Judging by recent events, canned wine seems to be better positioned among Spanish consumers than other alternatives to glass such as bag-in-box (BiB) or kegs in the hospitality industry. In Spain even screw caps are usually dismissed.
There is much to be said in favour of cans. Light, handy, easy to carry and open, they do away with wine’s classic paraphernalia -corkscrews or glasses are not needed. In addition, cans are 100% recyclable and their size is a natural way of limiting consumption at a time when sustainability and health issues have a strong impact on any purchase. Cans also address wine’s major carbon footprint, which is glass bottle transport.
On the other hand, there are technical particularities. As wine has a lower pH than beer, it requires a specific inner lining so that it does not become corrosive. Many producers we spoke to carried out preliminary studies to test whether their wines were suitable to be canned. Additionally, cans are meant for ephemeral use and do not make sense for wines that may benefit from ageing. Canned wines usually exhibit a best-before date within one or two years of filling.
The canned wine trend originated in the US. Its rise has been well documented since the launch in 2004 of Francis Ford Coppola’s Sofia sparkling wine. The success achieved by the famed film maker and wine businessman was comparable to his movie blockbusters, on this occasion under the name of his film maker daughter. According to an article published in Pix last June, by the mid-2000s, new technology had been developed to keep the wine stable and to stop the can’s inner lining from deteriorating.
Since then, figures have been growing steadily. As of 2020, the global market value of canned wine was $211.4m (€217.6m). In a report by Grand View Research looking at opportunities in the aftermath of the Covid crisis, the canned wine market is forecast to grow 13% year-on-year to $571.8m (€590m) by 2028. The US and Canada will continue to be the largest market (now accounting for 53%), but significant development is expected in the Asia-Pacific area over the next few years. The report also suggests that sparkling wines are set to dominate (66.5% of revenue share in 2020) but there is good growth potential for fortified wines. Supermarket chains play a key role in the distribution of canned wine (around 64% in 2020), but online sales are predicted to rise.
In a fledgling market like Spain, figures are hard to find. The OEMV (Spanish Observatory of Wine Markets) lacks statistics for such small formats, and the studies commissioned by the Asociación Latas de Bebidas (formed by the three multinational companies that control global can production, with six factories in Spain) address wine within a broader category that includes beer, sparkling wine, wine-based products and spirits. Its director, Juan Ramón Meléndez, estimates current canned wine production in Spain between four and six million (most cans are 250ml), but there is no real data to support this figure.
Meléndez explains that the growth of canned wine in Spain has been held back due to the shortage of raw materials caused by the war in Ukraine and the surge in demand resulting from changing trends during the pandemic, as a significant part of consumption has shifted to households. In fact, the Spanish can industry has seen growth rates of 5% both in 2020 and 2021, and according to the Spanish brewers' report, cans overtook glass and tap beer for the first time in Spain in 2020.
There is also a growing number of enquiries regarding canned wine. “Almost one a week in the last two years," says Meléndez, who praises the role of manufacturers to meet the needs of the wine industry; two of them have set up specific departments and provide laboratory tests to ensure the stability of canned wine.
Up until now, it has not been plain sailing for canned wine in Spain. Early experiences by Cava producer Cavas Hill in 2008 and Matarromera’s alcohol-free wines in 2009 were unsuccessful. With the benefit of hindsight, Carlos Moro, president of Matarromera, says that the market wasn’t ready for this. Subsequent projects like Ah-So, developed by Artadi’s Carlos López de Lacalle with an American partner in 2017, were specifically meant for export.
The recent release of txakoli Artomaña in a can, with the approval of the DO Arabako Txakolina, was also aimed to the American market. It made a few headlines as the DO gave its blessing to use this packaging. It is not an isolated case, though. La Mancha, Catalunya and Navarra have also endorsed the use of cans for their wines.
EU wine laws do not require PDOs and PGIs to set out specific containers for their wines. Therefore, if it is not specified, limited, or mentioned that it is the responsibility of the Control Board, as is the case of Rioja, its use will be subject to the legislation in force in this area.
Most of the canned wines we have tasted are sold without a geographical designation, but producers sometimes mention the regions where the grapes come from. A Spanish brand called Toff says that it is “Wine from Spain’s best regions to guide your adventures”, but Rioja is mentioned on their website. Zeena, one of the pioneers of canned wine in Spain, also highlights the fact that their still wines are made from white and red Garnacha grown in Terra Alta (Tarragona, Catalonia).
Being an easy-to-chill, ready-to-drink container, bubbly is the most popular category in cans. This fact has encouraged experienced Cava producers like Castelo de Pedregosa, which last year released a pet-nat that finished fermentation in the can (they sell the same wine in glass bottles) or Avinyó. The latter was encouraged by its US importer The Maison Selections, which already sells Spanish wine in keg. Avinyó started in 2021 with 80,000 cans of two pétillant wines made, like prosecco, in large vats and sold as “Sparkling wine from Catalonia”. After solving some initial problems with the bubbles, they have acquired their own canning line. I was struck by how carefully they have crafted the colour of their rosé Pinot Noir and Merlot blend, given that most consumers will drink it straight from the can.
