Today, the RTD cocktail sector is a vibrant category that’s becoming increasingly premium, with some particularly notable launches in the past year or so.
There was a time, not too long ago, when pre-mixed cocktails were focused on sweet, brightly coloured liquids. But craft producers in recent years have been turning the tide
As demand for quality cocktails at home, or on-the-go increases, the category offers significant opportunities.
Its convenience factor opens up new retail channels from events, stadium venues, to outdoor occasions such as picnics, festivals, the beach, and more. The pre-mixed format can also act as a showcase for core products from drinks brands, such as its spirits or mixers.
Although the big spirits companies and brands have long focused on NPD in this area, the most interesting recent developments have been from craft producers entering the category with renewed and vigorous focus on quality ingredients.
Gin & Tonic
At the category’s most straightforward end is a growing number of premium G&Ts in convenient formats. These tick a number of boxes for consumers, whose demand for gin innovations, tonic serves, convenience and more show no sign of abating. As consumers continue to demand premium gins in the on-premise, it makes sense that they are seeking out quality in portable formats too.
When Portobello Road teamed up with Franklin & Sons earlier this year, it claimed to have created the UK’s first craft ready-to-drink G&T. Up in Scotland, Edinburgh Gin also joined in on the action, launching a G&T and a Rhubarb & Ginger Gin Liqueur mixed with ginger ale.
In the US, meanwhile, San Diego’s Cutwater Spirits launched 12oz cans of G&T using its Old Grove Gin, along with a range of other spirit and mixer duos, such as a Rum & Ginger made with Three Sheets Rum.
Classics Beyond G&T
The two main directions in the current craft RTD cocktail market have seen some producers focus on creating the best expression of classic cocktails that they can (or subtle twists on those classics), with others returning to the drawing board to develop unique flavour combinations of their own.
In Dallas, TX, Bottoms Up Cocktails sits in the former camp, recently revealing a range that includes a Classic Margarita, Whiskey Sour, Raspberry Lemonade (with Vodka), Tom Collins, Moscow Mule and a Classic Bloody Mary. Michigan’s Coppercraft Distillery also sticks to simple recipes, allowing for the focus to remain on its premium spirits. A Michigan Mule recently joined its first RTD offering, a G&T with house-made tonic and lime
In the classics-with-a-twist category is industry veteran World of Zing, which recently overhauled its five-strong Spirit of Zing range of cocktails, first launched in 2014. The Margarita, for example, has been enhanced with nori, while the Negroni and Manhattan are aged in barrels and steel, respectively. Unlike the single-serve format of many of its competitors, World of Zing opts for 500ml bottles.
Further north, and bringing some even more creative twists to the table, is Finnieston Distillery Company in Glasgow, with its trio of canned whisky-based cocktails. The range consists of Scotch on the Beach, made with ginger beer, vanilla and strawberry; a Shanghai Sour with lapsang honey and lemon; and an Old Fashioned Green Tea
Cans and More
The majority of today’s craft RTD cocktail producers are opting to go with cans, sometimes with bold designs echoing those from the craft beer category. Some use the traditional 12oz format, while a number opt for a tall, slim can.
Recently, however, there’s a trend for creating an even more sophisticated look by using single-serve glass bottles – Opihr’s new range of G&Ts, for example, or Wandering Barman’s 100ml bottles. Bottoms Up, meanwhile, has bucked the trend by opting for 200ml plastic bottles.
This is a vibrant category that’s growing in parallel with other exciting categories, such as Hard Seltzers – no doubt bolstered by the booming craft spirits market – so it seems inevitable that we’ll continue to see more interesting launches in future.
As interest in cocktails has grown in recent years, consumers clearly want to be able to enjoy well-crafted drinks in settings beyond the classic cocktail bar.
The RTD producers within the craft sector are able to attract those looking for products with provenance and quality ingredients, not to mention convenience.
Often produced by distillers themselves, or the result of collaborations between two compatible businesses, these RTDs present the opportunity to showcase the key ingredients, be they spirits, mixers or anything else.
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