It all started with a Mike’s Hard Lemonade Seltzer tasting on Zoom. My colleague, Olivia Harrison, held up her black, 12-ounce can and said, “I like how it tastes, but I really love the can. It’s sexy.” A few of my other co-workers chimed in and agreed that both the look and feel of the can had sex appeal — we somehow felt cooler holding this can than we did a normal, “stout” 12-ounce soda can. A few weeks later, Olivia and I tried the Loverboy Espresso Martini can and were once again shook by its sexiness. This small 8.4-ounce can with its matte brown label and gold foil lettering felt so good in my hand, my introverted self suddenly wanted to throw a party just so I could be seen holding it.
Once I started seeing the sexiness of certain cans, I couldn’t stop. Every time I tried a new canned drink (alcoholic or not), I immediately judged it based on its sexiness. I found myself drawn to the slimmer 12-ounce cans (classified as “sleek” in the alcohol biz), especially those with monochromatic or black-and-white labels. Even sexier than the sleek 12-ounces, though, were the elusive 8.4-ounce cans that fit perfectly in my hand, but very rarely showed up in my local grocery store canned drink aisle.
First debuting on the beverage scene in Europe in 2012, the 12-ounce sleek can grew to prominence stateside during the “White Claw Summer” of 2019. That the alcoholic seltzer water — billed as a “better-for-you” alcohol — was packaged in a slim can was no mistake. The elongated shape gives off the impression that whatever is inside of the can is lighter, lower in calories, and somehow better for you than your average stout beer can. “Consumers sometimes anthropomorphize products,” Dr. Kelly Goldsmith, a professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University, explains, “even without conscious awareness, if we want to be skinny, we’re drawn to the characteristics we want to see in ourselves.” Dr. Goldsmith adds that it’s also about status: “The literature shows that we associate taller and thinner products with higher status, as if they are looking down on the other products. It gives the drinker the feeling of luxury and prestige.”
If this sounds a little far-fetched, it’s backed by market research. When hard seltzer giant Truly decided to switch from bottles to cans, they surveyed their consumers and found that “many drinkers expected the slim cans to have a lighter, more refreshing drinking experience.” Drinkers saw the slim shape of the can and immediately associated it with being “better” than squat cans and even glass bottles.
Buoyed by White Claw’s tremendous popularity, 2020 ushered in a “better for you” alcohol boom. Hard beverage companies were being founded left and right, and everything from spiked coconut water to alcoholic water was finding its way onto store shelves — most of it packaged in sleek, and eco-friendly, 12-ounce cans. In fact, according to leading packaging company, Ball Corporation, as of May 2020, 70% of all beverages were launched in a can; in 2013, just one-third of new beverages were canned.
Then, in a twist few saw coming, the pandemic slowed manufacturers’ production of aluminum cans. That, coupled with cans’ sudden and immense popularity, led to production and shipment delays and shortages. Aluminum cans became rare, which, as any former Pokemon card collector knows, made them infinitely sexier. So sexy that can manufacturers have had to create whole new plants to keep up with demand. The desire for cans is so high, says Director of Marketing Operations, Megan Sanford, that Ball is “building three state-of-the-art plants that will manufacture at least six billion cans by the end of 2021.”
Unfortunately, this (sexy) rarity has led to complete lack of supply for small businesses such as Loverboy. “It's a pretty classic example the little guys get screwed because we don't have leverage and big can manufacturers prioritize their existing large relationships,” explains Kyle Cooke, the founder of Loverboy. “We spent April through December 2020 completely sold out.” Loverboy has also found it increasingly difficult to find the sexiest can of all — the 8.4-ounce sleek can — to replenish their constantly sold out supply of canned espresso martinis and spritzes. And this scarcity proves their sexiness; they’re so sexy, it’s nearly impossible to keep them on the shelf.
Lately, I’ve found myself daydreaming about what my shot girl summer will look like. In my fantasy, I’m sitting on a beach, bikini-clad, holding a sleek, monochromatic, alcoholic can in my hand. Like pre-pandemic me might have done with a good pair of shoes, I’ve saved my favorite cans for this moment: a Loverboy Espresso Martini, an Onda Sparkling Tequila blood orange, and a classic grapefruit White Claw. As we re-enter the world, sexiness is less about what we’re wearing and more about what we’re holding and our hands — and damn, does that sleek little can make me feel hotter than ever before.