The beverage industry is evolving at great speed, perhaps now more than ever wine needs change. Spend enough time on Twitter and you may be fooled into thinking a small number of people have all the answers. Whilst the wine intelligentsia act out what Freud called the narcissism of small differences, consumers make their own spending decisions. UK spending on alcohol is on the rise; however, despite this, wine volume sales fell in 2019 by 7.4% year on year. Whilst a select bunch spars between one another, they do agree broadly on what IS important for consumers; they must be educated at all costs, low-intervention winemaking is of utmost importance and heavy bottles must be ousted. Consumer sentiment could not be further from the truth. But don’t fear, canned wine has the answers …
‘I want wine in a can to be over, it’s just wrong’ tweets author and natural wine advocate, Alice Feiring. Whilst I have great respect for Alice I fear she may have become the voice she once so vehemently denounced. This kind of out-of-touch thinking is not rare, the voices of prominent thinkers propagate like wildfire, and have fast become a deceptive narrative. 116 likes and 18 retweets later, let’s look at where the wine intelligentsia has got it all wrong.
The internet is relentless, untiring and quick to seize on the opportunity to jest. Coupled with a popcorn emoji, a popular meme page shared Alice’s thoughts. ‘Normal’ consumers were bewildered by the tweet, they immediately recognised how disconnected from reality it is, what it says about wine in terms of accessibility, and how it bolsters the impenetrable wall of intellect and pontification which has been built around the industry. What other product do you know of which when mentioned by the average consumer is followed by ‘but I know nothing about it’?.
I have shared below some of the comments left on the post:
‘Imagine the cannabis industry this wild over bongs vs bowls. The wine biz is crazy‘
‘This is the craft beer industry 10 years ago’
”I’ll take mine in a plastic bag’
‘God forbid wine be accessible’
‘I need someone to can orange wine and make it look like Fanta’
‘Ok boomer, give me all the cans’
Whilst we all have the right to an opinion, and to some extent ought to respect tradition, prominent figures must also recognise the impact that their voice has and how comments such as this steer the narrative. Where an opinion is disconnected from reality and unhelpful I would argue that one has a moral obligation to either revise said position or hold it more privately for the sake of overall progression.
If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m all in on canned wine. Why the hell not? The craft beer revolution has been a sight to behold. Bustling vibrant courtyards, diverse multicultural consumers, food stands, live music all centred around well-designed eye-catching beer cans from trailblazing micro-breweries across the globe each with a story to tell. It’s never been about forgetting beer in a bottle, nor leaving the pub behind, it’s about broadening the market and diversifying the offering to appeal to new consumers through reinvigorated well-executed marketing, distribution, consumption and media channels. And believe it or not, all this without a single scrap of education for the consumer. In this piece I want to make an informed and impassioned case for canned wine as a tool to spark fresh interest and life in to the wine industry.
Broadening the market
Wine has traditionally been a drink of the middle aged and middle class. The average UK wine drinker is 50 with an average household income 25% above the national average. Tastings tend to be something of a monoculture; mostly men, mostly white, and mostly of a certain social standing. Admittedly, this is not always the case, natural wine bars have done particularly well at broadening the demographic. This is perhaps testament to their more relaxed environments, attractive branding and more varied, exciting marketing when compared to conventional wine.
Compare this demographic to that of your local Brewdog or bustling craft beer pop-up. The average drinker is 21-44, ethnicity, gender and social class vary wildly, it’s a vibrant melting pot of all things multicultural and by god it’s refreshing. Virtually half of under 30 year olds recently surveyed say they have increased their consumption of craft beer in the last year, a telling statistic.
The craft beer revolution has reinvigorated the market, over 500m pints of indie brews were sunk last year, accounting for 6.5% of total UK beer sales. It hasn’t dismissed the traditional beer drinker, nor has it infringed on traditional norms so much as to harm their longevity. It respects those norms, maintains product integrity, brings the offering to life and presents it in a format which appeals to a new demographic.
This revolution, almost all of which resides in canned beer, has been particularly popular with millennials, a category the wine industry has notoriously struggled to attract. But dare to speak of marketing to millennials and you’ll be met with a barrage of upset older consumers who see such a proposition as a zero-sum game, an infringement upon a category opposed to that category’s expansion.
Taprooms have been at the heart of this revolution, they have brought the consumer to the product and the product to the consumer. They tie together well-presented quality product with open and welcoming experiences. They bring together food, music and beer in a place which is accommodating and comfortable. To summarise, they serve as a catalyst for the product, a place to spark interest and seize consumer attention through more than just the product.
