Why You Won’t be Cracking Open a Can of Italian Wine Anytime Soon

August 29, 2018

Wanderlust millennials like their wine wherever they are—at the beach, the top of a mountain, a concert, or a picnic—and without the fuss of glass, bottle openers, and cups. So canned wine is taking over the American wine market. The aluminum cans offer convenience to this on-the-go lifestyle as they are not fragile, big, and obvious like traditional wine bottles. Since millennials buy half the wine sold in the U.S., the canned wine trend is a promising market to move into. However, do vintners looking to capture the younger market need to hop on this bandwagon?

Particularly for Italian winemakers, the young American market offers huge growth opportunities. The US is a mature market spending $60 million on wine each year, according to Wine & Vines magazine. Further, The Drink Business magazine shares that four out of ten American wine drinkers have never tasted an Italian wine. Since younger wine drinkers tend to buy a variety of wine and are not hesitant to spend more for quality, it’s important that Italian wineries introduce their vino to the budding wine connoisseurs developing their palates and preferences. This age group represents an optimal target for Italian winemakers, but stands as a challenge because young drinkers are changing how wine is sold.

There are quite a few startups breaking the rules of the very traditional wine market in order to appeal to millennials. Wine entrepreneurs claim vintners can’t ignore that people want to drink wine differently, but how much do they have to adapt their products to fit the likings of new markets? One group of rule breakers produces canned wine. The Coppola family was the first American winery to launch canned wine with their Sofia Minis in 2004. The little pink cans of Blanc de Blanc with matching straws were a success. Today canned wine is a fast-growing industry, increasing profits by 125% in 2016, according to Nielsen. Underwood, Nomadica, and Alloy are a few of the newer canned wine brands on the market.

While many were skeptical at first, canned wine’s success makes a lot of sense. The can is an innovation that democratizes wine consumption. With the humble aluminum can there is no need for fancy wine glasses—just crack open and enjoy anywhere. It fits with today’s more casual and active lifestyles. Also, they have fun and approachable packaging, which millennial gravitate towards.

During the Italia Innovation program when we visit a wine company the students always ask about canned wine and always get a quick response that the company would never do it. It would be easy to say that their resistance to change is just stubbornness. However, in certain cases choosing not to innovate a product is a necessary strategy to keep its integrity.

Italian wine production represents ‘Made in Italy.’ With that label comes cultural content—history and tradition—that can’t be forgotten or ignored. It represents the pursuit of quality through a meticulous attention to detail during the production process. It would be quite depreciative to put something that carries a grand heritage into an aluminum can. Also, wineries need to modify recipes by adding sugar or carbonation for wine to taste good in the can, which would compromise the traditional Italian wine productions which are heavily regulated by DOC and DOCG laws.

A can also give the sense of giving a quick benefit. Just as one might drink a Coca-Cola for quick energy, someone might drink a can of wine for a quick buzz. Also, if someone drinks wine from a can, then he or she misses out on the multi-sensorial experience that is so integral. This stands in contrast to the idea wine should be enjoyed in a glass during a conversation or a meal.

Thinking about how canned and Italian wine don’t naturally go together demonstrates that companies don’t have to adopt every innovation that comes along, but can be discerning. This is especially important for heritage brands who have developed a clear tradition. Companies should not pursue innovation at all costs, and should be particularly careful when an innovation risks to compromise their values or mission. So, it is up to Italians to find other ways to get recognized by millennial palates. Different tech platforms like Tannico, the largest online Italian wine vendor, are promising because they increase availability over a wider area. It could also be a more analog endeavor like hosting events that appeal to younger wine drinkers. However winemakers and distributors choose to introduce themselves to the younger market, it is important that they move quickly to augment the power of the Italian viniculture tradition in the future.