New ready-to-drink products promote “pure ingredients” as category evolves

As the RTD market (which includes FABs, hard seltzers, premix cocktails and long drinks) continues to grow, brand owners are changing the way they position their brands


Between 2019 and 2020, consumers in 10 key ready-to-drink (RTD) markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, Spain, South Africa, the UK and the US) gained close to two thousand new RTD products, which includes FABs, hard seltzers, premix cocktails and long drinks. As the RTD market continues to grow, category evolution is being driven by factors such as innovation in alcohol bases and premium product offerings. IWSR has also tracked a change in how RTD brand owners are positioning their brands.

Since 2018, RTD launches have largely focused on health and wellness cues, as well as the category’s leading attributes of refreshment and flavour. This still holds true – in fact, recent 2020 RTD launches project even more dietary benefits than RTD growth brands did in 2019. However, IWSR analysts are now noticing brand owners adopt a more nuanced approach to dietary attributes when positioning RTD products. As brands increasingly emphasise these benefits, messages of sophistication, energy and natural ingredients have started to fade away.

The dietary benefits and product attributes that resonate with RTD consumers vary market-by-market. In markets outside the US, many products tend to use messaging that highlights the avoidance of certain ingredients, focusing on attributes such as “no”, “low” or “free-from”. For example, in countries such as Australia, China, Mexico, Spain and the UK, “low-calorie” is one of the top 3 most mentioned attributes for RTD products.

In the US, many products are starting to tap into the wellness trend from a slightly different angle, with a focus on supplements (add-ons) as opposed to eliminations. As an extension of this, many brands are increasingly focusing product messaging around “pure ingredients”. IWSR data shows that in 2020 in the US, there were almost 250% more new or growing RTD product lines that focused on “pure” ingredients versus those that focused on “natural” ingredients.

While there is no legal definition of “pure”, it’s evident that brand owners are appealing to consumer demand for products with less additives. The term implies unadulterated ingredients, an alternative better-for-you marketing strategy that simplifies the inherent benefits of the product. By claiming purity, there’s also a subtle suggestion of what is not pure.

Alongside dietary benefits, many RTD brands have also increased product positioning around packaging attributes. The trend for convenience, which has been bolstered by changes in consumer habits due to Covid-19, plays a big part in the messaging used to position RTDs, with “portable” amongst the top 3 product attribute trends in markets such as Brazil, Canada, Spain, South Africa and the US, for example.

While both of these rational benefits – dietary and packaging – matter to consumers, IWSR research shows that emotional benefits, particularly sensorial attributes (refreshment, flavour, lightness), are of higher importance with consumers across all ten markets. This means that brand owners who focus on functional and packaging benefits must also keep the taste and mouthfeel of the liquid at the forefront.

IWSR - RTD video

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