Canned wine has been around for a while, but has gained traction in just the last couple of years. Some observers are suspicious that it is just a fad — a flash in the pan — that won’t last for long. If that’s true, then it is an impressive flash. Canned wine sales in the off-premises channels that the Nielsen company measures were $70 million for the 52 weeks ending June 15, 2019. That’s 69% growth for the year. In a market where growth is hard to find, canned wine is a winner.
(The graph above shows Nielsen data for sales through 4/20/2019. I see more canned wine brands and SKUs on the store shelves every week.)
What’s more, Nielsen research suggests that canned wine sales are weighted toward younger consumers — the ones that many observers argue are so reluctant to engage with wine. Fad or trend? I think cans are a thing although there might be some seasonality that will distort conclusions until we have more data.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Cans have many advantages when it comes to wine. Convenience is often cited and it is true that a can of wine is easy to toss into your backpack or picnic basket if you are headed out for an adventure. But cans are more than the trail mix of wine.
Michelle Williams’s Forbes column “Is the Future of Wine in the Can?” presents an optimistic case for canned wine, giving special attention to wineries in Oregon and Texas, two regions where wine is booming, that have embraced the can.
Amber LeBeau of the Spitbucket blog argues that the traditional 750 ml wine bottle gets in the way for the growing numbers of consumers both young and old who are concerned about limiting their alcohol consumption or avoiding waste. Too much wine to consume at one time can be too much of a good thing.
Smaller bottles are one solution and cans (most of which hold about two glasses each) and premium boxed wine (where you can dispense as much or little as needed) are good solutions. Maybe that’s a reason why the two fastest-growing wine packaging categories are canned wine and premium box wine.
I appreciate the alcohol issue and the fact that smaller container fit a more sober lifestyle. But my friend Patrick the Wine Guy has the opposite worry — that consumers won’t realize that 375 ml cans hold two glasses until it is too late and they have drained a couple of them as if they were light beer. Yikes!
There’s an App for That
Cans also have potential advantages in the world of app-based food delivery. I am not sure how many UberEats orders include a 750 ml bottle of wine in areas where that would be legal (not many, I’m guessing), but I can see the potential for single-serve canned wines here. Simplified wine choices, convenient packaging, drop it in the delivery bag, and out the door.
Significantly, delivery orders are the fastest-growing part of the restaurant business, with some entrepreneurs setting up virtual restaurants and “ghost kitchens” focused just on delivery. Add a can of Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc to that order and you are all set.
There is a lot to like about canned wine once you get over the initial shock of the new package. But that’s nothing new. I’m sure canned beer ruffled some feathers when it first appeared. And, switching products, I’ve read that paperback books were once seen as a threat to serious book publishing. Change is hard — even when it makes sense (Amber LeBeau’s point).
Canned wine has many advantages, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges to be confronted. Here are three problems to consider.
What Goes In Come Out
When we tell people that we are researching canned wines, they almost always ask, “how is the wine?” Well, the wine you pour out of the can is pretty much the wine that was put into it. That is one thing that canned wine has in common with bottles and boxes of wine. If lousy wine went in, don’t expect anything better to come out.
A recent study of canned wines versus their bottled twins found no significant difference is consumer evaluation. The cans didn’t change the wines in any way that these consumers could notice.
Some wineries such as 14 Hands use the same wine brand for both bottle and can, so they leveraging their bottle brand reputation to promote the canned product. They need to make sure that the wine in the cans is the same as the bottles since an inferior experience would reflect on both types of packages.
Many canned wine brands are priced at the entry level ($4.99 or $5.99 per can or less) and are probably filled with inexpensive bulk wine. Some of these are better than others as you would expect.
Only a couple of the canned wines we have tried so far have been “keepers” that we would drink again. Most have been under-whelming and over-priced. Since the canning process apparently isn’t the problem, the disappointing wines that we are pouring out of the cans must have been disappointing going in, too.
Our favorite out of about a dozen we have tried so far is the C’est Le Vin Rosé from Washington State producer Barnard Griffin. The label says it is “good Washington wine that happens to be in a can,” which I think sends the right message. It’s the wine that counts. The can is just a delivery system.
No (Canned) Wine Before Its Time?
I always look at the “best by” date when I purchase milk, yogurt, and a few other grocery items. Now I have started checking for dates on cans of wine, too.
Sue and I attended a presentation about canned wine packaging technology earlier in the summer and I was interested to learn about the special lining that is the key to the can’s success. Wine’s alcohol and acid don’t get along very well with aluminum, so a special liner is needed to make the can work.
These linings are typically approved for 6 to 9 months, we were told, depending on the chemical analysis of the wine. The wine might be OK at 12 months or longer, but they are intended for shorter shelf-life situations. You really don’t want cases of canned wine to sit a warehouse for months waiting to be delivered to a retailer.
Many (but not all) of the cans I have seen have a “canned on” date or equivalent code printed on the container and from now on I am going to check that out just as I would a quart of milk and look for wines with less than 6 months or so in the can.
We tried a can of a carbonated orange-flavored white wine spritz and it was a big disappointment. It sounded refreshing (I was hoping for an Aperol spritz kind of experience), but there was no one home, as Sue said. Not much orange. Not much wine. Plenty of bubbles. Was it the product or was it the fact that it was canned a year prior to our purchase and the can liner had failed in some way?
Wine is a famously confusing consumer category, with so many brands and varieties and with such an enormous range of retail prices. Canned wine is not much simpler based on a few retail shelves we’ve studied. There are several can sizes, for example, some sold as singles and others in packs. You’ve got to pay attention to know just how much wine you are buying and its cost per serving.
Some of the wine is labeled by grape variety, but this is less common than with bottled wine. And I don’t think I have seen a vintage date (yet) although, as noted above, the canning date may be more important. This may change if the premium canned wine trend picks up steam.
A lot of the wine is red or white or pink or bubbly. So what’s in the can, Sue asks? What variety or blend of grapes went into the red or white? What should she expect when she pops the top?
At this point, I suppose, the wines are targeting consumers who might find grape blend and vintage date TMI, but that should change if this category doesn’t fall victim to arrested development.
Canned wine isn’t going to revolutionize wine, but it seems to have the potential to evolutionize it — to help it evolve in ways that are relevant to today’s consumers. That’s worth a cheer or two in my book.
Why not three cheers? Maybe I am being stingy with my ratings, but it looks like it is still early days for wine in a can and there is a lot of headroom left in all areas including wine quality. I think canned wine has the potential to grow up in ways that will please a broader audience. When that happens, I’ll be the first to add the final cheer.
Thanks to Danny Brager and Genevieve Aronson of Nielsen, Michelle Williams, Amber LeBeau, and Robert Williams for their insights on canned wine. Go to WICresearch.com for updated canned wine market research.