Canned wines take off in the SA market

(Picture: Supplied)
(Picture: Supplied)

While wine has been canned since the 1930s, this form of packaging never really took off because of the inferior quality of canned wine in comparison to bottled.

The category has, however, enjoyed a revival since 2014, thanks to the development of new technologies to improve canned wine quality in combination with millennials’ eagerness to experiment with new products. 

In the US particularly, the category has grown by double digits each year for the past five years, topping R1.2bn in 2019, according to Nielsen.

Arnold Vlok and Ruan Viljoen knew it would only be a matter of time before the trend blew over to South Africa, so the friends registered Uncanny in 2018 and started working on making their own canned wine brand. 

“Our goal was to create the first Wine and Spirits Board certified canned wine in SA, which we released in October last year,” says Vlok.

Millennials were the initial target, as they are the biggest international driver of sales in this category, but he has since been surprised by the good reception from more seasoned drinkers – young and old. 

“People thought the established market would not be open to this trend, due to the preconceived notion that canned wines could not taste as good as bottled wine.

We have addressed this issue by creating a premium wine product that is making even some of the most hardened wine critics come back for more,” Vlok says. 

But the range also has various other alluring attributes. It’s ideal for picnics and summer concerts, matching it perfectly to the SA outdoor lifestyle. 

It also appeals to the more health- and environmentally-conscious consumer: No added sulphur makes it vegan-friendly, while the cans are more environmentally-friendly than bottles. 

Furthermore, the cans are also easier and lighter to transport, which cuts down on carbon emissions. Early daysViljoen, who is from a corporate background, and Vlok, a geneticist who also works on developing additives for the wine, beer and cider industries, started the company with private funding. 

It began as a family-and-friends effort, with anybody with relevant skills contributing. “As a company, we identified the quality of the wine offering, followed by the branding and digital marketing as our biggest priorities to start with. 

The wine grapes are sourced from regions perfectly suited to the respective cultivars, Chenin Blanc from the iconic Swartland and Merlot from Stellenbosch,” Vlok says. Top vintners have also been commissioned to make the wine. 

“We have a solid relationship with the farms and winemakers to ensure a consistent supply of excellent quality wine,” he says.The range started out with a red and white wine: No Sulphur Added Merlot and No Sulphur Added Chenin Blanc. 

The plan for the coming season is to expand the range with a Premium Dry Pinotage Rosé, since the demand for Rosé is growing faster than for most other wine categories. 

“We also want to represent the cultivars SA is best known for, Pinotage and Chenin Blanc,” says Vlok.

Initially, most of the sales took place on digital platforms such as Takealot, Yuppiechef and Norman Goodfellows, as well as several retail outlets in the Cape such as Liquor City Claremont, Bar Keeper, and some Spar supermarkets. 

“It is far too early to draw any conclusions about sales patterns, but, as expected, the sales have been seasonal, with the Chenin Blanc enjoying preference in summer,” says Vlok. 

Quite a few other players have since launched canned wines. Vlok, however, is not too worried about this as the market is still small, making bigger volumes beneficial to the market. Uncanny also has some distinct advantages, according to him. 

It was the first company to enter the market, the wine is of exceptional quality and the added benefits of the wine being naturally preserved and vegan-friendly make it appealing.

This article originally appeared in the 5 March edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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