Going Public: Research Shows Millennials Will Drink Wine from a Can

Sep 9, 2016

Have you ever thought about drinking wine from a can? Well, a new study shows some millennials are not opposed to unconventional methods of wine packaging. KRCU's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with the study’s author Dr. Nicholas Johnston, an assistant professor of hospitality at Southeast Missouri State University.

Lewis-Thompson: So tell me what did you find out. What do you millennials like? Is it can? Is it in a bottle? Does it matter? Does it taste different? Tell me what did you find?

Johnston: Well I would say first and foremost and that actually has a lot of answers to it. But I would say first and foremost, you can't beat things. And in terms of what drives us to purchase something. Because from my perspective, which is a marketing consumer behavior, I want to know what drives you to that retail shelf. When you're looking at that retail shelf, what drives you to this product or this product. Is it the bottle? Is it the price? Is it the type of location that you're in. So one big overarching thing that I found out based off the research is that millennials were still attracted to--we're still price sensitive. Right? A lot of us are starting our careers. We're young in our careers. We might not have the disposable income to buy high-end wine. So, we're price sensitive first and foremost. We know that we might not be able to purchase that $50 bottle of wine or $40 bottle, so we're going to be staying in within a comfortable price range. Next to that we're going to look for familiar things. So, brands that we might see on a regular basis maybe like your Sutter Home's or your Yellow Tail's for example. Brands that have some good recognition. Because we like things that are comfortable to us. Things that aren't too odd, right? But I think that's just a human perspective. Within that, what do we like? Cans versus tetra paks? Well, my research shows that we're attracted to cans, bag in the box and single serving. But what really makes it interesting is the perception of design and functionality of the packaging. So...

Lewis-Thompson: What do you mean by that? Design? Because I mean when we think about cans and alcohol we think about beer. That is the one thing that comes to mind when we think about cans and alcohol. Beer. Always. But wine in a can?

Johnston: Yeah. Where does that come from? Well think about it like this. And this is one of the directions I took with the research. Let's say you are going to the Johnson's Shut-Ins this weekend, right? And so, you're going to a place where you're going to be outside and there's rocks, there's water, there's a lot of people. Maybe you're going to the beach as well. You having a big 750 milliliter bottle isn't necessarily functional for those kind of situations. Would you agree?

Lewis-Thompson: [Nods]

Johnston: Right. So, it's not really easy to maybe bring a big ole glass bottle. And you might be prohibited from bringing any glass onto the property. So first and foremost, the situation might motivate the purchaser. So, in those kind of situations where you're in a place that prohibits glass bottles, or if you're camping let's say and you might want a single serve container, a can might actually serve that need for you. So one of the things I did ask is, what situations would prompt you to purchase alternatively packaged wine. And I found that it was gathering with friends and then outdoor activities. A combination of camping, hiking. We looked at beach and lake outings. And those all scored about the same in interest. So we found that people will seek out these types of products when they're specific situations.

Lewis-Thompson: So it just depends?

Johnston: It depends. Exactly. It's not really a straight answer, because if you're maybe out on a anniversary date and it's your five year anniversary you might maybe might not appreciate it, if I break out a six pack of canned wine.

Lewis-Thompson: So, it's all about the situation, the mood that presents itself of how you would introduce wine into that environment?

Johnston: Absolutely.

Lewis-Thompson: Whether it be in a can. Whether it be in a glass bottle. Does it taste different?

Johnston: I would say what some of the anecdotal research. So maybe not--it's speculative research, if you will says that there is a slight difference in taste. But most novice drinkers are not going to tell much of a difference. However, what we do see is a difference in perception, which is what's interesting.

Lewis-Thompson: Perception?


Johnston: Correct. So, if the packaging has certain aesthetic qualities, if it appears modern, elegant, sophisticated, exciting, fun then also functional, convenient to use to the consumer, then they are going to have overall higher quality perceptions of the wine that's inside regardless of the product. Isn't that interesting? So when we look at something. When we look at any type of packaging, and this is based off of previous research in other areas, is we have different perceptions of products based on the packaging. If it looks cheap, then we a lot of times assume that the product inside is probably...

Lewis-Thompson: That it's not good.