THIS is the opportunity the wine industry has been waiting for, the prominent speakers may not see it yet, and whether we seize it or miss it, it it remains that opportunity. This is a tried and tested, immediately available opportunity to champion diversity, inclusion, expansion and reinvigoration of the wine industry. Canned wine can slide right in to this space and with the right forces behind it, can penetrate this same market in the same fashion with (I would expect) a similar level of success.
Capitalising on retail opportunity
From 2017 to 2019 consumer spending on beer rose 12.4% in the UK. Over the past year, 5.7 million households bought into the market and overall value grew 16.4% to £178.2m. During the same time period wine sales have declined, the Times suggests wine has had a tough time earning its place in a more competitive and lively alcoholic beverage market. Purchasing data suggests that craft beer has in part cannibalised monthly wine drinkers over the past decade in the UK. It’s absolutely clear that craft beers colourful, attractive and easy to grasp branding and sizing format has been a success with its intended consumer.
Wine aisles are boring places; predictable, bland and difficult to navigate. Branding has been key in driving the craft beer sector, beer labels trigger 60% of purchases in the 18-30 category. More than 45% of 18-to-30-year olds surveyed agreed strongly that the beer they drink says a lot about them, craft brewers excel at telling this story.
Snappy, colourful and attractive branding has proved successful in attracting millennials. In 2019, these same millennials showed a greater propensity to spend over £8 a bottle on wine than older consumers, attracting them is of the utmost importance. Younger people tend to buy when needed, they are price-takers opposed to deal-seekers. They also tend to use price as a proxy for quality, particularly in categories where they don’t have substantial experience or knowledge. In other words, they’re a marketers wet dream.
Canned wine ought to be able to piggyback this success relatively easily, again copying and pasting the craft beer model. We in wine so often speak of telling a story, sharing a philosophy, well let’s do it creatively. I spoke with Simon Rollings of the Canned Wine Co who told me that the eclectic, colourful branding of their cans fits perfectly with the desire to champion lesser-known, exciting grape varieties. Something which resonates with millennials, who are considerably more adventurous than older consumers.
The data backs up anecdotal success of cans, according to EeBria Trade, breweries who made the switch from bottles to cans found on average that their rate of sale almost tripled.
Not only is the branding of craft beer cans more exciting on the shelf, the format offers a more diverse and expansive retail offering opposed to the conventional standard bottle. Given that the format is smaller (usually a large single serve) there is more scope to sell well-priced mixed cases, which attract consumers to more affordably try new offerings and inform future purchasing decisions. Cans allow for less upfront investment when trying new products, buy a £3.50 can and don’t like it? No big deal, buy a £14 bottle of wine and don’t like it? You’re sure as hell less likely to be as adventurous in future. The smaller format also affords people the opportunity to explore more premium wines in affordable sizings, (particularly in the form of subscription services) whilst bars and restaurants do not have to worry about half-open bottles and wastage.
Canned wine is user-friendly, easier to transport to social gatherings, perfect for mid-week drinkers who may not want to open a full bottle, great for those wanting to abstain from excessive consumption and easy to keep in the house. What’s not to love?
Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy theirs. Championing sustainability is not only important for the planet but also to better connect with consumers. We hear a LOT about heavy bottles, a LOT about herbicides but little in the form of any such push to innovate in the realm of canned wine.
Speaking at The Brewers of Europe Forum Carlsberg CEO Cees ‘t Hart named sustainability as one of the key drivers of craft beers success with millennials, the other two being purpose and health. Sustainability is already being used by wine producers to attract younger buyers, who have traditionally been more concerned about buying green. So far from just being ‘better’ for the planet, sustainability sells.
Cans are better for the environment than glass bottles, no ifs no buts no maybes. From both a production perspective (unless the container is virgin) and a recycling perspective, cans trump glass. Facilities to recycle glass are harder to come by than those for aluminium cans. Many local authorities refuse to collect glass alongside other rubbish, citing difficulties in repurposing glass. In contrast aluminium cans are one of the most easily recycled materials.
Cans are also significantly lighter than glass, meaning reduced fuel usage. This means that once they’re in circulation, experts argue it’s easier and more energy efficient to recycle aluminium than glass. All-in-all, recycling a can uses 90% less energy than recycling a glass bottle. However, to produce a tonne of virgin aluminium can use 10x as much electricity as manufacturing the same amount of glass from sand, so a focus on recycled cans is important.
There are practical and economic considerations to take in to account when working with canned wine. Reduction can be problematic as can the interaction between varying acid levels and can lining. Additionally, canning lines can be expensive to purchase and maintain in addition to a bottling line. That being said this is nothing that cannot be overcome. Canning can be outsourced and wine shipped safely in bulk, the quality issues are teething pains easily ironed out.
Canned wine presents a unique opportunity for the wine industry to expand, reach new audiences, diversify and reinvigorate its appearance. We ought to seize this opportunity, get behind and do all we can to see it succeed.