Cans and Beyond: The State of Alternative Wine Packaging

March 14, 2019 In Industry Trends

From boxes to cans and beyond, wine packaging stands apart in terms of its diversity, playfulness, and desire to match changing consumer preferences.

The recent history of alternative wine packaging began with boxed wines. Patents for bagged-and-boxed wine were filed around 50 years ago. The products, pushed out by companies like Franzia, were quickly frowned upon by wine purists and forced to grapple with a stigma of cheapness. That changed around 2003, when Black Box Wines started producing premium products in sustainable box packaging.

Since then, consumers have more than warmed up to alternative formats, especially cans — a style that’s been gaining momentum ever since Francis Ford Coppola Winery introduced mini cans of its Sofia Rosé and Riesling. While total volume sales for cans is smaller than that of bottles, the format is growing at a much faster rate.


The Canned Wine Trend

Canned wine accounts for only about 0.2% of wine sold in the U.S. But multiple data points show that sales grew nearly 50% from 2017 to 2018, suggesting that cans’ share of the market could increase exponentially in the near future.

In fact, Wine Society co-founder Angela Allison predicts that wine in cans could grow to 30% of the category in the next five years — a reshuffling similar to the rise of craft beer.

Interestingly, bottles and cans aren’t exactly competing with one another. A study from Texas Tech University found that cans are actually helping winemakers widen their reach to new audiences, rather than cannibalizing existing bottle sales.

So who makes up the customer base for canned wines? Millennials — once again revising product preferences and forcing manufacturers to rethink their approach. This younger demographic displays an interest in beverages that are more affordable, portable, sustainable and single-serving. Canned wine seems to satisfy many of these desires.

  • Affordable: A can of wine generally costs less than $10. And, because it only holds one to two-and-a-half servings, it carries less “experimental risk”  for the consumer compared to larger, more expensive bottles.
  • Portable: There are many places a wine bottle can’t go: golf courses, beaches, public parks. Wine has traditionally lost out on these occasions, as consumers opt for beer bottles and six-packs. Canned wine (as well as other alternative packaging options) repositions the category as a contender for on-the-go occasions.
  • Sustainable: Broadly-speaking, cans are more easily produced and more efficiently recycled than wine bottles. Their smaller serving sizes also make for less waste: it’s much easier to finish a can before the product goes bad.
  • Familiar: Cans are less intimidating (thanks to soda, seltzer and craft beer) and, for a younger crowd, more interesting. Perhaps this combination of familiarity and novelty will push craft beer drinkers into the wine category — after all, when it’s a matter of simply reaching for a different can (rather than a corkscrew), it seems plausible that consumers will be more open to experimentation. We’ll be keeping an eye on the data.

Canned Wine Products

As this generation of wine drinkers continues to take hold of the market, many winemakers have added canned varieties to their lineup.

Union Wine introduced its Underwood line of canned wines on the early side of the trend (back in 2014), and has proven to be a success story. In 2017, after just three years, canned wine made up nearly 50% of its wine production business.

Last year, further growth showed that cans were here to stay. AB InBev acquired Swish, which produces the “Babe” line of canned sparkling wines — a bold foray out of beer that signals suppliers’ confidence in the trend. Many of the largest wine producers in the country also made moves, including House Wine, whose canned products were on track to make up 50% of brand volume by the end of 2018, and Dark Horse, whose canned products saw 38% growth from 2017 to 2018.

While cans are experiencing significant growth on the back of millennial consumers, it’s just the beginning of what could be a richly experimental time for wine and wine packaging. The expansion of DTC capabilities has spawned even more interesting alternative packaging, like VineBox’s one-glass sampler vials and Garçon Wines’ flat bottles for sustainable shipping.


Conclusion

It seems likely that we’ll see even more packaging variety in the near future, especially single-serving sizes as the demand for portability continues to grow. From vials to smaller bottles to cans of all sizes, the range of options (and what types of wine go into them) will continue to multiply and change. Confidently, we can say that alternative packaging and smaller serving options will evolve in tandem to better accommodate the preferences of younger consumers.

As always, ground your understanding of the market and your plan of action in data. 3×3 partners with retailers, distributors and manufacturers to deliver deep insights about brand performance and customer buying behaviors. Start a conversation at 3x3insights.com/signup to find out how we can help you track the success of different packaging formats.