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The theatre of wine is often part of the drink’s allure. Whether you’re having a posh meal or enjoying a wine tasting, a hush always seems to fall over the table as the carefully chosen bottle is presented, uncorked and poured.
But, as the ready-to-drink (RTD) boom has shown with cocktails, sometimes convenience wins out with customers.
The canned wine category is up 47% in the last 12 weeks compared to the same period a year ago, now accounting for one in every eight miniature wines sold in the UK, according to Jeremy May, who co-founded Nice Drinks. Boxed wines are up 8% in the same period, with several new and interesting brands entering the category, like Laylo, Bowl Grabber and Altano Rewilding Douro, which comes in a tube format.
However innovative the design, fine food retailers will be keen to learn one key thing about any new product: does it taste good? And producers of high-quality canned wines are keen to prove that their wines tick all the boxes.
“Historically, there has been a stigma surrounding wine packaged outside traditional glass bottles, often tied to perceived quality associations,” explains Jessica Summer, sommelier, cheesemonger and founder of Mouse & Grape. “This perception is evolving due to a growing awareness of environmental concerns, increased convenience, and shifting consumer preferences, particularly among younger generations.”
These factors are making alternative packaging like cans and boxes more acceptable – but the quality must be there too. “The increasing presence of reputable wineries, including brands like Canned Wine Company, Laylo and Vinca Wines – which are producing high-quality wine in these formats – is further challenging the stigma and broadening the acceptance of non-bottle wine packaging,” Jessica says. She has even included canned wines in her luxury cheese and wine hampers, and it’s a popular choice with customers.
Lydia Harrison, a wine educator from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and master of wine, agrees that canned wines particularly are showing up on more major retailers’ shelves with interesting and quality products. “They are typically well-designed, perfect for certain occasions and easy for consumers to understand, so they appeal.”
The main advantages of canned wine are its convenience, sustainable credentials and lower price point.
“Box and canned wines create far less energy to produce than glass bottles,” says Jack Green, co-founder at Vinca Wine. “In settings where traditionally you might have been served wine in small plastic PET bottles, like flights or train lines, canned wines offer a sustainable alternative to single servings of wine.
“At Vinca, we take award-winning quality organic wine from Sicily, produced the same as if it were to end up in a glass bottle and serve it in small, infinitely recyclable cans,” he says.
As well as being an eco-friendly choice – generating less packaging waste, being lighter to transport and promoting recyclability – canned wines are also much easier to take on the go. “One of the real beauties of canned wine is that it can go places wine has never gone before – beaches, back pockets, mountains, backpacking trips, left hands, bike cup holders, concert venues, small coolers, and so much more,” says Charlie Brain, co-founder of Lubanzi Wines.
Plus, as Ben Franks, wine buyer at The Canned Wine Company explains, “Wine in can, done well, is like capturing a moment in time. When you’ve worked hard to get the wine into its ideal drinking window, a can preserves that window for when you open and enjoy it.”
What’s more, pre-made cans allow for better portion control – and promote more exploration. “The smaller can sizes also mean they’re less expensive and you can experiment more easily – if you don’t like the wine you’re not left with the rest of the bottle!” Lydia says. Indeed, Ben adds that they open the door to make wine more accessible, “The smaller format gives you the opportunity to try lots of different wines and find what varieties, regions and styles most appeal to you in wine. As producers we also have the pleasure of designing the whole wrap of the can, beyond a label, giving it a tactile feel and creating a more immersive experience and connection with the wine.”
As well as not needing a corkscrew, boxed wines also have their advantages. “Boxed wine tends to come in larger volumes, is much lighter than glass bottles and will last longer once opened,” Lydia says. “The box protects the wine against oxygen so you can keep it in your fridge to have a glass whenever you’d like.”
Jeremy agrees that the ability to have good quality wine “on tap” at home removes the risk of wasting wine. “A box of wine stays ‘fresh’ for six weeks from opening which means you can come back to it at little or as much as you want during that time,” he says.
“Boxed wine is also better for the environment as there’s around 33% less carbon emissions when transporting versus a glass bottle due to its overall lower weight and packaging,” Jeremy explains.
While the eco-friendly packaging and approachability of canned and boxed wines appeals to Millennials and Gen Z, they’re not the only ones enjoying alternative wine packaging.
Vinca Wine’s Jack admits that he thought the demographic choosing canned wines would be a largely young crowd who were used to drinking RTD cocktails. “However, we’ve seen in reality it is a much broader demographic that is championing canned wines, and on our website the average age is much higher than we originally thought it would be.”
Jeremy puts it down to the versatility of the products. “The demographic for ‘alternative’ wine packaging formats is quite wide ranging because there’s multiple usage occasions for them.”
For many producers, the goal is to make wine less intimidating and more approachable, as well as more compatible with people’s on-the-go lives.
The market has changed dramatically in recent years, with cans now largely accepted as a sustainable format for drinks. “We have now seen a shift from where we were trying to sell the benefits of canned wines to customers actively coming to us looking to switch to canned wines,” Jack says.
“We’re already seeing [canned wine trusted by consumers] with the quick-serve format readily accepted over plastic alternatives in venues like stadiums, theatres and hotels,” Ben adds. “Naturally the format works for the outdoors, its lightweight key for hikes in the hills or taking on picnics, but it is also growing in popularity for indoor dining with people looking to drink less but better wine and venues making more sustainably-conscious decisions on what wine they serve.” For restaurants, cans have the added benefit of removing liquid waste from by-the-glass serves.
In markets like France and Sweden, Jeremy says, 40% of all wine sold is boxed wine.
However, there will always be traditionalists.
“There’s still a stigma around screw-top wine for some people,” Charlie says. “Coca-Cola might sell a trillion cans of Coke each year, but it will always taste better out of a glass bottle. Canned wine will never replace that magic ritual of opening up a bottle of wine, but made the right way, it’s a delicious, simple and sustainable option for life’s everyday adventures,” he says.
“We’re up against a long tradition in the UK of sharing a bottle of wine. We need to remember that enjoying wine is experience-driven and for sharing with friends, colleagues and loved ones. The bottle is part of that,” Ben adds.
So is it worth stocking canned and boxed wine? Consider your customers and the time of year. “I think it’s highly person and market dependent,” WSET’s Lydia says.
One retailer tells Speciality Food they stopped stocking canned wines after the stock failed to sell particularly well. But with interest rising (as little as two years ago, canned wine made up just one in every 20 sold – now it’s one in eight) they’re considering bringing them back next summer for the picnic market.
If you already stock canned and boxed wines but are struggling to shift your stock, try holding a tasting event. According to Jessica, “Canned wine enhances wine tasting events, surprising customers with quality and enabling them to sample a broader range of styles for the price of one bottle.”