James Ricker is delighted with the latest trend overtaking the wine and liquor categories. “We’re thrilled with the response we’re seeing to our canned wine and cocktail products,” said the COO of Gapp Fuel & Food Service, the operator of Buchiki’s convenience store in Houma, Louisiana. Thanks to the fledgling packages, the store now features an entire cooler door devoted to canned wine and cocktails, and both Buchiki’s and its customers are benefitting. The packages don’t require the “white-glove treatment” that their glass counterparts do, Ricker explained, and in many cases, customers will buy a single canned wine or distilled spirits product along with their regularly planned bottle purchases, resulting in higher rings.
Similarly, in Lakeport, New York, Matt Paduano, owner of Lakeport Market, reported that in the craft beer space, cans now dominate. “I stock 70 beers in singles, and they’re all in cans,” the retailer remarked. “In the old days, c-stores were known for 40-ounce bottles of brands like Budweiser, but single bottles just don’t sell anymore,” Paduano said.
Indeed, retailers today are experiencing a bit of a “candemonium” when it comes to alcoholic beverages, as consumers flock toward craft beer, wine and spirits—not to mention surging hard seltzers—all packaged in cans. The trend indicates that the years-ago stigma that canned beverages were inferior to those in bottles has dissipated.
The success of craft beer in cans has likely contributed to the emergence of cans for wine and cocktails.
“The success of craft beer in cans has likely contributed to the emergence of cans for wine and cocktails,” remarked Sherrie Rosenblatt, vice president, marketing and communications, at the Can Manufacturing Institute (CMI). “Cans are now a vital part of the mix for beverage alcohol consumers,” Rosenblatt said. Brie Wohld, vice president of marketing at Trichero Family Estates, the winery behind Del Mar wine seltzer and Fre alcohol-removed wine, both packaged in cans, added that convenience and portability are key attributes for consumers today. “C-stores that stock wine in cans are better positioned to sell more wine because the format is perfectly suited for their customers’ needs,” she said.
Cans have been performing so well, in fact, that in late spring Molson Coors Beverage Co. revealed an emerging shortage of 12-ounce returnable cans, partly due to consumer pantry loading during the COVID-19 pandemic. Marketers and retailers are hopeful that the shortage won’t have a meaningful impact on the growing sales of canned alcoholic beverages.
According to Rosenblatt and Scott Green, vice president, sustainability at CMI, cans better protect the quality attributes of beverages such as beer. “Cans block out the oxygen and light that could harm the flavor of a beer,” Rosenblatt explained. “And of course, cans won’t shatter like glass,” Green added, “while they’re quicker to chill.” Moreover, the lightweight nature of cans versus bottles provides “transportation cost advantages” for supply-chain vendors, including brewers and wholesalers, Green noted.
For retailers, the benefits to canned alcoholic beverages abound. “Cans take up far less space than bottles, are much easier to move, and can be stacked, which provides a significant advantage in maximizing shelf space or creating secondary displays,” said Sara Hillstrom, senior director, category development, at Anheuser-Busch.
Retailers can stack two six-packs of cans in nearly the same space as just one six-pack of bottles.
David Barker, owner of Blowing Rock Market in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, said that due to the space-saving nature of cans, he’s been able to put an extra shelf or two in each cooler door. “This has increased our variety, which is an important part of our marketing,” the retailer noted, as the shop caters to tourists who visit area parks and who typically prefer cans.
Steve Gee, vice president, national accounts, at Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery—which is widely cited as being the first craft brewer to emphasize cans—said, “Retailers can stack two six-packs of cans in nearly the same space as just one six-pack of bottles.” As a result, c-store operators have been increasingly leaning in to the package. “Craft cans are seeing huge growth in c-stores,” he reported, while retailers are reaping the same or even better margins than bottled crafts. According to Hillstrom, canned craft brews are driving the overall growth of the craft segment. Five years ago, cans accounted for only 14% of craft beer sales. Last year, the share jumped to 48%, she reported, and it’s expected that cans will overtake bottled craft sales this year.
While not nearly as large a presence in wine and liquor as in craft beer, cans are nevertheless having their moment in those categories, too. According to Hillstrom from A-B, which acquired the canned wine Babe last year, sales of canned wine in c-stores more than doubled in 2019, IRI data indicate. Ryan Harms, founder and owner of Union Wine Co., marketer of the Underwood line of canned wines, remarked that smaller packaging size is winning over consumers. “There are a lot of consumers who would like to have wine on a regular basis but can’t rationalize a 750-ml. bottle,” he explained. Jeanine Scalero, co-owner of Eastside Mini-Mart in Costa Mesa, California, agreed. “Customers like the portion control of a 375-ml. can versus a 750-ml. bottle,” the retailer said.
Sales of canned spirits-based products in c-stores, meanwhile, surged 58% last year to nearly one million cases, according to Herb Smith, vice president, customer development, at E. & J. Gallo Winery, marketer of High Noon Sun Sips vodka-based seltzer, as well as Dark Horse wine, Barefoot Spritz and Barefoot hard seltzer, all available in cans. Canned liquor-based products provide wide appeal for retailers, Smith explained, including incremental volume and higher margins than malt-based cocktails. Moreover, the products increasingly draw coveted consumers, Hillstrom said. “A great way to attract shoppers in their 20s and 30s, as well as female shoppers, is with canned cocktails,” noted the executive from A-B, which markets the Cutwater Spirits line of canned cocktails.
And of course, those consumers enjoy the “no fuss” factor canned cocktails provide. “Consumers don’t have to buy several different ingredients to mix a drink, so they’re willing to pay a little more,” said Sean Bumgarner, vice president at Scrivener Oil’s Signal Foods c-store chain in Missouri, which stocks canned cocktails like Cutwater and Monaco.
While the canned adult beverage craze continues to attract consumers, it still comes with its challenges for store operators. Finding space, particularly in already-crowded coolers, is a concern. “There are so many canned craft beers, and it’s a challenge to decide which ones to stock,” remarks Lakeport Market’s Paduano. “I constantly rotate depending on what’s selling.”
At Oklahoma’s Jiffy Trip chain, where “canned cocktails do surprisingly well,” according to Alex Williams, COO, challenges include shrinkage. “There’s higher theft,” Williams noted. “We have to keep these items closer to the checkout counter because they’re so small.”
Where space allows, marketers of canned craft beer, wine and cocktails encourage convenience retailers to carry the products in both single- and multi-pack formats. When it comes to canned cocktails and wine, Hillstrom noted that the packages perform best when merchandised in the cold box. Oskar Blues’ Gee pointed to the efficiency that canned craft brews offer. “They allow you to bring in more variety due to the space savings,” he said. “Canned crafts are a natural fit for c-stores. Feature them regularly.”
Union Wine’s Harms sees good growth opportunities in the channel. “The premiumization of the c-store environment is perfect for premium canned wine,” he said. “As consumer trends continue to evolve in the c-store, canned wine is going to have greater demand.”