The RTD category has matured: brand proliferation is rife; gimmickry and consumer distrust have been swapped for authenticity and credibility. But the acronym also now covers a spectrum of product types, making stocking and merchandising decisions tricky for retailers.
To cut through the noise, here are the main sub-sets in a nutshell – and some producer tips for maximising sales.
CASHING IN ON THE GIN CRAZE
Many gin brands, big and small, have created convenient takes on a gin and tonic in canned form. Sam Watson, commercial director at Burleighs Gin in Leicestershire, says its G&T “provides consumers with an effortless way to enjoy a pre-mixed gin and tonic without the need for glassware”.
Quintessential Brands has RTDs of its Greenall’s, Bloom and Opihr brands. Rob Milton, Opihr global brand director, says Opihr RTDs offer “more interesting and exotic premium variants that capture the imagination of our adventure and travel-hungry target consumers”.
Brands in other spirits categories have followed, such as Smokehead with its single malt premixes. Brand director Iain Weir says the launch was aimed at a young and diverse audience. “They may be curious about whisky but not sure where to start,” he says.
THE NO-FUSS COCKTAIL ONES
A major recent trend has been the successful packaging of classic cocktails in RTD form, cutting out the need for lots of ingredients and kit. Formats range from multi-serve big bottles to single-serve cans.
NIO’s name is an acronym of “needs ice only”, with 20 cocktails created by Patrick Pistolesi, founder of acclaimed Rome bar Drink Kong. Managing director Richard Sager says the drinks have a wide usage: “At-home occasions range from low-energy – for example the end of the work day – to higher-energy times with friends and family at dinner parties.”
Kasper Gelardi Madsen, chief commercial officer at Laiba Beverages, says its RTD cocktail range has USPs over some rivals. “Laiba cocktails have a longer-than-average shelf-life of 18-36 months, due to an advanced cold pressing process.”
Berry Bros & Rudd chose the Vesper Martini for the bottled RTD version of its No 3 gin. International brand manager Lucinda Hodge describes the target as “foodies, barflies and luxury lifestyle consumers, closing the gap for consumers who are time-poor”.
THE BETTER-FOR-YOU PITCH
Naturalness, lower calories and lighter-in-alcohol are all on trend, both in cocktail-mimicking RTDs and in hard seltzers, the water, fruit and spirit sub-set that has witnessed big brand investment.
Mocktails falls into the former camp and founder Bill Gamelli says: “Our products are vegan, gluten-free and non-carbonated. They are free from additives and preservatives and are made using 100% natural ingredients.”
Shima is a range of sake-based RTDs. Matt Brunault, who founded Shima Drinks with Hector Butler, says: “Shima takes cues from hard seltzers in that we are low-calorie, no added sugar, vegan and glutenfree. “We think natural wines and craft beer offer a similar sense of exploration as a Shima Spritz.”
Panther Milk is an oat milk-based RTD. Founder Paul Crawford says: “It can be served shaken, over ice, steamed in hot drinks and as a shot. We have been compared to brands like Rum Chata, Tequila Rose and Baileys, but we use oat milk rather than dairy, so are diff erent in terms of sustainability.”
THE VINOUS ONES
There have been several moves to put wine into single-serve, convenient can and bottle formats, but the RTD boom has also captured the imagination of fortified winemakers for mixed drink launches.
Beanie Geraedts-Espey is the co-founder of Xeco, an RTD brand with sherry at its heart. “There are some interesting RTD concepts with port and tonic,” says Geraedts-Espey. “We’re largely looking at the wine-in-a-can and seltzer market, rather than canned cocktails.
“Fortifieds are still too readily associated with sweet or dessert wines, which is something we’re working feverishly to change.”
THE 1990S PARTY THROWBACKS
Lest we forget, there is still considerable residual consumer love for the drinks that kicked off the category back in the 1990s.
WKD continues to claim RTD market leadership, based on NielsenIQ figures, and launched two 70cl pre-mixed cocktail versions last year: Blue Lagoon and Tropical Sunrise. WKD and its competitive set continue to have particular traction in the independent convenience retail sector.
SUPPLIERS’ TOP TIPS FOR MERCHANDISING RTDS
- “This category is perfect for drink-for-now occasions, so take full advantage by ensuring a strong range is stocked in chillers.” Elise Hockridge, activation manager, Kopparberg
- “I would suggest [merchandising] adjacent to the spirits that make up the alcoholic versions of our drinks. Certainly not next to softs or mixers, as the price difference for drinks in the adult no-alcohol category may cause the shopper to hesitate.” Bill Gamelli, Mocktails
- “We’re having more conversations with retailers about stocking products at instore food-to-go counters, such as sushi counters, which would complement our brand perfectly.” Matt Brunault, Shima Drinks
- “Showcasing them on gondola ends as the perfect accompaniment to barbecues or picnics in summer is a great way to attract shoppers’ attentions and drive incremental sales.” Russell Kirkham, customer marketing director, Quintessential Brands
- “On a top shelf, next to other spirits and spirit drinks, such as gin and flavoured gin or vodka.” Keivan Nemati, Bottled Cocktail Co