In Conversation With Ben Franks, CCO and Head Wine Buyer of Canned Wine Co.

This year’s Positive Luxury Awards winners have been announced and as a member of the independent judging panel, The Luxury Editor’s Chrystal Webster, was delighted to contribute to the selection of the winner in the Premium Drinks business category. Chrystal said, ‘It was a challenging (but hugely enjoyable!) process. All short-listed candidates submitted extremely strong applications, however, it was the Canned Wine Co. who proved to be the deserving winner.”

Our latest ‘In Conversation with’ we meet Ben Franks (pictured above left), CCO and Head Wine Buyer of Canned Wine Co., to learn more about this innovative business and its commitment to sustainability. 

Please tell us more about yourself and Canned Wine Co.  

Simon Rollings and I established Canned Wine Co. in 2019. We met with a shared passion for wine and often talked about wanting to try new and exciting wines without always having to open a whole bottle. I was running a multi-award-winning wine merchant at the time, importing lots of interesting grape varieties from lesser-known regions around the world, and Simon was experienced in start-ups in food and media, so we decided to combine our talents and launch the UK’s first premium, quality-driven wine in can. We chose the can as the smaller vessel because of its versatility in the on-trade and because it is infinitely recyclable and was widely reported to have a lower CO2 impact than glass, not least because it’s lighter. We are now doing our own CO2 product lifecycle analysis with Zevero to go some way in confirming its lighter CO2 impact.

Firstly, big congratulations on your recent achievement – what does it mean to you personally, and to the wider business, to be the Positive Luxury Awards Premium Drinks Business 2024 winner? 

The Positive Luxury Award was a big win for our team and much of the credit must go to our brilliant Head of Operations & Sustainability, Marieke Hammes, who not only drove our mission to be better but also inspired our team, suppliers and community to work together and make it happen so quickly. For me, personally, it reaffirms that the basis to building the most sustainable company you can is to approach it with an open mind and integrate it into everything you do and each decision you make. The recognition from Positive Luxury proves that we are making progress and heading the right way to ensuring Canned Wine Co. is a positive addition to the world of wine and the communities we work with.

And what prompted you to enter the Positive Luxury Awards 2024? 

Entering the Positive Luxury Awards was a great opportunity to hold us to account for our commitments and recognise the effort being made by our team to be the best business we can be. Sustainability and luxury are both vital values in our business to introduce quality wines to more and more wine drinkers, without it being at the expense of our planet and the communities around us. Positive Luxury itself is an ESG+ certification that we believe assesses brands to the highest level of accountability, so we have prioritised securing our certification with them and knew that this award was a fantastic way to celebrate this new relationship.

Taking a few steps back, please tell us more about the lightbulb moment for Canned Wine Co. and your journey so far. 

We knew there had to be a way to bring smaller serve sizes to wine lovers without compromising on quality. The revelation since we founded the business was in how we do that well and who would join that journey first. We had assumed that festivals and the events market were the obvious ambition for a business like ours, but Covid-19 and a somewhat short-sighted view from bars to buy only the cheapest brands meant we had to focus elsewhere. Our success has been in working with those who deliver experiences, something valued more and more in today’s market. We’re thriving with theatres, sports venues, luxury hotels, casual dining where the food is mouth-wateringly delicious, and the bars focused on outdoor sipping and swirling, like beach bars, park cafes and more. Wine is, ultimately, something consumed for pleasure and fun, so we’re excited to be working with venues like the above that are vital to bringing together friends, loved ones, and new relationships through wine.

What have been your greatest challenges and successes to date? 

Thankfully we are largely over the days where people wrinkle their noses up at the idea of wine in can and ask us if it will taste like metal! Today our biggest challenge is in convincing people to spend more on quality – especially in a cost-of-living crisis. People are very happy to spend more on wine when they know it’s good, so for us it’s a case of doing more tastings, more samplings, and getting the liquid on lips. Once people have tried the wine, we know the provenance, quality and sustainability of the product will mean they won’t think twice about the can the next time they’re looking to buy wine. Beyond the can, our biggest success has been in our team. We have taken the decision to grow and train up our team internally, working together to build strong values, a commitment to sustainability, and a community of ambassadors and customers.

