Nielsen insight: wine boxes and cans come of age

A few years ago, while living in the US, I was introduced to rosé wine in a can at a summer picnic. Being British, I set aside my preconceived notions, politely accepted the drink and sipped away. I had always believed that a great wine could only ever come in a bottle, but I was pleasantly surprised by the canned offering – it had a great taste and stayed cooler for longer, particularly during a hot summer. 

Fast-forward a few years and we are starting to see greater format evolution within the UK wine market. In the off-trade, wine is the largest contributor to alcohol sales, accounting for more than a third of the category’s value, but in the past three years it has lost share to other, faster-growing categories such as gin, craft beer and ready-to-drink canned spirits. But wine is starting to gain traction in the off-trade in bag-in-box and cans, two formats which are driving excitement and helping to expand drinking occasions. 

Bag-in-box is nothing new. Its sales are worth £264 million and account for 5% of all off-trade wine. Though the format has been stable for several years, it’s beginning to shake off some of the negative quality perceptions that may have previously held it back. It is increasingly seen as a format that offers well-known brands in a bigger size that stays fresher for longer than a bottle. With the average price of bag-in-box in the off-trade around 25% less than for 75cl bottles, it’s a great way to attract wine buyers and cater for the growing number of sharing consumption occasions. 

Shoppers are now buying bag-in-box more often than ever before, and when they buy they’re trading up into more premium offerings. Though shoppers only tend to put one bag-in-box in a basket, we know they’re enjoying it, as the number of shoppers who go back to buy more is also on the rise. It might be assumed that bag-in-box caters primarily for larger households, but it’s actually smaller ones that are buying bag-in-box most often, with 78% of spend coming from households with one or two members. With increased distribution and a steady stream of new brand offerings, this format is seeing a resurgence, particularly among 45-plus shoppers, an important group because they hold the majority of FMCG spending power.

Canned wine has also grown in the past year, up 155% and now worth £2.4 million. Retailers are responding by increasing cans’ visibility in store, especially in impulse, where the format fits the on-the-go, convenient role for shoppers. 

The main profile of the canned wine shopper is similar to the average for wine as a whole – affluent, mature, two-person households rather than millennials. This is interesting because it shows how format expansion can encourage new drinking occasions but still appeal to core wine shoppers.

Though the can is yet to reach even 1% share of the UK off-trade wine market, in the US it has been around since early 2014 and has had strong annual growth to reach $70 million, with sales up 70% in 2018,. UK alcohol trends often follow the US. With the average price per litre of a can higher than that of a 75cl bottle, the format could help drive value into the wine category and keep it ahead of beer and spirits in the off-trade. 

Both bag-in-box and cans do a great job of satisfying the outdoor, on-the-go occasion, especially in the hotter months where shoppers look for chilled, convenient formats. With another scorcher of a summer a possibility, brands and retailers should be thinking about how they can tap into this.

Related articles: