Can it, really?

There's been a lot of chatter about wine in cans recently, and the wine trade seems to be getting quite excited about their potential. There's particular hype about the sudden boom of canned wine in America, where sales rose by 125% last year, to $14.5 million. 

I think wine in cans is something the trade should be positive about. The advantages of canning is well-rehearsed: lower cost, lower weight, lower fragility and no exposure to sunlight. Furthermore, canning technology means there need be no compromise to quality, plus cans have been hugely successful within the craft beer industry - that last fact being the de facto holy grail for all other alcohols right now.

But the idea that wine in cans will be the next big thing is completely bonkers.

Canned wine has potential, and it's great to see that it is being greeted enthusiastically. However, the scope of that potential is very limited. For example, that $14.5 million figure? It equates to 0.027% of the total value of the US wine market. Not so canny.

There seems to be a misconception that canned wine will reach the same sort of scale it has in other drinks - but here are the reasons that is impossible.

  1. Standard canned drinks are single serves. Whether it's 330 ml of beer or 250 ml of premixed gin and tonic or 500 ml of Monster energy drink, they represent an individual portion. For most wine, these sizes are too big. And sharing a can between two people starts defeating the purpose.
  2. Smaller cans look too small. Mixers come in 150 ml cans, which is a more appropriate size for a single glass of wine, but from a marketing, merchandising and handling point of view, they would be unpopular.
  3. Single-serve wine containers already exist - for example, plastic wine glasses with tear-off lids. They sell well at travel locations (especially train stations) but have never penetrated the mainstream. Why should cans be any different?
  4. Wine is unique. Now, I admit that this can make the industry sound blinkered, but there is truth to it. The convention of wine in 750 ml glass bottles is so entrenched that it will always dominate. Wine is either be served by the glass, or by the bottle for a table to share. Cans are a solution to a problem that wine doesn't really have.

To repeat: I do not think canned wine is bad news. I welcome the innovation. But it's never going to become the next big thing.