Which is your favourite Canned Wine Co. wine (at the moment!!) and why?

As the buyer that is literally like asking me to pick a favourite child! Ok, ok, at the moment it’s our brand new Gamay, made by Lionel Gosseaume in the Loire Valley. I’ve been looking for a Gamay to make a bright, juicy and fresh red wine in can for a while and I’m so over the moon to be working with Lionel, who is so passionate about supporting us and creating some superb Gamay for our cans. The wine is available in Ocado and will expand into other retail later this year. As a business that has largely sold into the on-trade to date (such as venues, hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants), it’s exciting to be heading into local stores up and down the UK in the coming months!

After reading your Positive Luxury Awards 2024 entry it is highly evident that sustainability is not just a ‘tick-box’ exercise for Canned Wine Co. it is a serious commitment that is intertwined in every aspect of the business. From your Impact Strategy, dedicated Sustainability Manager to your informative blog posts and everything in between. How will you ensure you continue to deliver on this exemplary approach?

We are very lucky to have both a dedicated sustainability manager and a team that is wholly bought into reducing our impact on the planet and making a positive one on our communities and our supply chain. As entrepreneurs and innovators in the wine space, problem solving is something we love to do, and the challenge of making wine in a better way for a better world ultimately means more of us will be able to enjoy the social pleasures it brings for years to come. It is a core value in everything we do, and our publicly available sustainability roadmap will help hold us to account in that journey.

Sustainability covers a multitude of facets, if it’s possible to narrow it down, what do you think are the key challenges facing luxury businesses (either in your sector or as a whole) with regards to this global concern?

As a luxury business we are helping to create change with people who have the time and money to review their buying decisions and help make an impact. However, what we can also do as luxury businesses is use our success to invest in research and development that helps move industries to more innovative processes as a whole, which in turn opens up this to volume and scale and allows for a larger impact to be made. Reinvesting back into communities, the supply chain, and our business, will all ultimately help us become real changemakers.

What is in the pipeline for Canned Wine Co.? (in terms of growth or business direction?) 

Canned Wine Co. has a very exciting year ahead. For the first time we’re exporting to the beautiful island of Malta and building on our listings in Greece, and there’s more expansion to come across Europe and the Mediterranean. In the UK, you’ll be discovering the Canned Wine Co. and The Copper Crew brands in more and more venues up and down the country. The growth is coming as the emerging market for wine in can matures, so more and more places are looking for a premium luxury serve, and from the ongoing cultural shift to drinking less but better wines.

What is your one key piece of advice for a business who is just starting out on their own journey in the luxury sector that wishes to make an impact for the greater good?

Focus on quality in all that you do and the rest will start to fall into place. If you’re using the best ingredients or materials for your products, you’re probably engaging with a supply chain that cares what they’re producing. As you share quality you’ll want to tell the stories that persuade people of that quality, which in turn means involving people – your suppliers, team and community – and that will make your work more collaborative and positive. Most corners are cut because of cost, which is the biggest killer of new businesses, so stay true to your pricing, your margins, and know your value because your main priority is quality and the consumer, once they experience that, will come with you on that journey.

Luxury is a highly subjective term, what does it mean to you? 

Luxury is a word that comes up a lot at Canned Wine Co. We believe that part of the drinking less but better wine movement means helping move wine itself back to the realms of luxury and away from it being a commodity. No-one needs wine, but it does have the power to elevate experiences and connect people and places. For us that’s what luxury is, an elevated version of an experience.

Finally, what is your life motto (if you have one?) 

I am not sure about a life motto! However, I firmly believe that true pleasure comes from people, through your relationships and the memories you make. So my life motto would be to always strive to surround yourself with positive people, and all of those wonderful memories will come!

Read the Positive Luxury Awards Winners Report 2024 here.

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