Vinca is a London-headquartered canned wine business that sources its wine from the Italian island of Sicily.

Set up in 2020, the company says it is selling more than two million cans per year, with stockists including Whole Foods and Planet Organic. Its organic and vegan rosé, white and red wines are sold in 187ml cans with an RSP of £2.99 (US$3.82) for the UK market.

The fledgling business is also present in select markets in North America and Canada.

Just Drinks sat down with co-founder Charlie Vass to discuss its sales strategy, international plans and the opportunity for more “premium” products in the canned wine category.

Eszter Racz (ER): In which markets is Vinca present and on which are you focusing your attention?

Charlie Vass (CV): Our main market is the UK at the moment. We’re present in lots of different international hotel groups. We have a big presence in Asia, through Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand. We also do big volumes in Canada, where consumers are quite sustainably minded. The appeal of cans is really strong there and organic wine consumption is massively on the up, both in the UK and Canada.

ER: Who is Vinca’s target consumer? How is the brand positioned?

CV: We thought that what’s missing is that a lot of the [canned wine brands’ campaigns] before us were kind of aimed at a much younger audience – and maybe the brand tone of voice might have been more sort of cheeky and fun. I think that what was missing is a more grown-up sort of tone and voice and brand. That’s how Vinca was born.

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We thought there’s a really exciting trend that’s happening all over the world where winemakers are looking for alternative sustainable formats. We thought this was something that we were enthusiastic about – but we thought we could do it better, we thought that what was missing has been broadly appealing brands, kind of premium but still attainable.

ER: Why have you chosen to sell Vinca wines in 187ml cans?

CV: It’s a quarter of a wine bottle and so it’s the way duty works on wine in the UK. There are certain sizes governing certain things. You can sell beer in pints or half pints, for example and wine has specific measurements for the containers, so you have to conform to those.

We launched our wines in 250ml cans but we found out when we tested smaller packaging formats that they’re so much more popular. We moved all of our production to 187ml format because it creates a little bit better price point and it is more palatable to the untrained consumer but also because I think a lot of people are looking to drink less but drink better.

And that’s a really key part of some of our messaging. When we run Facebook and Instagram ads, for example, we might lean into specific audiences that are quite health-conscious. For example, the messaging would be about something like “you don’t always want to open a whole bottle of wine”. People still want good products but they don’t want the temptation of opening a bottle and drinking most of it.

ER: How is Vinca planning to compete with the growing number of canned wine brands and with the broader RTD category?

CV: In the last two years, we’ve established our brand as a premium canned wine brand. That’s through choosing which stockists we are poured in. Every time we go into a new channel, let’s say you want to work in retailers, we’ll make sure that we’re in Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic, Daylesford Organic, Abel and Cole, the premium locations. That’s the same when you go into music festivals. We’re present at the VIP bar at Glastonbury, and Houghton music festival.

Where your product is found dictates people’s perceptions of your brand quite strongly.

As we grow, I think it’s about kind of going to more high-volume places as well. For us, that might be more of the multiple-location retailers as well. Music festivals are a really big channel and the travel industry is huge for us as well.

ER: Which geographical markets is Vinca interested in moving into?

CV: I think the markets that worked really well for us are ones where consumers are sustainably-minded, so where organic wines are popular, where people are open-minded about alternative formats.

There are easier countries and harder countries to enter. The harder countries are those that have very well-established wine cultures like France and Italy, for example. I think it’s because we’re a sort of disruptive format. It’s going to be very challenging to change perceptions around how wine can be consumed in those places.

Other countries like Scandinavian countries, as well as Germany and Netherlands are perhaps easier to break into for alternative formats. Sweden, for example, already consumes more wine from bag-in-boxes than they do from bottles. They are kind of open-minded about alternative ways of consuming.

ER: Over the next 12 months, are you concentrating on UK sales or entering new countries?

CV: I think we want to continue the growth that we’re seeing. The UK remains our biggest market but I think that there are some key opportunities in the travel industry, which are really promising. Ultimately, our goal is to become like a global brand that is synonymous with really good wine that comes in a can.

ER: Would Vinca launch into RTDs or wine-based cocktails as a potential to expand its product range?

CV: We wanted to be kind of true to the origins of Sicily and the wines of it, whilst there are some amazing RTD products out there.

I think that the growth of RTDs has only supported us, just like the growth of craft beer was beneficial to the canned wine segment, because, among consumers, it normalises drinks and premium drinks being served in cans.

The benefits, both from sustainability and convenience, are kind of abundantly clear. Those have kind of paved the way for canned wine to come along and do our thing.

ER: And what are the company’s expectations financially for the upcoming year?

CV: In terms of turnover and volume? I don’t know. We quadrupled from the first to the second year, and now in the upcoming year, we are projected to achieve a four times year-on-year growth again.

ER: Do you know roughly how much you may need to scale up production to follow this growth trajectory?

CV: When we launched the business we always had very big ambitious plans for the brand to become global and that meant we baked in scalability in our supply chain from the beginning.

When you get a big customer, you don’t want to be crippled by the demand, you don’t want to suddenly be panicking to fill it. This is why we made sure that we had ample stock in hand and also that, in our supply chain, the co-operative has ample leverage [and] we can continue ramping up purchasing and that we have systems in place that can handle big, big volumes. We use a third party for our warehousing, so we’re not suddenly going to need to think there isn’t enough stock and our warehouse isn’t big enough.

ER: What obstacles do you think Vinca might face in the next year?

CV: Brexit has brought a lot of headwinds. In terms of logistics, I think that unsurprisingly for export, people are reluctant to purchase from the UK, which is why we made the decision to keep one EU warehouse and one UK warehouse.

When we’re selling to EU countries, it’s straightforward. The movement of goods is from within the EU to within the EU. When we’re selling this in the UK it comes out of our UK warehouse. That’s a direct consequence of Brexit and now other countries are reluctant to buy from the UK because shipping is slower and there are additional costs and all the rest of it.

ER: Does that mean that when you are selling into EU countries, you are selling products through a business entity that’s based in the EU?

CV: No, it’s the same business entity that’s selling products to those companies. It just means that the stock doesn’t come into the UK. They’re not buying it from here [from the UK] For them, it’s, just because of shipping and border delays, much quicker and easier and therefore cheaper to move products from within the EU to within the EU, than to move them in and out of the UK. It’s also obviously more sustainable.

Our wine is grown in Europe, so it makes no sense to move the wine into the UK and then back into Europe.

And to answer your question about challenges to our business, I think that duty is quite contentious. As you know the duty increased on wine recently [in the UK] and there’s a lot of fear in the industry that that’s going to happen again on still wines. That’ll be damaging for the industry.

There are lobbying groups trying to put forward arguments to Government as to why that’s not a good idea. I think particularly since Covid the hospitality sector has been really hit hard. One of the biggest problems is recruiting staff. Brexit made recruitment of staff difficult but Covid did as well.

And, with the cost-of-living crisis, people are maybe not coming back to hospitality and spending as much as they were before the pandemic. I think that the government should think long and hard before considering any further duty increases on wine.