What will they think of next?

Are wines-in-a-can here to stay or a passing fad? Gagan Sharma comments

One of the ‘coolest’ of trends in 2020, has to be India’s acceptance of wine-in-a-can. Although Sula Vineyards put their eight-year-old brand, Dia Sparkling in cans last year, the trend really exploded in the market this year when Fratelli Vineyards joined the party with TILT, their canned sparkling, red, white and rosé sparkling, medium-sweet wines. While the packaging, appeal and branding are utterly exciting, the wine-in-a-can concept is still in its adolescence, and most believe it may be just too early to comment on its prospects in India. Is it a passing fad or something that’s catching on?

The first official study of the concept was made nearly half a decade ago in the US, which remains the biggest wine-in-a-can market. Between 2018 and 2019 the market grew by 70% in the US, and 125% in the UK. Traditional wine producing countries like France and Italy are joining the race as well.

In the US, various factors have contributed to the success of this nouveau category such as the ease of storing, transporting, and serving wine in cans. Add to that the catchy labelling and visuals, which have become absolutely vital for today’s social media addicted, Insta- ready generation! Another factor in its favour is the ease of committing to the purchase of a 180ml, 250ml or 330ml can over a 750ml bottle, which many may find a commitment bigger than that of marriage or of adopting a puppy! And then, think of the wine jargon and technical terms one has to decipher and remember in different languages surrounding wine regions, sub-regions, appellations, vintage charts, terroir, etc.

Next comes the delicate act of uncorking a bottle of wine, decanting it with panache, and watching it breathe. And whst happens after that? You drink half the bottle, but aren’t sure how to store the rest since, you know, preventing spoilage is in itself a complex art. Phew! Who wants all that? It’s intimidating! Instead, you get a preppy looking can in bright colours, a funky name, ready to rip open and sip while holding a burger, a sub, or an avocado toast in the other hand. What could be better than that and more appropriate for the millennial?

Millennials definitely claim the biggest portion of this pie. Cans are becoming their container of choice for beverages whether it is water, coffee, soft drinks, wine or beer. In 2019 over 60% of craft beers were packaged in cans. Cans are perceived by younger consumers as premium packaging. Taking note of this, winemakers are moving boldly towards offering premium wines too cans, wines that are vineyard specific, varietal specific, and even vintage dated. Moreover without cork closures, wines don’t run the risk of cork taint, rapid oxidation, or light- damage, besides various other complications. And yet, the wine style available in cans is mainly white wine and rosés as red wine in a can is still to gain acceptability. Perhaps wine purists are reluctant to see their precious Bordeaux, Super Tuscans, Aussie Cabernets, or prestigious Chilean wines packaged in aluminium carrier just yet. After all is said and done, we still waiting and watching. In order to get traditional ,old school wine consumer to recognise the advantage of this new trend and embrace it, wine producers have been running trials and blind tastings to test if the packaging makes any difference to the quality of the wine. Some trials found that it was almost impossible to differentiate between wines poured from a can or a bottle, giving the wine- in-a-can category a much- needed boost, and making can enthusiasts closer to believing that canned wines are not just a passing fad, but a trend that is likely to stay.

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India has taken to this revolutionary concept with commendable ease. The price point and relatively low alcohol level is part reason. Sula’s sparkling wine, Dia at 8% abv retails at Rs 180 for a 330ml can, while Fratelli’s TILT at 11% abv pours 250ml at the same price. That said, for most wine connoisseurs cans pose a challenge. Apart from the psychological shift from bottles to cans, the wines are sweet or semi- sweet. With that comes the problematic question: how much sugar can one imbibe? Nonetheless, for once I have seen even social drinkers get excited about the cans and jump on to the bandwagon to try the wines. Whether or not they like it is for later, but getting enthused and providing instant acceptability is promising.

For the hospitality industry these cans offer a plethora of traditional problems, such as spoilage, storing, portion size, disposal of glass, confusion over the size and type of glassware and its maintenance, easy service protocols, staff training and development, being great for mini bars, in- room-dining, at brunches, poolside parties, at banquets, and much more. However, is the industry ready to accept these wines as the solution to the above problems? Only time will tell. Some believe it will be a long wait before they are completely accepted. Radlers, cocktails, premixes, flavoured wines? Who knows, but there are definitely possibilities, opportunities, and innovations waiting in the wings. Until then, get a few cans, throw them in a chiller, try them for yourself and see whether they satiate your wine cravings. Or do you miss the ritual opening of a wine bottle accompanied by a sommelier’s story-telling too much?

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