The can-do moment for small format

Wine in cans is starting to take off in the UK as consumers buy into more portable formats, by Sonya Hook

What’s not to love about canned drinks? They are easy to carry and to recycle, and they have successfully made their mark in a number of drinks categories including beer, cider and pre-mixed cocktails.

What’s more, the age-old question about whether wine in cans will ever take off in the UK is now being answered with a number of brands reporting strong sales, following the lead of the US where off-trade sales grew by 69% last year to $79.3 million (Forbes, year to June 15, 2019).

But is this format likely to remain a niche category for a small segment of wine drinkers, or will it really take off for a number of styles at different price points? And will we see other innovations in small format wine?

Jo Taylorson, Kingsland Drinks’ head of marketing and product management, says 2020 will be “make or break” for the UK’s wine-in-can sector.

She says: “It is an excellent opportunity for the category to entice new, younger consumers and engage existing wine drinkers with a new format, but we have to be realistic about the size of the opportunity as it stands and look at the competition in terms of spirits and mixers and canned cocktails, which are both going from strength to strength.

“Arguably these formats are paving the way for canned wine, but we can’t deny that the expectations are higher as wine drinkers have well-established consumption cues for quality, with the glass, temperature, atmosphere and beyond all playing a role.”

Taylorson adds: “Equally, the canned wine opportunity could be the wake-up wine has been waiting for, a shake-up that demands it take itself less seriously, marks a move away from well-trodden and restrictive ways to consumers, while inserting itself into younger moments in a relevant way.”

Broadland Wineries is optimistic about the future of wine in cans, having invested in a canning line, which comes on stream this month.

Liz Cobbold, marketing director, says: “Although wine in cans still represents a small segment of the market, our own consumer feedback since we launched Minivino Rosé Fizz last summer is that this trend is going to grow, particularly in the convenience sector.

“Demand is driven by need – an easily accessible product, which allows measured consumption.

“What is key is keeping the quality high. Consumers want the same level of quality that they would expect from a bottle.

“If the trade can honour this, then cans, and all single-serve formats, will continue to grow.”

Mark Roberts, director of sales at Lanchester Wines, also expects the canned wine trend will grow in 2020 and beyond.

He says: “Our business is at the forefront, thanks to the installation of the UK’s first wine canning line at our sister business, Greencroft Bottling.”

He adds: “It wasn’t so long ago the UK wine trade baulked at bulk wine or screwcap but consumer demand has ensured both are now the norm.”

Off-Piste Wines has had a few years to test and perfect its canned wine offer, having launched the first canned wines to be sold in major multiple retailers in 2017.

Rachel Osborne, marketing manager, says: “Our Most Wanted and Pinot Pinot [wine brands] accounted for 61% of all canned wine sales, in the UK off-trade in a category that is now worth £3.6 million (Nielsen, year to August 10, 2019).”

Osborne says that in 2020 the canned wine sector will continue to grow with more definitely to come from Off-Piste.

She notes, however, that for the time being it is likely to remain a niche segment, although the future looks positive.

She adds: “We think canned wine has turned a corner in terms of consumer perception. People get the idea, they understand the advantages and that the single serve is an opportunity to moderate their alcohol consumption.”

Meanwhile, Taylorson at Kingsland points out that lower-abv drinks could play a key role in the canned wine space. She says: “Lower-alcohol wine-based drinks are another opportunity for growth in cans, with 4-5.5% abv being deemed more accessible for ready-to-drink formats than typical wine at 11-14% abv.”

Kingsland has also been exploring other packaging formats for wine, including 50cl bottles and bag-in-box.

Off-Piste is also keen to champion the bag-in-box format.

Osborne says: “Sustainability in all areas of life has already started to transform consumer buying habits. This will only become more important in future with consumers rightly questioning every part of the packaging process.

“Canned wine is obviously a bit-part in this, but we have seen a renewed interest in quality bag-in-box wines and we have two new listings for our Most Wanted bag-in-box range in Asda this year as a result.

Labelling technology: Using smartphone apps to bring wine packaging to life
Another area of innovation in wine has been in labelling and producers are increasingly exploring ways of being creative in this segment.

Treasury Wine Estates is one producer in this space and throughout 2019 it pushed forward with its Living Wine Labels app, which it launched to help customers build a stronger connection with brands.

The app uses augmented reality (AR), which, through the use of a smartphone, allows wine labels to come to life to tell the story of a brand. The app now has more than 3.5 million downloads globally and the average session length stands at five minutes 38 seconds, which TWE says compares to an industry average of four minutes 38 seconds.

Ben Blake, head of marketing, Europe, says: “The success of the AR technology among consumers has led us to further develop the Living Wine Labels technology, extending it to other brands within the portfolio. TWE is the first wine company to roll out AR technology at scale and it now features on several brands within the portfolio.”

The Living Wine Labels feature on TWE brands 19 Crimes, Wolf Blass, Matua, Squealing Pig, Lindeman’s Bins and Lindeman’s Gentleman’s Collection.

The technology also features on Embrazen, which TWE launched into the UK earlier in 2019. Mark Roberts, director of sales at Lanchester

Wines, also confirms that technology has helped drive innovation in wine labels.

He says: “For example, we have just launched our new Alfonso the Grape [from Argentina], which has six different labels for the same wine. Bottles will contain one of the six labels, making the wine as interesting on the shelf as it is to drink.”

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