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May 19, 2009

Wine connoisseurs may balk at the thought of drinking a fine vintage from a can, but glugging from a ring-pull rather than cracking open a full bottle of plonk seems to be catching on.

Sales of cans to the wine industry are rocketing, albeit from a low base, with consumers seeing the attraction of drinking one glass at time, becoming more environmentally aware and opting to drink on the go.

John Revess, of Rexam, one of the world's largest can makers, said that the group had sold six million cans to the wine industry in 2006, a figure that increased to 35 million last year. He expects sales to hit 100million in the next couple of years, with more than a billion cans of wine being consumed each year in the long run.

“It's not going to replace the bottle, but there are many occasions when a bottle is not appropriate,” he said. “Single-serve is what a lot of people want and it's something that hasn't really worked in the wine industry so far.”

Younger wine drinkers wanted products that they could take to picnics and events such as music festivals, where glass was often banned, Mr Revess said.

Aluminium cans, which can be completely recycled into new cans and back on the shelf within 60 days, are lighter than glass and do not break if dropped. They are also are more environmentally friendly — a recent study showed that they have half the

transport-related CO2 emissions of glass packaging, mostly because they are lighter and take up less space. That also makes them about 17p per litre cheaper than glass bottles.

Mr Revess said that there was growing demand from wine makers and retailers for alternative packaging as consumers watch their alcohol intake but are more likely to drink at home or locations other than pubs and bars.

Mr Revess said Britain was right at the beginning of the trend and that, although there was growing interest from big Australian and American producers, it would probably be the efforts of an entrepreneurial brand that would open up the market.

One such brand is Guy Anderson Wines, which launched its CanCan canned wine brand at the London Wine Fair last week. Guy Anderson said that his company was always looking for new opportunities and had seen a gap in the market. Although wine in cans has been around for a while, he thought that nobody was putting out a product with wine of quality; the group believes that its offerings taste and look as good as a normal bottle of wine. He had a number of interested customers, with one keen to organise a launch at a summer music festival to try to appeal to female wine drinkers, he said, adding that several big retail chains were also showing interest.

Mr Anderson, who is selling cans of sauvignon blanc, a rosé pinot grigio and a sparkling prosecco, said that wine makers were delighted at being able to reach new markets and that consumers would help to sell the product once they got interested by spreading the word.

While it may take some getting used to, everyone involved believes that a move to selling wine in cans is just another change that one day will be a commonplace sight.

Richard Hitchcock, marketing and operations director of Bottle Green, a wine importer that was the first group to sell wine in the UK in a Tetra Pak carton, likened the advent of wine in a can to the introduction of bottles with screw tops. After some initial scepticism from traditionalists, it has become fairly common.

He said that, although canned wine was in its early days, it was starting to gather momentum, with better wines and better branding. Such developments were starting to interest bigger buyers and, over the past year, he had been having more and more positive conversations with buyers for Wild Pelican, the canned wine brand that the group imports from the Netherlands.