Retail

Rise Of The Wine Bros

There are, in general terms, three types of wine consumers.

On one end, there are the aficionados: people who regard the crafting of a wine as an art form, who are steeped in its history, who study and collect vintages and pride themselves on being able to detect the slightest differentiation in the myriad elements composing one bouquet or another.

In the middle — the largest category of wine consumers by a long shot — are those who enjoy wine casually. Some are more educated on the product than others, but they all possess an understanding of the basics — at the very least, say, knowing their reds from their whites. The casual wine consumer will always appreciate the opportunity to savor a finely curated, high-priced vintage, but he or she can be just as happy sharing a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck with friends — even laughing about the frugal endeavor, making that acknowledgement a part of the social experience.

And, on the other end, far removed from the aficionados, is the wine-as-a-last-resort crowd. These people will pretty much drink anything containing alcohol, but they carry a strong dislike of high-minded wine culture. They love beer, and they loathe wine aficionados on principle, dismissing them — and, to a large extent, wine itself — as fancy-pants. The vast majority of these resentful wine consumers are men. Real men, they would have you know, because wine is effectively for ladies — defined as such either biologically or socially — only to be consumed at times when there is no other alcoholic option available. (And, even then, they might give furniture polish a second look.)

Throughout the modern era, in the United States, to make a concerted effort to market to the latter category of consumer has been widely regarded by wine retailers as a fool’s errand, and, therefore, it has not been done. Or, at least, it wasn’t done … until a few years ago, when a change began occurring in the industry.

More and more, sellers started putting wine into cans — you know, like beer? — and, lo and behold, when presented as such, the product became more appealing to consumers who had previously derided it.

The wine industry in the U.S. now finds itself having access to a fourth group of wine consumers, largely spun out from what were the last-resorters.

We might call this burgeoning consumer group “wine bros.” They think that wine is just fine when it’s in a can — because mans drink from cans, grammar be damned.

Credit (or fault, depending on one’s perspective) for the rise of wine bros might be due to Australia’s Barokes Wines, which the Los Angeles Times posits was, in 1996, one of the very first sellers — if not the first — to achieve a degree of consumer market penetration with wine offered in aluminum cylinders.

Long before then, attempts had been made in America to package wine in cans, dating back to Acampa Winery’s efforts in 1936, according to a 2008 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, but the product failed to gain any real traction in the U.S. throughout the 20th century. The first that eventually did, to a degree, was Francis Ford Coppola’s canned Sofia Mini blanc de blanc sparkler, which debuted in the early 2000s.

In 2014, the wine-in-a-can business in the United States really hit its stride with Oregon-based Union Wine Co.’s launch of Underwood Pinot Noir. What differentiated that offering, attests Slate, was that it was one of the first canned wines that wasn’t carbonated.

“There are so many places where glass is not an ideal thing to carry with you,” Ryan Harms, the owner of Union Wine Co., told Fast Company last summer. “For our own selfish reasons, we wanted to find a way to bring wine with us when we are backpacking.”

Its lack of fizz notwithstanding, Underwood — the inaugural batch of which, the outlet notes, sold out its preorders in mere days — effectively “beerified” wine, to use Harms’ term.

As more and more wineries in the United States began rolling out canned options, the offering took hold amongst — who else? — millennials, to whom the no-frills nature, low cost and portability of the product is particularly appealing (and among whom wine bros have found their footing). In 2015, that growing group of wine consumers helped to propel sales of canned wines to $5.5 million — a 75 percent increase over the previous year, notes the Financial Times (sharing data from Nielsen).

To those who would be tempted to dismiss canned wines, regardless of their rising sales, as essentially low-class compared to those sold in bottles, that argument might be undercut by the fact that Whole Foods — as upscale of a grocery chain as one can be — has gotten in on the action. The company forecasts that wine in a can will be among the top 10 food trends in 2016 and offers varieties such as Infinite Monkey Theorem and Presto Sparkling wine on its own shelves.

Are, as Whole Foods stated in a press release, “pop-tops … the new popped-cork?”

Perhaps that will be up to the wine bros to ultimately determine. And they might have their best chance yet with one of the latest entries into the canned wine space that is demonstrably marketed squarely at them.

Launched in Oct. 2015, the California-based and not-at-all-subtly-named MANCAN — with its very tagline — demands that its target consumers “shut up and drink.”

While Mashable points out that many consumers have taken to social media to express condescension towards MANCAN for its inherent gender bias, the brand’s founder, Graham Veysey, is sticking to his (presumably manly?) guns, telling the outlet: “Yes, MANCAN is gendered, because we believe that there’s a gap in the food and beverage market for a fun, casual wine for men.”

He adds, however, “we think that when women taste it, they’ll be excited to drink it as well.”

Yeah … taste testing aside, a lot of women might not be able to get past the testosterone-oozing narrative that is printed on every unit of MANCAN:

“Thought up by a guy who lives in an old firehouse, walks to work with his dog, has two bikes and a trike, and wanted to move beyond stemware. At MANCAN we believe wine is for drinking, not pairing, and our ‘notes’ are more rock than classical.”

Guh.

“Crush one at the game—”

GUH.

“Throw one in your back pocket on a camping trip, or pop one open at your favorite dive bar. Just do us a favor and don’t talk about the ‘aroma.’”

Y’know — MANCAN. For everybody.

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