Wine in cans soars in stores: Research hints at why it's more than a millennial movement
While design for high-end wines continues to build on visual cues that communicate luxury and tradition, with glass bottles being key to that, those reaching to a majority of consumers below that level increasingly are embracing aluminum packaging.
Vintners historically have taken the pulse of consumer trends by talking with consumers and trade market experts who focus on wine.
But research increasingly suggests wine marketers need to widen their web of inspiration beyond the industry, according to Peggy Gsell, client business partner for data research firm Nielsen, which collects and analyzes data from store sales and consumer usage. Gsell has focused on wine market research for two decades.
'One of the things that's become abundantly clear over the last few years is that the lines of distinction between beer, wine and spirits have really started to blur,' Gsell said at the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference in Napa Valley recently.
And the lines are being blurred further by category-fluid producers of adult beverages, she said, pointing to examples such as Treasury Wine Estates' extension of its virtual-reality brand 19 Crimes into India pale ales and MillerCoors' expansion into wine with Movo wine spritzers and Anheuser-Busch InBev's recent acquisition of the fast-selling Babe canned wine line.
'Consumers don't really care anymore whether or not it's a malt-based or a spirits-based or a wine-based product,' Gsell said. 'They just want a product that's fulfilling one of their needs states.'
Those needs include desires for a more healthful lifestyle, something that pairs well with food or an exciting beverage to have at parties, she said.
And the move toward reformatting products to meet consumer needs, such as smaller portion sizes and portability, is part of a movement across all consumer packaged goods, said Kelly Cohn Nielsen, vice president and innovation business partner for the research firm.
'It expands usage occasions, to make sure the package is more appropriate for different types of occasions,' she said.
Experimentation with product content and packaging is coming to beverage alcohol as sales growth for U.S. beer and wine overall has slowed to a few percentage points annually in the past couple years, Gsell said. Beer and wine have benefited from premiumization — raising product quality and unit prices — as sales growth has tended to be higher as prices go up.
But the producers of wines at the premium level have also seen a bump in sales from embracing packaging focused on convenience: spigoted boxes and single-serving cartons and bottles, especially the latter made from plastic or aluminum.
While the dollar value of wine sales in U.S. grocery, liquor and convenience stores were up only 1.6% in the 52 weeks ending in mid-July, according to Nielsen, those for wine in plastic single-serving 187-milliliter bottles and for paperboard TetraPak cartons of various sizes were over 10%, reaching roughly $200 million-plus each.
But canned wine dollar sales growth jumped by over three-fours in that same time period, albeit on a much smaller base of $93 million in sales. For 375-milliliter cans, equivalent to half a standard 750-millilliter bottle, dollar growth more than tripled, to $33 million.
Glass bottles, the standard and double-sized 1.5 liter, still made up 87% of dollar sales for wine in stores in those 12 months, up 2% from a year before for 750 milliliters but down 4% for the larger format, according to Nielsen. Meanwhile, alternative packaging such as cans made up 10%-13% of dollar share, up 6%-9%.
To put this share in perspective, the retail value of wine sales in the U.S. last year was $68.1 billion, including stores, restaurants and other venues, an increase of 4.2% from 2017, according to the Wine Institute.
While the first California wine in a single-serving can is said to have emerged in 1936, that effort was short-lived. It would take six decades before the industry picked up the vessels again. While breweries had been rolling out their beverage in cans as well as bottles during that time, U.S. vintners largely stuck with glass.
That began to change nearly two decades ago, when concerns about 'cork taint' led some wineries, particularly Down Under, to shift to aluminum screw caps and later experiment with aluminum cans. A big effort by cork businesses here and stretching back through the supply chain to the forests overseas to eradicate the problem chemical compounds helped.