Only beer comes in a can, right? Sure, historically, beer was the main alcoholic drink that came in a can. Then, in the 1990s, cans had come for RTDs, with waves of whisky, vodka and rum finding a happy home in a tin.
But now cans have come for wine and craft cocktails, and it’s promising to be a game-changer for venues, providing convenience and COVID-safe practicality.
That last part is especially important. The pandemic has fuelled a shift to on-the-go offerings, with single-serve, sealed drinks giving a sense of security to drinkers that free-pour beverages lacked. Combine that with the space-saving efficiency and recyclability of cans and you have a potential recipe for success in venues.
The rise in cans for premium wine is perhaps the most interesting. Wine, as a category, is notoriously conservative, with packaging and drinks formats famously resistant to change. Fine wine comes in a glass bottle and is then poured into another glass. Anything beyond that – whether it is cask, can or other – has negative quality connotations, particularly with traditional, typically older audiences.
All that is changing with a younger generation. As drinks analytics company IWSR research director and Head of Wine Daniel Mettyear explains, a new wave of quality-focused canned wine products is cutting through the perceptions by embracing some of the packaging and ethos of craft beer and RTDs in cans.
“Newer, younger consumers are more willing to try out wine in cans and get involved with the category,” he said.
Canned wine is not a new idea, with the concept seen way back in the 60s when Sydney wine merchant Doug Lamb imported cans of Beaujolais (and the 30s before that). Yet the physical properties of wine (high acidity and reasonable alcohol levels) meant that these early cans typically had a short shelf life, plagued by problems with stability and corrosion.
As Tom O’Donnell, founder of canned wine specialist Riot Wine Co explains, canned wine is a great concept.
‘Wine in can is awesome when there is awesome wine in a can. No light, no oxygen, no reason to add masses of preservatives. It’s fast, fresh, accessible wine’.
It’s that fresh, accessible nature that is influencing a new generation of drinkers. And it has fuelled growth of over 30% in the 12 months to December 2020.
There are other benefits too – cans tap into a modern ethos of cutting down on wastage and a sense of wellness. Most cans are the equivalent of half a bottle of wine or less, allowing for greater portion control as Mettyear explains “One of the things that puts less experienced wine drinkers off exploring different wines is that you have to buy a whole bottle – and you might end up throwing half of it away”.
For venues, this smaller serve option can also be very profitable. Cans can offer all the benefits and flexibility of a by the glass option, sans wastage.
Mixed drinks in cans is hardly a new phenomenon, but it is a category enjoying unprecedented popularity, with global sales estimated to be growing at an annual compounded rate of 21% according to IWSR.
One of the biggest movers within this segment is the canned cocktail, where a reinvention of the old sweet and nasty style of RTD has instead focused on premium ingredients and a sense of wellness – drinks that taste good and are better for you (to put it simply).
Covering elements like Australian native botanicals, locally made quality spirits and innovative mixes, this sub-category is enjoying unprecedented popularity.
As Play Market Research points out, the canned cocktail format appeals largely to younger consumers, who associate RTDs with convenience, innovation and a practical fit for their social activities and lifestyle, while the premium ingredients give a perception of quality.
Perhaps even more interesting is a nascent trend for bars to start canning their own cocktails, which not only acts as a wonderful branding opportunity but is also a convenient way to enjoy a bar’s signature drinks at home
“Canned cocktails are here to stay because they meet a huge need,” says Melkon Khosrovian of Greenbar Distillery in Los Angeles, noting that a cocktail-in-a-can “when your favourite bartender isn’t around and you don’t want to make it yourself.”