In the first decade of the present century the Portuguese cork sector had a major setback. Cork companies exports fell drastically, loosing cork stoppers market share, which accounts for roughly half of cork exports, when international winemakers started using alternative stoppers (plastic and aluminium screw caps) regardless of emerging problems with these alternative closures.
To face this menace, factories started using advanced technology to enhance cork stoppers’ quality by preventing and checking the defects that might occur.
Diversification was also very important: researchers and designers have developed new uses for cork, like in furnishings and construction, footwear and fashion accessories.
Cork companies also entered new markets, such as the emerging economies.
New Projects such as “100% Cork” and “Intercork” have been supporting this reversal and today stoppers and building materials made of Portuguese cork are expanding and gaining market in several countries around the world.
Portugal exports cork to more than 100 countries, but the largest share of production goes to the U.S. market. That’s why Portuguese Cork Association launched a joint campaign called 100% Cork with the Cork Quality Council (CQC), a non-profit organization founded in Napa Valley, California, that promotes education and improved quality assurance procedures for the wine and cork industries, to provide information to wine consumers about the environmental, technical and social advantages of natural cork.
It’s estimated that more than 60 per cent of the top 100 USA premium wine brands are now sealed with natural cork, a sign of the diminishing acceptance of alternatives.
The project “Intercork”, a mega plan created by the Portuguese Cork Association (APCOR) and financed by QREN (an EU fund that supports economic development), made a 21 million EUR investment to help export of Portuguese cork products grow steadily. It promotes campaigns in the countries where sales have been dropping (like the USA, the UK and Germany) and in emerging countries and disseminates massive information through social networks. The impact of the project has been evaluated as very important.
Besides cork stoppers, this project will promote building materials and decoration products made of cork.