Johnston: It's not good. Exactly. And with wine, what makes it so interesting, is that 750 milliliter bottle or even that Champagne bottle we equate those bottle shapes, sizes, forms with quality. And so, when we introduce alternative packaged wine in the past, typically it's just been assumed that it's just the lesser of quality. When in fact a lot of producers are pruning really good grapes and really good wines into those packages. Take for example Bota Box. They have some fantastic wines that win awards all the time. And I've had a lot of different Bota Box. I've tried just about every different alternative packaging out there that I could get my hands on. And including cans and different types of producers--the limited producers [that] there are that are serving canned wine. And to be honest with you there is a little bit of a difference, but if you took two of the exact same products and put one in a can and one in a bottle, there would be very little difference if really no detectable difference. And actually, it's arguable that the alternative packaging is better for preserving the wine than the traditional bottle.


Lewis-Thompson: How is that? Obviously you have pop in a can. You have beer in a can. But you would think overtime you would have that taste of--

Johnston: That metallic taste. Right?

Lewis-Thompson: Yeah. With a bottle you can sit that in your cellar for years.

Johnston: Absolutely. So some of the things that wine doesn't like. Wine doesn't like light. And wine doesn't like air. Those two things diminish the quality of wine rapidly. However, what's kind of interesting when you cellar a wine, typically for wine that we're going to age, we want it to have certain characteristics. Certain qualities that indicate it will age well. Like having a lot tannins in it. But also one of the things about aging is there is a little bit of breathing, because corks, although yeah it's shoved in there pretty tight, they're actually very porous. And they actually do breath a little bit. Now, in alternative packaging and the proponents of alternative packaging will argue in favor of it, because it actually helps preserve the wine longer. And it cuts off oxygen. And the alternative packaging typically better protects the wine than a glass bottle does, because UV light can't penetrate those packages as easy as they can a dark colored or especially a clear colored bottle. So, actually that alternative packaged wine would hold and preserve that wine better than your bottle.

Lewis-Thompson: What about preservatives? Would you have to put preservatives in there to make sure that it doesn't get mold or something in a can? How do you know if it's fresh?

Johnston: How do you know if it's fresh? Well one good indication is that they don't have any extra air in there, and they're completely sealed off. So, for example if you have a bag in the box [wine], right? If you have that box of Franzia if you will or that Bota Box, well as soon as you stop pouring it immediately cuts off. And it doesn't let any air get into that bag. So, because there's no air introduced in there and there's no light penetrating that bag within that box. Then that wine arguably is going to last a lot longer and taste fresher and hold up longer than the same product in a glass bottle.

Lewis-Thompson: Really?

Johnston: Yeah.

Lewis-Thompson: I would have never imagined that.

Johnston: However, the hook is that you can't age it. So for really fine wines, it doesn't behoove if you will the producer to use an alternative package for a really nice vintage because of that reason. And also because of the quality perceptions. Because although, yes millennials that through my research I did find that they were attracted to these alternative packages and they did appeal to them, we still have to say that with this grain of salt, which is that the traditional bottle still kind of reigns king.

Lewis-Thompson: What about for eco-friendliness? You would think that it would be a little bit better, especially for people who cook in the kitchen with wines. You don't have to crack open a fresh bottle and then have it wasted, because you're not going to drink it as fast. You can have just the amount that you need for when you're cooking.

Johnston: Oh absolutely. That came up a lot in my focus groups. There was talk of the single serving discussion. And a lot of the focus group participants noted exactly what you just said. They want to have a little serving. Maybe a glass and a little cooking that night. So they don't want to open a whole bottle. Well not only the single serving, but also the bag in the box can help you with that, because you're preserving the wine longer, which is the fear when you cork a bottle, when you open it. Right? You're immediately introducing air. And then conceivably you're introducing light as well, because it's out on the shelf and so it's automatically decreasing in quality. So as soon as you open it it's going to decrease, which is why it goes "bad" after maybe a few days. Same idea of maybe a carbonated beer and you open it up, and it loses its carbonation over a while. Right? That carbonated effect goes away. Well with alternative packaging, it's like you're basically sealing it back off. And so, the next time you open it, it's almost like it's new again. Which is great especially for your casual or high frequency consumer.