Canned wine is overcoming the stigma surrounding alternative wine packaging formats thanks to its environmental credentials, convenience and a growing appeal among younger consumers. In some markets – notably the US, but also the UK and Australia – the format is moving closer towards broader consumer acceptance, similar to the position of screwcap wines 15-20 years ago.
However, despite a number of positive attributes, including easy storage and transportation in the supply chain, and portability by consumers, wine in cans still faces a number of barriers, including negative quality perceptions by older wine consumers, and continued resistance in more traditional wine markets.
According to IWSR research director, Daniel Mettyear, a new wave of quality-focused canned wine products is cutting through the traditionally negative perceptions of the format from the sometimes conservative wine industry. “Newer, younger LDA consumers are more willing to try out wine in cans and get involved with the category,” he says.
This increased interest is now piquing the interest of a number of producers. “We see wine in cans as an excellent way to bring more and younger consumers into the wine category,” says Sandy Mayo, chief marketing officer at Accolade Wines. “This is because they enable safe exploration (a lower cost commitment compared to buying a bottle to trying new and different wines), moderation, convenience, on-the-go, more casual consumption and, of course, because they have a lower environmental impact than glass.”
Taking increasingly imaginative packaging cues from the craft beer segment enables canned wine to target millennial consumers – and also takes the category into the fast-growing territory inhabited by RTDs and hard seltzers.
Canned wine has multiple environmental benefits versus glass, including being more easily recyclable, and being lighter and more efficient to transport. Cans also take up less space in on-premise venues such as bars and pubs. They play into consumer concerns surrounding wellness and wastage, as well: most cans are the equivalent of half a bottle of wine or less, allowing for greater portion control. “One of the things that puts less experienced wine drinkers off exploring different wines is that you have to buy a whole bottle – and you might end up throwing half of it away,” points out Mettyear.
Cans have the potential to “democratise” wine, says Kenny Rochford, co-founder of US canned wine specialist West + Wilder, but he still encounters some resistance. “Just the other day we had a trade buyer comment on cans tasting of aluminium – which is a psychological experience rather than a physical one – but it goes to show how changing perceptions about new things requires patience,” he says. West + Wilder offers 250ml cans of blended rosé and white wines (still and sparkling) sourced from California, Oregon and Washington, plus limited edition single varietals from the Yakima and Russian River Valleys. The company has plans for a red blend and the kind of small-production seasonal releases that are reminiscent of the craft beer segment.
Fellow US business Sans Wine Co has taken cans into the premium-plus price segment with a roster of seven ‘natural’ single vineyard wines – including a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at US$25 for a 375ml can. Sans co-founder Jake Stover believes that even the US is still at “base camp” when it comes to consumer acceptance of quality wine in cans. He says: “We are at a higher level of consumer understanding than when we started around five years ago at ‘sea level’. However, there is a ton of room for experimentation and customer feedback, and it feels as though the wine consumer is still acclimatising to the idea.”
One of the biggest factors driving consumer acceptance of canned wine is that the history of wine has been very prominently tied to the glass bottle. Older drinkers might flirt with the idea of a bag-in-box wine, if it is attractively packaged and the need state involves large, outdoor socialising, but for many older drinkers, the idea of wine in a can remans an anathema. Consumer research data from Wine Intelligence, a division of the IWSR Group, shows that this is the reason that many younger drinkers (aged 25-44) are the most open to the concept of wine in cans, not least because the situations that cans are good for – drinking while out and about – best fit their lifestyle. Millennials in the US are 50% more likely to buy wine in a can once they are aware the format exists, according to Wine Intelligence consumer research.
Liz Cobbold, marketing director at UK-based Broadland Drinks, reckons that the US is “a couple of years” ahead of the UK in terms of consumer acceptance, but is optimistic that things are changing fast. Broadland has Minivino, a single serve wine brand available in PET cups, cans and 187ml bottles, and investment in a new canning line will lead to the launch of several new SKUs in 2021.
However, Cobbold doubts the UK is ready for premium wine in cans yet, and expects the format to follow 187ml bottles in remaining confined to the mainstream. “On the shelf, [these] wines are compared with pre-mix and RTD cans, which tend to offer lower price-points,” she says.
Accolade is also planning a number of new canned wine launches in various markets around the world in the near future, but Mayo agrees that – for now – price-point is vital. “Yes, there is room for some exciting offers that provide something different for consumers that may sit slightly above mainstream,” he says. “However, we are not yet seeing a role for really premium wine in cans. This may come in the future as more consumers and brands embrace the format.”
If some price-points remain out of reach for canned wine for now, the same can be said of certain markets – echoing the development of screwcap wines in the early 2000s. “In markets like Spain, screwcap wines are still not accepted by the public or by the trade, whereas markets like the US went through that process a long time ago,” points out Mettyear. “Spain is a perfect example of where screwcap wines still have that stigma attached.
“The US is definitely leading the charge in terms of canned wine, with the UK and Australia also showing positive signs, and the market starting to pick up in South Africa. But I think it’s going to be a long time before this reaches markets like Spain – or is successful there.”
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