Canned wine: thing or fad?

cans on their side

Summer 2018 saw an unusual trend sweep the wine industry.

Cans. With actual wine inside. Canned wine, in other words.

It’s really true – you can now get your Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc in tinnies. Now, these may seem ideal for picnics or park BBQs…

…but summer is over. Temperatures have dropped, and spontaneous outdoor drinking and toasting is a distant memory. So, is the ‘wine can’ one of 2018’s short-lived fads, or will it revolutionise the way we consume wine?

Across the pond

That is certainly true of the US, where canned wine is now a $45 million industry.

In the States, wine in cans has grown in popularity over the last few years (upmarket grocer Whole Foods declared 2016 the year of canned wine) and the trend looks sure to continue. Sales of canned wine grew 43% in the US from June 2017 to June 2018, according to BW 166, a beverage alcohol market research firm.

Despite accounting for 0.2% of total wine sales, it’s clear canned wine is growing rapidly in popularity, even when compared to the more traditional wine bottles. These currently account for 90% of total sales.

Reaching UK shores

Back in 2016, The Independent covered the growing tinned wine trend in the US – and the UK’s complete lack of interest in the product.

“The trend has failed to pick up in the UK, despite the hopes of US manufacturers and the popularity of other US imports such as freakshakes or cold-brew coffees. No major supermarkets stock canned wine or plan to do so.”

Two years on and the British thirst for canned-wine has certainly increased.

May 2018 saw the first ever launch of English wine in a can. Drinks brand The Uncommon released a lightly sparkling Bacchus using grapes grown in Surrey, after 18 months in development.

“We add CO2, which is a common method in lightly sparkling wines such as a Vinho Verde. This way we can freshen up the wine without making it overly fizzy or sweet which is often the case with traditional or charmat method wines such as champagne and prosecco.” Founders Alex Thraves and Henry Connell told The Drinks Business.

“It also allows us to work within the tolerances of the can and be much more creative with the wines we make. We will be canning still wines next year also”.

The Uncommon isn’t the only one to get on the trend. Following independent drinks brands, major wine makers and fellow supermarkets alike Waitrose introduced an organic rosé and a Shiraz.

“Wine in a can is growing at a rapid rate in the US and it’s only a matter of time before this catches on in the UK,” says Waitrose wine buyer Victoria Mason. “We’re excited to bring back the trend of wine in a can. Following the success of small bottles at Waitrose last year, with sales increasing by 10%, we know our customers are looking for convenient and environmentally-friendly packaging options for wine.”

Pros and cons

Canned wine has a clear upside that makes its popularity soar in summer: Convenience. The portability of a light can, compared to a heavy bottle, makes it ideal for bringing along to a festival, the park, the beach or even the street corner.

But is the ease of travel worth ditching the age-perfected design of the bottle, cork and glass?

A large part of the sensory satisfaction we get from wine comes down to smell. By drinking wine from a can, you lose the opportunity to enjoy it fully. This slightly desensitised experience also could mean producers can sell you lower quality wines, based on the premise your palate won’t be able to taste the difference.

“Drinking wine of a certain quality is the same as choosing between a ready-meal or home-cooking. Both are cheap and accessible, but the results are different,” says the Independent’s Terry Kirby.

But does drinking out of a can ensure you’re accepting a lower quality drinking experience?

“Experience over status should always define one’s evaluation of wine, or anything else for that matter,” says Tom Harrow. The co-founder of UK-based Honest Grapes adds that alternative packaging is “rightly accepted by all bar the most provincial, stubbornly reactionary wine drinkers”.

Future trends

Will the canned wine trend persist beyond this year? Some experts seem to think so.

Devon Broglie, master sommelier and chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas division, says canned wines are “very drinkable” and a “solid value for the money.”

While he predicts the incredible growth of the canned wine industry will start to stabilise over the next few years, he expects the market will continue to expand in selection and quality.

“[Canned wine] is not to be frowned upon, at all,” he told CNBC.

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