Castelo de Pedregosa, which started in 2021 with its own canning equipment, distinguishes between a range of still wines sold under the DO Catalunya seal and Mi (minimal intervention) where their pet-nat is included. While these canned wines are successfully sold to Norway and Sweden, in Spain only some beach restaurants in Mallorca have shown an interest in them so far.
Vallformosa, a larger Cava producer who has been making low and alcohol-free wines in recent years, feels that canned wine fits perfectly in its strategy. After two years of testing, the company launched this summer I’mperfect (two possible readings here as their cans are described as “perfect wines for an imperfect world”). The range includes two organic wines: a sparkling brut and a rosé, as well as an alcohol-free drink with fizz.
Another angle worth exploring is Spain's role as a supplier of wine destined to be canned by third parties and sold internationally. The next edition of the World Bulk Wine Exhibition (WBWE), to be held in Amsterdam in November, has scheduled a round table to discuss canned wines and highlight successful case studies. One of them, Hands Off Wines, launched in July 2021 a range of wines made in Germany, France and Spain (Valencia and Penedès) and expects to reach 1m cans and worldwide presence by summer next year. “We are focused on low-intervention, organic, vegan, sustainable wines with minimal amounts of copper and sulfites. We have an entry-level range for supermarkets and an upper range of special wines made in limited quantities destined to restaurants and wine stores,” founder Marc Tarrida explains.
In the UK, Canned Wine Co. is setting itself apart with a carefully curated portfolio. In Spain they work with Javier Sanz in Rueda to produce a Barrel Verdejo, and with Norrel Robertson MW in Aragón, who supplies their Old Vine Grenache. Both wines were very well rated in a tasting of canned wines this summer published by Decanter magazine -the highest score was 95 points! According to Ben Franks, director and head buyer, in Spain “there is openness to exporting, there is a lot of quality for the value, and there is a growing, strong focus on sustainability, which is a key part of our business.”
Norrel Robertson MW's experience with a discerning client like Canned Wine Co. includes a long list of requirements such as looking for batches with slightly higher than average pH and lower levels of copper or sulphur which can be reactive and may have a negative impact in the evolution of the wine. At Castelo de Pedregosa, they use half as much sulphur in cans as they do in bottles for identical wines. Meanwhile, natural wine producer Can-Vi, which has two two pet-nats that finish fermentation in the can itself, spent a great deal of time adjusting the winemaking process in order to achieve exactly what they wanted.
Incidentally, the category has its own International Canned Wine Competition, with four editions held to date. Zeena won two gold medals for its sparkling and white wines in the latest 2022 edition, but in previous years gold medals went to Canned Wine Co.'s Old Vine Garnacha and to other Spanish projects like Glass Wine or the canned version of Born Rosé. These two, together with Zeena, were born in Catalonia, a region where numerous canned initiatives are emerging, often adopting marketing and communication strategies that break away from the usual codes of the sector.
Indeed, part of the debate in Spain centres on whether cans may help to lure new consumers, particularly young people, to drink wine. For Gloria Vallés of Wine Style Travel, a strategic and digital marketing company, cans or any other alternative format to glass bottles are an opportunity to expand the market. "Not all wineries are focused on premium or ultra-premium wines; those selling at the bottom end of the market have a lot of pressure on prices given that production outstrips consumption. Cans may enable them to reach younger consumers looking for convenient, fun packaging," she points out.
Speaking from the Spanish association of can producers, Juan Ramón Meléndez points to a mature market like the UK. He says there is now a generation that is used to enjoy their drinks from cans so canned wine doesn't mean a cultural break for them. "We are also seeing this in Spain, especially as cans have become a popular format to drink at home. It’s true that Spanish drinkers mostly prefer red wine, but cans will undoubtedly work for white wine. We are not seeing more cans on supermarket shelves due to current supply shortages."
Vallformosa CEO Marta Vidal is adamant that cans are not going to replace conventional bottles, but they do allow for "new drinking occasions that will push overall wine consumption and make people more aware of wine so that they may order it when they go to a restaurant."
Will cans be a first step towards high quality wines? Carlos López de Lacalle, who works for his famous family bodega, Artadi, and is also involved in Ah-So, prefers to be cautious in this matter. "It is too early to know whether a young drinker who is getting started with canned wine will ever move onto premium wines. Cans are quite new and such an upgrade will also depend largely on their spending budget," he warns.
Unlike other containers, cans seem to appeal to wine businesses with very different interests. Some companies such as Peñascal, Vallformosa or Codorníu (the latter has made its debut with a spritz, but is set to launch a range of canned wines under the Bach brand) sell well in supermarkets; but there are also small and medium-sized organic wine producers and even natural wine producers.
Ah-So Wines, a US-focused project. Behind Ah-So is Carlos López de Lacalle, from Artadi, and his friend Dustin Chiappetta, an experienced professional who owns a wine shop in the US. Over 95% of the wines are sold in this country, the rest in Canada and Japan. It all started in the 2017 vintage with a Garnacha rosé made from young vines grown in Artazu (Navarra), where Artadi has been producing premium wines for a long time. Clearly, they tried to make the most of the exponential growth of the rosé category relying on Garnacha’s bright acidity to produce a fresh, fruit-driven, easy-to-drink rosé under the DO Navarra seal.
