Canned cocktails and the rise of RTDs
With sales up 40% in the last year, what is driving the rapidly growing Ready-to-Drink category?
It seems it's less to do with what we’re drinking and more to do with how we are living.
Getting your hands on a good cocktail used to mean dressing up, heading to an upmarket bar and scanning a leather-bound list of punny names and complex flavour profiles – before inevitably asking if they “just do a classic margarita?” (Just us? Oh.)
But even before drinking-out was no longer an option and socializing didn’t require 2 metres of distance, people were looking for ways to recreate the cocktail experience without the need for a reservation or a well-dressed mixologist.
Ready-to-drinks (or as they’re more commonly known, RTDs) are premade, packaged drinks that from the moment of purchase are, well, ready to drink. RTDs span the whole of the drinks category, from hard seltzers to iced tea. But recently an influx of bottled and canned cocktails has taken the market by storm.
Ready-to-drink cocktail sales have skyrocketed 40% in the past year. And while those numbers are dominated by big brand spirits expanding their portfolio into premixed cans, thanks to the holy trinity of craft, convenience and experimentation, we’re seeing independent – and even non-alcoholic – options creep into the mainstream.
So why are cocktails in a can so in demand? It seems it’s less to do with what we’re drinking more to do with how we’re living.
Easy as RTD
We live in an on-demand economy. Whether it’s a taxi, a takeout or a grocery haul, we’re used to getting what we want at the touch of a button or a swipe of a screen. So when it comes to how and where we spend our money, for a product to even get a look in, it needs to be simple, convenient and require as little effort as possible.
With a name like “ready to drink,” it’s no wonder this category is thriving. As Straightaway puts it, “a good cocktail should never be out of reach,” and according to a recent Nielsen survey, 55% of people will choose to buy a canned cocktail out of convenience. They’re cheap, easy to pick up in grocery stores and require zero preparation. While this makes them the perfect drink for the park or the beach, they’re even more convenient for a night on the sofa (somewhere we’ve all been finding ourselves a lot more lately).
The same survey shows the most popular occasion to enjoy a ready-to-drink beverage is at home. Not only do premixed bottles and cans take up less cupboard space, they negate the cost of the liquors and mixers required for an at-home cocktail experience. Not to mention extras like ice, garnish, shakers and spoons. Put simply, why invest in a one-off purchase of cachaca rum, sugar syrup and crushed ice, when a can of Novo Fogo hits just as nice?
RTD brands are even finding innovative ways to reach us at home. Custom cocktail pouches from the likes of Asterley Bros and NIO fit straight through your letterbox, while DRNXMYTH has crafted a dual-chamber bottle that keeps ingredients fresh until you’re ready to drink.
The Age of Experience
Thanks to RTDs we can recreate the drinking-out experience from anywhere. As a result, bars are no longer competing with other bars, they’re competing with early nights, dinner parties and Netflix. We’re placing the same, if not more, value on experience and human connection than we do on material products. And while popular cocktail bars like Scout and Tayer are capitalizing on this, bottling their unique cocktails to be enjoyed outside of the bar, other brands are adding an element of flair to make RTDs an experience of their own.
Introducing hybrids like gin-spiced rum, barrel-aged wine and single malt finished with beer, the drinks category is proving to be a space for innovation. RTDs are no different and we’re seeing companies like Empirical Spirits experiment with new ingredients (pine cones anyone?), unusual flavor combinations and provocative branding.
In a category bursting with expression, stand-out branding is making RTDs less about the product itself and more about the experience. Moving away from the design limitations of more traditional spirits, canned cocktails like Mezzo, Hoxie, Bloody and Long Flint are using bright colors, bold illustrations and witty copy to add personality that’s perfect for Instagram.
No Alcohol? No Problem
The experiences we seek are often more enjoyable with a clear and well-rested head. Combine this with a thriving wellness movement, and it’s no surprise nearly 40% of global consumers want to decrease their alcohol consumption.
Thankfully booze alternatives are no longer limited to a Shirley Temple or a Diet Coke, and in the US alone the low- and no-alcohol sector is predicted to triple in growth by 2022. Established non-alcoholic offerings like Seedlip have successfully expanded into the RTD space with cans of Seedlip and tonic as well as bottles of Nogroni – the popular take on a non-alcoholic Negroni. We’re also seeing brands like Punchy create both a “spiked” and alcohol-free version of their canned cocktails, “Because sometimes you want a drink. And sometimes you don’t.”
Alongside this, more and more brands are getting experimental with their non-alcoholic offerings, challenging the norm of flavour first, health second. RTDs like Kin, Cann and Proposition are introducing us to the “social tonic”. Using botanics and adaptogens like THC and CBD, these drinks create a “refreshing, uplifting social buzz” without the alcohol. It’s a new take on drinking aimed at those looking to cut back on alcohol but not miss out on social occasions.
We may be drinking less, but our spending habits show we’re drinking better. Just like our upscale tastes have helped make high-end products like hummus and sushi supermarket staples, bar managers report an increased demand for premium drinks over the past five years. Millennials and Gen Z – who are renowned for their rejection of binge-drinking – are flocking towards premium brands and savoring their drinks, rather than getting drunk on cheaper alternatives.
Because of the upmarket nature of the drink, the idea of a canned cocktail already carries more prestige than its hard seltzer and wine cooler cousins. But we’re also seeing premium players within the category itself. Brands like Buvuer, 3 / 4 oz and BTL SVC craft quality ingredients in small batches for a more refined drinking experience. These brands are also finding their way into airlines and boutique hotels as an opportunity to elevate and upgrade our time away from home.
Can-do Attitude in a Can
The RTD space is fresh, exciting and bursting with innovation. But more importantly it’s able to adapt to whatever cultural trends come its way, whether it’s our need for speed or, indeed, a global pandemic that’s got us recreating the bar experience at home.
We’re on the hunt for better quality, healthier ingredients and, above all, convenience and it seems RTDs have a solution for every situation, from cheap and cheerful to alcohol-free. And we can’t wait to see – and taste – what’s next.