Accessibility and ease are both at the forefront of the growth of interest in canned wine. The fact that the packaging is also easy to dispose of and offers a single-serve option are also compelling aspects of the beer-inspired packaging. While the primary interest in canned wine consumption seems to be mainly in recreational settings—beach, boating, and sports events—there’s also a growing interest being shown in them from on-premise operators who find them convenient to serve at ball games and on roof decks.
According to the Cleveland, Ohio-based the Freedonia Group—the publisher of World Wine Packaging: Containers, Closures, & Accessories, which was released in July of last year—the percentage of customers interested in alternative containers has been steadily growing since 2005 and is likely to continue to do so until 2025. The percentage of worldwide wine container demand for ‘other’ containers—including but not limited to plastic bottles, pouches, and aluminium cans—stood at 0.6% in 2005, rose to 3.4% in 2015, and is projected to hit 6.7% in 2025.
Their recent report noted that “demand for aluminium cans for wine packaging is forecast to increase more than 17% annually to $50m in 2020. While continuing to represent a limited share of the wine packaging mix, aluminium cans will be valued for their convenience and portability as a single-serving packaging option.”
Francis Ford Coppola really launched the category in 2004 with the release of Sofia sparkling Blanc de Blancs in a can. It has been followed by Sofia Brut Rosé in cans as well as a move to bottle the winery’s Diamond Collection category in 250-mL cans this spring.
“Canned wine is absolutely a trend,” agreed Gary Fisch, who owns four upscale Gary’s Wine & Marketplace stores in New Jersey. He added that while the current perception of the quality of wine in cans may be less than positive, he has tasted many “over the last year and noticed that the quality is improving.”
Flexibility and portability
Portable wine pours are easy to take to the beach and on a hike, which appeals to many active customers, as well as to Millennials who are significantly less beholden to the current wine consumption standard of wine being in a bottle.
“Consumers are looking for more single-serve options that provide portability and portions that fit better with their needs. There are a lot of consumers who would like to have wine on a regular basis but can’t rationalise a 750-mL bottle so instead look for other beverage options,” said Ryan Harms, owner and winemaker of the Tualatin, Oregon-based Union Wine Company, which produces the Underwood line of 375-mL cans of wine that includes two sparkling wines, a still rosé, a Pinot Gris, and a Pinot Noir.
The canned format also “increases portability and convenience, and that are exactly what canned wines bring to the market,” noted Kevin Mehra, the CEO of the Boston-based Latitude Beverage CompanyWines , which launched its Lila wine line in April 2016. The brand includes a Provençal rosé, and an Italian Pinot Grigio packaged in 8.4-ounce (250 mL) cans.
Many consumers don’t finish a bottle of wine in the course of a few days. While the Swedish and Australian markets have long warmed to the bag-in-box option, canned wine is filling some of that void in the US. They are also ideal for consumers who cook with wine as much or more than they may drink it, added Richardson.
The lower price points, given the smaller servings, are also appealing. “There are now canned wines that you can buy for $1.00 a can all the way up to $10.00 a can,” said Mehra. Many of the offerings, such as Underwood, come in at $7.00 for 375-mL size.
The ease of disposal and eco-friendly attributes of some wine-in-can packaging has also been embraced by consumers, according to Dr Nicholas Johnston, assistant professor of hospitality at Southeastern Missouri State University. The ones that were most successful “also had environmental messages embedded on the packaging.”
The aluminium packaging doesn’t affect the flavour of the wine, according to Harms: “Our cans are lined with an epoxy resin that acts as a protective barrier between the wine and the aluminium.” That layer of insulation ensures that the wine tastes varietally correct.
According to Johnston’s research, “there is no detectable or noticeable difference in taste.”
Generally, cans’ “labels are printed using ultraviolet curable ink and a heat coating process,” said Johnston. The actual canning process is either then outsourced or canning lines can be purchased for approximately $100,000.00, he added. Union is slated to open a 43,000 canning facility that will operate with the speed of a Coca-Cola plant, said Harms.
Cans in retail
Wine in a can clearly has greater appeal for the retail sector. However, clever beer bars and restaurants with rooftop gardens, dart boards, and ping pong tables are also making use of the convenient and break-proof packaging as well.
“There are a lot of on-premise venues that canned wine is great for. Music arenas, outdoor bars, festivals, and country clubs are a few examples of the types of on-premise venues where canned wine is finding a home. It’s a great option at settings where wine drinkers are looking to consume wine in a convenient format,” said Mehra.
Canned wine and beer have a strong reciprocal relationship. The convenience of single-serve wine across a variety of price points has also helped the craft-beer industry as much as beer has fuelled the canned-wine trend. Union’s Harms noted that there was a “wine-ification” of beer going on with the craft beer craze for some time.
Johnston added, “The craft beer movement really paved the way for the wine industry to explore wine in cans.” What is more, “The cans, especially the ones coming out now, feel fresh and new to consumers but still familiar.” That comfort level with the format comes from consumers ease with beer cans. He added, “Consumers, especially younger ones, are drawn towards artisan, local, and eco-friendly products, and cans seem to appeal to these desires.”
“Off-premise sales have been the strongest, but we are continuing to see on-premise sales grow at a healthy rate,” said Union’s Harms.
The tasting experience
Many in the wine business have debated if a wine in a can tastes the same as one in a bottle. The age-ability of young wines is clearly not a factor; however, the question remains if the canned delivery vehicle doesn’t render the tasting experience as sensual and gratifying as if it were served in a glass.
“The wine that goes in a can is the same as the wine that goes in a bottle. The one difference is that when you’re drinking out of a can you don’t get the same aroma as you would when drinking out of a glass. This is simply because the can closes off the wine whereas the glass lets the aroma out. But if you were to pour the canned wine in a glass you wouldn’t find a difference,” said Mehra.
“Cans provide a complete seal, and the wine doesn’t see light like it would in a glass,” said John Niven, vice president of sales and marketing at the San Luis Obispo, California-based Niven Family Wine Estates. He added that with the winery’s Tangent Sauvignon Blanc, “We are putting the exact same wine in a can that goes into the bottle.”
Wine in a can can also be significantly less expensive than its bottled relatives. “Canned wine costs approximately 40% less to package compared to the equivalent 9-litre case of wine in glass bottles,” noted Harms.
According to Freedonia analyst Mike Richardson, cost can be a compelling factor that drives canned wine purchases. “Wine is somewhat less price-sensitive than ketchup and canned beans. Even when the priciest packaging options are chosen, they don’t account for a large share of the purchase prices.” They also have a favourable environmental profile, said the report, “due to their light weight and well-established recycling infrastructure.”
He also added that, “Glass bottles add a lot to shipping expenses, both when they leave the bottle plant and when they leave the winery…[and] plastic bottles and metal cans are also cheaper to ship due to their lower weight.” He also noted that canned wine seemed to have been adopted by consumers for both practical reasons as well as the fact that it provides added value to single-person households.
“We have only scratched the surface with packaging,” said Christian Miller, the proprietor of the Berkeley-based, wine-focused Full Glass Research group. He added that the openness of regular wine consumers, especially younger ones, may continue to add to the growth of the canned wine category. Only time will tell.
Liza B. Zimmerman
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