When Sana Khouja (33 years old) was offered a can of wine for the first time, she was skeptical. “I was at a friend’s house in New York. She invited me to open the fridge and get the wine she wanted. I had all the varieties right under my nose, white, red, rosé, but I was used to the bottle format”, she says. She got over her misgivings, she gave him a chance and, having tried it, she changed her mind. “Why can’t we increase the consumption of wine through different formats in those places where the bottle has no place?” She asked herself. In May 2020, Khouja founded Mindful Drinkers, owner of the Zeena brand, the first Spanish canned wine. The company closed 2021 with 50,000 cans sold and a turnover of 100,000 euros.
After working for five years in the Tarragona winery Más Perinét —where he managed the daily administration—, he studied a master’s degree in the United States, where the canned wine market was already a trend. A few weeks before the lockdown, he returned to Spain and began talking to winegrowers and winemakers to investigate the best type of canning, as well as looking for suppliers. “I needed someone with specific training in this sector to guide me, also to make sure I wasn’t doing anything crazy, because it was a product I had little technical knowledge about,” he adds.
The one who produces the wine for Zeena is Celler Mariol, a winery in Terra Alta, in which the Khouja firm has registered to do the canning. “If you make the product from the vineyard thinking that it will be packaged in a hermetically sealed aluminum can, you can ensure a quality product,” says the entrepreneur. The important thing, alert, is to deoxygenate the container well so that the wine does not smell of cork or egg. Of course, unlike the bottles, the cans expire after 12 months.
The start-up He began to launch his business in the summer of 2020, collaborating with street restaurants in Barcelona. However, Khouja warns that the traditional local restaurateur is used to bottled wine and is more reluctant to embark on new consumption experiences. In contrast, large franchises are often more open-minded and aware that consumers increasingly value sustainability. “The aluminum with which the can is made is infinitely recyclable and this material is much lighter than glass, so the carbon footprint generated is smaller,” he points out.
Customers targeted by Mindful Drinkers are moving towards single use formats. For example, bars and restaurants that work with delivery service (such as the Santagloria chain), festivals or beach bars. “All occasions in which people are willing to try something different, without prejudice, and are not so concerned about the appellation of origin,” says the entrepreneur. In fact, in her opinion, her main competitors are beer cans.
The company closed an agreement with Glovo at the end of last year and has just launched a promotional campaign in Barcelona, giving away a can of wine to 6,000 families who regularly consume alcoholic beverages with each order. “You have to evangelize an entire market in Spain. Some specialized stores offer cans of wine, but this type of format is still not found in supermarkets, because there is no demand”, he comments.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
70% of sales are concentrated in Spain, although Khouja also has its sights set on the foreign market. The brand, already present in Andorra and Japan, will enter Colombia and Mexico in the coming months, countries in which the canned wine trade is non-existent. His intention is to attack Latin America and Asia more than Europe, because he considers that the Old Continent is expected to buy canned wine very cheaply, just as it does with bottles.
Every three months Mindful Drinkers sends the product to a laboratory to study the evolution of the wine in this container over time. “There is no can in the Spanish market that takes years to check its status. We are studying how to keep the raw material in the can for a longer time”, he ditches. After closing a first round of financing of 200,000 euros, the company is considering opening another, whose value will be around half a million, based on sales in the coming months. The forecast for 2022 is to triple last year’s numbers and invoice 300,000 euros.