Yet Carlos thought it twice before taking the plunge. “At first, when Dustin suggested it during a trip to Colorado, I said no. The following day I noticed all the canned wine around, bought a few of them and discovered that it’s an easy-to-drink style that goes very well the American way of life. You can drink wine at concerts, on hikes… It was about carrying your wine the way you carry your beer.”
The range has expanded with a white, a red and a sparkling wine. All of them are organic wines made from white and red Garnacha grapes that Carlos and his team fill with their own machinery. Total annual production is close to one million 250ml cans which are sold in the US for $20 for a four-pack. After his early misgivings, Carlos has radically changed his views about cans. “Wines have all been canned before they are bottled. It’s called stainless steel tank,” he jokes.
We also asked him about production costs. Is it more expensive to produce canned wines than bottles? “In the end the difference is not that big. Buying our own equipment was the biggest investment, but transport costs are lower as you get twice the volume in a standard container,” he points out.
Can-Vi, the natural way. Like so many others, Cristina Vaqué discovered canned wine in the US. The partner of Conca de Barberà’s natural wine producer Jordi Llorens and head of exports at the bodega, she did not hesitate when her colleague Jordi Solé asked them to produce canned wine. Cristina and Jordi launched their project in 2020 with a white wine; then the pandemic came and they had some time to refine their ideas. Their range has now expanded significatively to include two pet-nats, white and rosé, that finish fermentation in the cans. The rosé is somewhat unusual because it is made from white grapes and macerated on Garnacha skins, resulting in a pale red colour. There is also a light white made from Parellada, a rosé and a red blend of Monastrell and Garnacha that tastes like a genuine vin de soif.
They are not targeting a young audience, but rather consumers of natural wine, regardless of their age. "It's simply about overcoming prejudices and being able to enjoy wine anywhere. There are many moments of consumption: keg moment (tap wine), can, bottle. We used to travel by car and now we travel by train", grins Cristina.
Their canned wines are sold at the same price as bottled wines: between €4.35 and €5, “just as if you buy a €15 bottle”, she points put while emphasising their limitations against beer: “Brewers can ferment every week; we harvest once a year and rely solely on our own vineyards.”
At Can-Vi, filling is done by an external purveyor that brings the machinery to the winery. Instead of displaying the best-before date on the cans, they print the filling date. In contrast with wines destined to be bottled, a lighter, crisp-fruit style is preferred for cans. The reductive atmosphere of cans is also taken into account. “We want people to open the can and drink directly from it,” Cristina explains.
Zeena, marketing that works. Sana Khouja, a dynamic entrepreneur of Moroccan origin who grew up in Spain, discovered wine cans in the US and set about establishing her own project. At Zeena, marketing strategy and packaging are paramount; the focus is on young consumers and the message is about having fun, both at parties or chilling out. This is an out-of-the-wine-industry approach which, perhaps, shares more points in common with other beverages sold in cans.
Another distinctive feature is that Zeena tries to attract new consumers to wine. Whilst labels underline the fact that what is being sold is "wine", slogans like "canned with love" attempt to establish an emotional link that is often absent in traditional wine brands. The average Zeena consumer, says Khouja, is between 25 and 40 years old. Distribution is fairly mixed, ranging from the hospitality industry and delivery companies like Glovo to online sales via their own website as well as Amazon. "The brand performs at its best in busy tourist areas", she points out.
All the wines are organic and vegan, and the label indicates that they contain no added sugar, appealing to the growing concern among consumers for healthy products. The range includes a sparkling, a white, a rosé and a red. The first one is made from Parellada from Penedès; the rest are white and red Garnacha from Terra Alta in Catalonia although they are not sold under the seal of the DO. These are all young, well-made wines, comparable to quality bottlings from the region.
Is beer their main competitor? "It depends on the consumption moment and the sales channel," Khouja says. "As choices expand, competition will be among canned wines, but never against bottled wine. Whenever a bottle of wine enters the scene, cans simply cannot compare. Putting wine in cans is still very expensive," she concludes.
Peñascal, cans for mass-market brands. Being Spain's best-selling rosé, (just under 3.5 million bottles are produced), cans were the perfect solution for Peñascal. Think of a low alcohol, fizzy wine intended to be enjoyed chilled. "We thought that the brand could do the transition to cans without compromising its quality and retaining the reputation of a refreshing, not too serious rosé", says Daniel Moreno, marketing manager at Entrecanales Domecq and Peñascal.
The wines were launched last summer with 150,000 250ml cans. They sold out fast in Spanish supermarkets, the winery’s traditional channel, by placing them next to the Peñascal bottles -each of them retails at €3.69 at El Corte Inglés against €6.60 for the cans, sold in a pack of four. Filling is done by a trusted partner and, according to Moreno, cans are more expensive because production costs are now higher for the bodega.
An added advantage is that there was no need to modify the wine because it adjusts well to the requirements of the can. They are now attracting increased interest from markets like the UK, Mexico or the Nordic countries.