Popping a Can v. a Bottle of Wine – Can Consumers Get Behind Canned Wine?

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Canned wine. It’s not an oxymoron. Far from it. Canned wines are the latest packaging player in the wine industry and its market size value is expected to more than double to $571.8 million by 2028.

For a lot of winemakers, environmental sustainability is a key factor in moving away from glass bottles. And, when you look at the numbers, it makes sense. According to the Aluminum Association, aluminum is “infinitely recyclable,” has a higher recycling rate and uses 20 times the recycled content, compared to plastic. In California, aluminum cans have a 74% recycling rate through the CRV program compared to 64% for glass. However, by January 1, 2024, wine bottles will be added to the CRV program which CalRecycle estimates could bring in more than a billion wine and spirits containers into the program. But when it comes to transporting wines, emissions from glass bottles is 56% higher than aluminum cans.

These are factors that local and global winemakers are looking at before packaging up their products.

For European-based canned wine company DJUCE, the team was on a mission to branch out of the traditional wine experience before launching their company in 2022 – which ultimately led to canning all their wines. “We started DJUCE because we felt that, although we love drinking wine, we didn’t really relate with how the traditional brands packaged, sold, and built experiences for the product. In our exploration to change this, we found that more than half of the negative impact of wine is packaging related and that the can saved 80% of the CO2 emissions compared to the glass bottle. This became the starting point for the company,” said Philip Marthinsen, founder of Djuce.

For some of the winemakers joining the canned wine club, having a sustainable package is just a piece of the puzzle to being more environmentally-friendly as a whole.

“One thing that we pride ourselves in is making sure it’s sustainable in the field, as well. So, the wine that we’re putting into the can is at minimum sustainably farmed, if not organically farmed, whenever possible. If we’re pushing the sustainable message, we want to also push the sustainable farming message, as well, because it all goes hand-in-hand,” said Hilary Cocalis, founder of Sipwell Wine Co. Sipwell Wine Co. sells canned wines, exclusively, using premium sustainable wines from Central California.

Oddish Wine in San Diego is taking it a step further and putting half of every wine they make into a keg so they can pour wines onsite at their Morena (San Diego) location. And, if people want to take wine to-go, they’ll can on demand like breweries do with crowlers. They also can all of their sparkling wines that aren’t in bottles.

“For our winery, people love it because they’re getting the wine at the winery. Usually people will come taste wine and want to take something to go, they don’t balk at it whether it’s in a bottle or can – they already like it. We haven’t seen any push back,” said Billy Beltz, co-owner of Oddish Wine.

While aluminum is a more sustainable packaging tool, it isn’t perfect. To get aluminum, the mining of bauxite is required which means removing any vegetation and the top soil in the selected area. The Aluminum Extruders Council says that “on average, 1743 square feet of land is required to produce 1000 tons of bauxite” and to help with any environmental disturbances, “the industry rehabilitates an equivalent amount of finished mining sites.” Countries like Australia, China, Brazil, India and Guinea are the top producers of bauxite with “tens of millions of metric tons mined each year,” according to The Aluminum Association. With this, there are some reports of the mining leading to runoff that impacts community’s water supplies and has turned farmland into mining operations.

Another struggle wine makers share is changing the consumer perspective that drinking quality wine isn’t only possible from a bottle.

“When someone starts saying they’re going to open a 16 oz. with dinner and share it with somebody, then the market is going to be changed,” said Eric Van Drunen, winemaker at Charlie & Echo. Charlie & Echo currently can their special release wines, which he says is a small percent of what they produce. While a $10 can could work for the wine drinker heading to the pool for the day, he thinks it will be tough for people to pay $25 per can for specialty wine. “People then still go back to the heavy bottle with a cork in it.”

Hilary of Sipwell Wine Co. says she’s found three “camps” of wine drinkers:

·  People who have never seen wine in a can before

·  People who have had terrible canned wine and now have a bed perception of it

·  People who are embracing the movement and are probably into natural wines and buying boxed wine

For a company that only sells canned wines, her job is changing the majority of people’s mindset to see canned wine as a positive experience through sampling, event tastings, and using social media to tell their story.

“I hope that more people embrace cans. I would broaden that to say that I hope people embrace alternative packaging more generally. I’m seeing very reputable wine producers that are putting wine in bag and box. I think any time you can have great quality and push the limits on the packaging it’s going to help people’s acceptance of it,” said Cocalis.

Another hurdle for some of the winemakers: capabilities to can wines.

“I would love to go all in on it. There’s too many operational market issues that to me prevent us from doing this at this point and so we kind of keep it focused on special release stuff and keeping our toes wet until we see when the market operationally has support systems and the market itself is more ready for it,” said Van Drunen.  

Billy Beltz from Oddish Wine had a similar struggle. He found that a canning line is much more expensive than a bottle line — $60-75k for a decent canning line compared to $5k for a bottling machine, as a small wine producer. “They’re behind the curve in terms of offering canning options for really small producers.”

Cocalis rents a mobile canning line for the day when she’s canning her wines in Paso Robles. She says one downside with cans is you have to have a large enough quantity to can – for her that’s 300-400 cases at a time to make it worth it.

So, with all the pros and cons of canning wine, what do winemakers in this space see as next steps to get canned wine the attention it deserves, compared to their wine bottle counterparts?

“It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. I think more wine makers need to do it and I think more wine drinkers need to accept it and I’m not sure what is going to push the other one forward,” said Cocalis.

“It’s not just celebrating canned wine, it’s celebrating alternatively packaged wine or eco-friendly packaged wine. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that – in cans, bags — as Millenial and Gen Z wine drinkers start to move the industry toward what they value. I think a lot of consumers still don’t understand how much of an impact a glass bottle has,” said Beltz.

“It will take a long time until ‘king bottle’ is dethroned when it comes to wine. The change will come from companies like Djuce together with many others putting great wine into alternative packaging and inspiring consumers to rethink their relationship with wine. Increased packaging regulation forcing producers to change to more sustainable alternatives is another key part in creating the necessary change,” said Marthinsen.

If this is the case, these winemakers are pushing the needle to get more wine cans on our shelves and the data is on their side.