Wine consumers in the US and Canada are reappraising their relationship with different wine formats – cans, box wine and other non-glass formats – now seeing them in a new and more positive light
‘Never let a crisis go to waste’ is a phrase that has had a lot of airtime of late. It is an appropriate way to describe the current state of alternative (that is to say, non-standard 75cl glass bottle) wine packaging in the US and Canada right now.
Our 2020 study of consumer usage and attitudes to wine packaging formats in the US and Canada (released as separate reports this week) suggests that while 75cl glass bottles still dominant, the growth of smaller formats, and particularly cans, are continuing to gain momentum.
So far, these new trends remain small in absolute terms. While awareness levels of canned wine have grown dramatically in the past three years, even today fewer than four in ten wine consumers in both the US and Canada are even aware that wine can come in a can, and only 6% (Canada) and 8% (US) say they have bought canned wine in the past six months. More compelling however is the rate of change of purchase of cans – this has doubled since 2017 – and the growing proportion of consumers who would consider buying canned wine if it was available and the product itself was right for them.
Perhaps the most arresting insight from this report is the extent to which smaller formats generally, and cans in particular, are welcomed by those aged 21-39 – the Millennials and Gen Z, whose purchasing power and preferences will shape the wine category for the next 30-40 years. Millennial wine drinkers are no more likely to have come across wine in a can than anyone else, but they are over 50% more likely to buy this format once they know about it. For Gen Z members who have reached legal drinking age, they are twice as likely compared with drinkers generally to buy wine in a can once they know it exists.
As to motivations for smaller formats, the data offers some new interpretations to add to familiar tropes about younger drinkers seeking control, portability and moderation. While convenience is a key driver of can purchase, it is also seen as a low risk, low cost way of trialing new products and wine styles. In the end, the can could be as much about helping consumers on the discovery path in wine as it doubtless will be as a lightweight and portion-controlled alternative to a standard bottle.
The one exception to the ‘smaller-is-better’ phenomenon comes from Canada. Here, the recent lockdown situation appears to have revived the bag-in-box market, which was trending downwards in terms of long-term usage but has had a renaissance in the past few months as restrictions on shopping have encouraged bulk buying. As with small format, the bag-in-box boost seems to be coming from younger and more involved wine drinkers, who have historically avoided this format. More excitement is expected in bag-in-box in the coming months, as producers react to the change in the sales trend and bring more variety and innovation to bear to reach these recent converts.