For years, adult beverages packaged in aluminum cans have been often perceived as cheaper, lower-quality, or less potent than the craft beers in glass bottles. But as store shelves, craft beer blogs, and brewery Instagram feeds show us, the trend in cans over bottles is going strong. And now more craft brewers—and wineries!—are turning to an aluminum can package than ever before. What’s more: These brewers aren’t leaving anything to tradition. They’re experimenting with various can sizes with different usage occasions and designs, all in an effort to differentiate their products. Fat, Skinny, 8.4oz, 12oz, 16oz, 22oz, 24oz—breweries have stretched the creative potential of the aluminum can. This makes for stiff competition in brewers’ can designs and off-premise placements.
According to Brewer’s Association article Cans and Bottles: Craft Beer Packaging Trends, Bart Watson explains that “Packaging is also an area where there is clearly opportunity to differentiate. In our latest Nielsen Craft Insights Panel (CIP), ‘container type’ was the area where the highest percentage (55%) of craft drinkers said there was ‘not enough’ variety, versus 29% for ‘more than enough’ and 16% for ‘just enough.’”
In a recent interview Phear Creative conducted as part of CEO Elliott Phear's By the Bootstraps video series, a local Master Brewer discussed the brewery’s constantly evolving strategy for aluminum can packaging: “We launched 16oz cans thinking they were a unique and a cool package, [but] then you go to a grocery store and they say, ‘These don’t fit on our shelf,’ and then your 16oz cans go up where no one sees them. So you circle back, change things, and keep learning.”
So, despite the challenges, canned beer has plenty of advantages—and the “beer can stigma” is long over. Consumers now understand that cans allow for a more consistent flavor, as they’re protected from UV light (less chance of “skunky beer”). Cans are also cheaper to manufacture, ship, and recycle. Ultimately, cans are more environmentally friendly, something millennial consumers and even Generation Z-ers agree impacts their purchasing decisions.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
“Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share,” says Grace Farraj, SVP, Public Development & Sustainability, Nielsen. “But build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials.”
So it’s no surprise that more and more breweries are replacing bottling lines with canning lines.
WINE & CIDER
And because of the can’s success in the craft beer industry, that alternative packaging choice is starting to revolutionize the wine and cider industries.
In speaking with the owner of an upstate NY cidery, our CEO was told, “the can is already the trend. But you’ll see in the next couple of years that if you’re not canning your product, you are going to wish you were.”
A co-founder for a new canned wine brand added that, "with what [we] and some other companies are doing with cans, there is always room for something new. It’s cool that at wine shops, whether they are chain or independent, the alternatively packaged section is ever growing. That’s a testament to the fact that people are more open to drinking wine in different ways.”
THE KEY INSIGHT: MILLENIALS CONSUME CONVENIENCE
Millennials demand convenience—and what’s more convenient than a can?! This same demographic killing the cereal industry based on their overwhelming desire for convenient consumption methods. (The New York Times reported that a survey conducted by Mintel, a global research firm, found nearly 40% of millennials consider cereal inconvenient to consume. Why? Because it needs to be cleaned up after eating.) So while there are hurdles, especially for the wine industry, around quality in a can, the portable, convenient can experience is more important.
This “Millennial Convenience” concept is a key growth contributor to the food and beverage industries. According to Slate.com’s article, “Drinking Wine from Cans Is Now Popular and Acceptable,” convenience is an “increasingly important part of the food industry, as millennial customers are ditching kitchen staples like cereal for being ‘too much work.’”
So, what does this mean for wine? Well, bottles aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Sure, some people are still getting over the idea of a screw top vs. a cork. But cans open new opportunities and occasions for the wine and cider industries.
We are also already seeing growth within the boxed wine category. Shaken News recently reported that premium boxed wine is seeing double-digit growth. “The total premium boxed wine category was up 25% in IRI channels last year, compared with value boxed wine’s 1.6% decline.”
Another wine brand utilizing cans is the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Lauren Kosteski, Director of Kosteski & Co., a Brooklyn-based brand strategy consultancy, has been “watching the Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Mini Sparkling Wine Cans pop up in my life for the last five years,” she says “They started off with a ‘shrink it and pink it’ mentality marketing toward women, but I saw how easily the can format was enjoyed. The combo of a ‘mini’ small can, good graphic design and a name brand was convenient and never embarrassing to carry outdoors at concerts, weddings, bridal or baby showers, picnics and upscale BBQ parties. The other notable can concept is the tall skinny can adopted by the energy drink industry that’s now appearing in craft beer. What was once a signature for Red Bull has become a signature for Six Point Brewery: tall and skinny, with superior graphic design.”
According to Phear Creative’s 2017 survey, 47.6% of the time wine is enjoyed at home with a significant other or roommates. However, the canned and boxed wine experience could allow this to expand as the experience provides convenience for new drinking occasions.
Our survey also showed that 23.3% of respondents find drinking wine from a can a bit awkward. However, in speaking with experts in the field, we find that once consumers try wine from a can, they love it. Therefore, if a canned wine is looking to market itself, then it’s not about the can but where you can go with it: the beach, music festivals, boating, hiking, camping, etc. Great news for adventurous consumers who don’t always want to drink beer.