At Spirits Consulting Group we see a lot of projects in the early stages and as such are often in a position to see where the market is headed before products are even launched. Recently we’ve seen or helped develop several products that suggest that the ready to drink/prepared cocktail category is going in a very interesting direction. The prepared cocktail (ready to drink) category has historically seen volume ups and downs as new brands hit the trend of the moment, rocket up in case sales and then tumble down as that trend fades and a new one arrives. However, there seems to be a more fundamental shift happening in the category driven by a combination of the continued cocktail craze coupled with complexity fatigue, ease of consumption and higher quality ingredients that project an air of healthier for you drinking. Furthermore, the fact that these products usually have lower ABVs (often between 6-15%) means that they open up consumption options and consumer profiles that full throttle spirits don’t have. The consumer perception of these beverages is closer to beer or wine alternatives than spirits.
Leading this transformation is CraftHouse Cocktails, which launched three premium cocktails in 2013 in a homemade style package at an ARP of $19.99. The fact that Charles Joly an award-winning mixologist who worked at the Aviary in Chicago was behind the brand certainly galvanized the quality cocktail ready for you to pour benefit of the product. Their recent acquisition by Constellation Brands shows that they were indeed on to something and I anticipate more recipe rollouts. Lybations Cocktails followed Craft House with the same concept but different recipes. Lybations touts its mixology quality cocktails in a bottle and offers three unique flavor twists on some old classics (a margarita with cucumber and Serrano for a touch of heat) touting all natural ingredients, gluten free and low calories. Lybations cocktails also opted for a craft/artisanal style package that is subtle in comparison to some of the old school ready to drinks.
Even seemingly simple cocktail recipes are enjoying success. Jane Street launched in July 2014 as the first ready to serve vodka soda with four artisanal flavor combinations and sweetened naturally with agave sugar with attractive branding and a “mixed so you can mingle” slogan. Spiked Seltzer’s success in the Northeast shows that what can be considered simpler cocktail recipes (vodka & tonic) with a unique flavor but no artificial additives, gluten free and low carbs in a beer bottle package can hit the spot with today’s consumer. More recently Marlee’s Green Tea Whiskey, which at 15% ABV is more of a spiked tea than a fireball competitor, launched more recently (Sept. 2015) touting its high quality ingredients (American Rye, Gunpowder green tea and a touch of organic agave sugar) and all the benefits of green tea. The fact that Marlee’s is a hit among the younger yoga crowd, especially women and people who say they aren’t whiskey drinkers is not a surprise to Jared Berlin, Marlee’s founder and owner. “Everyone just loves it”, says Berlin and the fact that it is poolside at the Mandarin Hotel in Miami certainly puts it far from the artificial, glow in the dark ready to drink products of the past, which often gathered dust on shelves in liquor stores around the country.
The perceived health benefits, lower calorie, high quality and easy “just pour” aspects of these products put them right in the bulls eye for millennial tastes. I expect to see several interesting innovations hitting the market with funky cross category combinations and a continued upward trend in quality, price and margin. That sounds good for everyone.
Beverage News Daily – Susan Mooney November 2015