Wine in cans goes upscale as California winemakers tout cork comeback
Wine in aluminum cans is the latest trend in packaging that seeks to make it more convenient for consumers to reach for the elixir of the vine, rather than another type of adult beverage. And the response at retail has vintners at ever-higher-quality levels looking to get their fill of the market.
And while this nontraditional wine container is in the early stages of acceptance, one of the beverage’s long-used forms of bottle closure — natural-cork stoppers — is making a comeback.
U.S. sales of wine in cans that hold one, roughly one and a half, or two 4- to 6-ounce pours have grown from less than $1 million a year in 2013 to over $50 million for the 12 months ending in mid-2018, according to Nielsen data. But compare that to the $62.2 billion total retail value of wine sold in the U.S. last year, according to the Wine Institute.
The bulk of the dollar and volume share — over 50 percent and 65 percent, respectively — is for 250-milliliter cans, which is about one-third the capacity of of a standard 750-milliliter bottle and contains about a pour and a half of wine. That segment is dominated by E. & J. Gallo Winery’s Barefoot Cellars brand and The Wine Group’s Flipflop brand.
The fastest sales growth is coming from 375-milliliter (half-bottle, two-pour) cans, with 300 percent year-over-year dollar growth. Growth was upwards of 50 percent for 250-milliliter cans and by roughly 60 percent for 187-milliliter (one-quarter-bottle, single-serving) cans, dominated by U.S. pioneer Sophia Mini by Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The two-pour format had about 22 percent share of sales dollars and 15 percent of volume.
“I and others believe cans can cut a big niche for wine,” said Jordan Kivelstadt, co-founder and CEO of Napa-based Free Flow Wines, which is making a big investment in canning capacity.
The company got its start nine years ago, developing a process for transferring vintners’ fine wine into stainless-steel “bullet kegs” and managing logistics for getting the wine to trade accounts then returning the empties for reuse after sanitization. The company now kegs wine for over 250 brands.
Last year, Free Flow jumped into canned wine. A CCL-45 can-filling line by Codi Manufacturing of Colorado was installed in early 2017. It can move through 45-55 cans a minute.
From 1,000 to 2,000 9-liter cases of cans turned out monthly last year, Free Flow is moving out 30,000 cases monthly of wine and wine-related products such as spritzers. Under construction near Sonoma is facility that is designed to increase annual production to 1.1 million kegs and 5 million cases of cans.
More than two-thirds of Free Flow’s canning customers are existing kegging clients, and the rest are coming for cans only, Kivelstadt said. The company currently is working with over two dozen brands in cans.
One of those is Essentially Geared, a brand in which Kivelstadt is personally invested. Grant Hemingway and he launched it in May 2017, shortly after the Free Flow can filler was installed. Production is set to hit 30,000 9-liter cases of 375-milliliter cans this year. The cans retail for $6 each, equivalent to $12 a bottle.