Friday, April 26, 2024

Canned wine hitting right notes

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The 90s band Presidents of the United States of America sang gleefully about how peaches come in a can back in 1995, earning them a Grammy nomination for best pop song that year. But while canned peaches may be palatable to most people, wine has proven to be a tougher ask for winemaker Chris Archer.
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Joiy Wines co-founders Cath Hopkin and Chris Archer. Archer says the millennial market is receptive to wine in a can and it fits with changes in tastes and lifestyles.

The 90s band Presidents of the United States of America sang gleefully about how peaches come in a can back in 1995, earning them a Grammy nomination for best pop song that year. But while canned peaches may be palatable to most people, wine has proven to be a tougher ask for winemaker Chris Archer. He spoke with Richard Rennie.

Joiy Wines co-founders Chris Archer and Cath Hopkin are finding the market is finally catching onto their idea – that wine tastes good out of a can.

The Wairarapa-based couple have finally hit the critical market mass they have been seeking with their largely New Zealand-sourced products contained in smart looking 250ml aluminium cans, the equivalent to two standard glasses.

They have just been approached by giant United States retail chain Wholefoods after winning in a major canned wine competition, adding to the impetus already generated through procuring rights to supply the government-controlled Ontario liquor board that captures 60% of the Canadian market.

There the company’s sparkling white has surged to number one position amid competition from 70 canned wine varieties.

Despite having a high-volume outlet here through Countdown, the market for canned wine remains relatively small despite Joiy being here for five years, and one Archer acknowledges has been subject to stigma about quality.

“But technology and quality have advanced significantly since we started, originally with only one production line in Melbourne capable of producing canned wine. Today, we also have access to lines here in NZ,” Archer said.

“Canning wine requires a significantly different process approach to softdrinks and beer, with very strict protocols around how it is treated. Sterilising has to occur prior to canning, in distinct contrast to how other canned beverages are treated.”

And the quality of the product has also been reinforced by some recent award recognition.

This includes a gold in the San Francisco international wine show for their Gryphon Central Otago Pinot Noir, and their Savvy Society Sauvignon Blanc was picked as one of the top 50 wines in the New World wine competition.

Growing up in the Hunter Valley, Australia, Archer witnessed the family farm in drought for 12 out of 25 years and was keen to “jump the fence” to the region’s emerging wine industry, training and making wines ever since and moving to NZ in early 2000s.

“It struck me how capital-intensive the winemaking industry is; owning the vines, the processing plant, the labels. Winemakers become very time-poor working across multiple labels at the absolute limit of their abilities,” he said.

He spent time studying how successful beverage brands like Schweppes and Red Bull had managed to make the leap from small niche companies to big brands.

That came at a time when shifts were already happening in drinking habits, including millennials who may have started drinking sugary RTDs and who were happy with the can concept, but not with the calorie content and were keen to trial wine in the same container size.

“Their tastes have moved from those sugary-type products to new taste profiles and wine can answer that shift. Here in NZ the wine drinkers are also already here, it’s just getting them to accept the can and it can take about five years to change habits,” he said.

Just as craft beer manufacturers have bent the norms around brewing, turning out sour fruit beers, hoppy lagers and hazy ales, Archer has mixed up wine varieties that are more inclined to work in small portion cans than standard 750ml glass bottles.

He says the cans also lend themselves well to portion control, without the risk of spoilage that occurs when opening and not drinking a full standard bottle.

Low sugar lime seltzer and a pineapple seltzer form part of the product line up here and a mimosa sparkling cocktail launched in the Canada market has proven highly popular.

“I figured the wine industry can be its own worst enemy in terms of the limitations that apply. But at the same time, it also focuses upon a quality product, so why not create drinks using that quality wine and ensuring the other ingredients are also the best, like the pineapple we use in our seltzer,” he said.

He admits this aspect of product creation is the exciting horizon for future development and for winning over more customers here and abroad.

In the meantime, as all producers grapple with their carbon footprint, the cans provide good justification in themselves for low emission claims.

“Comparing bauxite (for aluminium) to glass you will get four cans for every glass bottle, putting you up 30% in volume straight away,” he said.

“Almost 40% of energy is saved in transporting cans due to their low weight and at recycling, 95% of power is not required as the aluminium has already been created.”

Archer says interest from winemakers is growing here and the potential for smaller-run artisanal producers to showcase their products is another possible market winemakers could explore in an intensely competitive business.

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