges you face on a daily basis?

The biggest challenge we face on a daily basis is being able to get companies to move fast enough to introduce change today to start making a meaningful contribution tomorrow to help mitigate against a climate change catastrophe. There are important calls for this all around us: the instructions from the IPCC to make urgent, large-scale changes; the demand from Greta Thunberg for us to panic and act as if the house was on fire; Sir David Attenborough’s pleas that we are facing our greatest threat in thousands of years. Whilst as a company we’re making progress, we feel that many of our prospective business customers are moving too slowly – there’s lots of talking and not enough action. Company executives need to be empowered to make changes swiftly if these changes show they contribute positively to sustainability. We offer advanced packaging solutions that can be implemented immediately, but we face the challenge that change happens too slowly when time is against us from a global warming perspective.

Our next biggest challenge is dealing with a subjective view on plastics and navigating the present anti-plastic fervour. Unfortunately, too many people, including professionals in industry have been absorbed by the issues about the pollution in our environment from plastic litter and have turned to hating plastic rather than hating the people or the behaviour of people which results in plastic ending up polluting the natural world. The right plastics used responsibly are the right materials to be using for some packaging and this is definitely the case with bottles. When the facts are viewed objectively this is clear. However, most humans are emotional and not rational and so we face some challenges with anti-plastic sentiment.

Finally, as a fledgling company with many potential opportunities, commercial focus can also be a challenge – knowing what clients, channels or countries to focus on. The world of wine is large and fragmented, there are a million wine producers and even more businesses that wine is sold through, so knowing where to focus and who is likely to adopt our bottles first is a challenge we face on a daily basis. Importantly, we are managing well, despite the obvious challenges faced by any growing business.

Don't miss Santiago Navarro's session at the 8th Global Packaged Summit in Amsterdam (24 - 25 June 2019). Find out more about Garçon Wines' session "Wine Bottles for the 21st Century: Beautiful, Flat and Sustainable" here.