WKD is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a packaging makeover and the launch of two lower-calorie drinks in a bid to appeal to more 18 to 24-year-olds.

Fruit cider has won over many shoppers from this age group, while a recent Kantar report suggested this generation is drinking a lot less than previous ones.

But WKD, which launched in 1996 and has been the bestselling RTD brand for a decade, sees an opportunity to “re-tune” itself and “engage and resonate” with them.

It is aiming to win over 1 million new consumers aged 18-24 and believes this could grow the overall RTD category by £65 million in the next three years, of which £38 million would be in the off-trade.

Jo Sykes, who has spearheaded the WKD transformation project team over the past year, said: “WKD is a great brand with a great track record, and it has a number of core product qualities – the right taste, the right level of alcohol, and it provides an energising lift – all of which have strong appeal for today’s 18 to 24-year-old consumers, but as a brand proposition it needs to be made more relevant to this new generation of consumers. Eighteen to 24-year-old consumers in 2016 have very different lifestyles, approaches, views and aspirations to their equivalent peer group 20 or even 10 years ago.

“Although the WKD brand and its marketing support have continued to evolve over the past two decades, and WKD has continued to outperform the RTD category and increase its market share, we want to get the brand back into sustained growth. It became evident from the deep-dive consumer research we have been undertaking that a more radical and revolutionary approach is needed to bring in new RTD consumers and reverse the decline in sales.”

SHS Drinks, which supplies WKD, commissioned YouGov to poll 2,000 people aged 18-24 and get a feel for the brands they identify with.

Sykes said:  “When WKD was launched, girl power and the lads/ladettes culture was at its height and WKD was very much part of that social revolution, but today’s 18 to 24-year-olds are genuinely gender inclusive. The demise of the lads’ mags of the 1980s and 1990s is a prime illustration of how the market has changed.

“Seventy per cent of 18 to 19-year-olds are still studying, and young people are living with their parents longer and need to assert their independence in other areas of their lives.  They are motivated to be mature and want to be taken seriously, and in today’s 24/7 digital era when anything you do can be captured at any time, image is everything and they want to manage and be in control of that, but they still want to have fun and enjoy themselves.

“They are inspired by brands such as Nike, Apple, Starbucks and Beats by Dre, which combine an air of sophistication with sociability and fun, and which resonate with the way young adults live their lives today. WKD is at its heart a sociable brand, that has always been part of its DNA and it’s a positive attribute which gives us a good foundation to build on, but we need to reconnect WKD with this young adult audience. Fruity alcoholic drinks are as popular as ever, but we need to make WKD’s image more relevant to these consumers and get them to reappraise the brand and see it and the RTD category in a new and contemporary light.”

The RTD category is worth £223.4 million take-home market (Nielsen, year to July 2016), down 7% in the past year, but SHS Drinks believes WKD could drive it past the £250 million mark by 2019.

It has revamped the pack design and introduced “contemporary new 275ml and 700ml bottle shapes with clean, stylish lines” and bottle caps ion a variety of bright colours.

There will be four variants in the reinvented WKD range: the original WKD Blue, WKD Iron Brew, and the new drinks – WKD Berry and WKD Passion Fruit, the latter of which used to be called WKD Blush.

The liquid is the same and the abv remains at 4%, and there are single bottles, four-packs, 10×27.5cl multipacks and a mixed 10-pack,

SHS Drinks also has plans in the pipeline to extend the WKD family with the introduction of a new lighter, lower-calorie range. The business is currently developing two drinks that will each be a combination of two different flavours, and these will be ready for a launch by the end of the year.

“As well as changing perceptions, it’s essential to encourage trial amongst new consumers too,” said Sykes. “We want to make the RTD fixture look inviting and exciting again so that 18 and 19 year-olds are inspired to shop that part of the long drinks aisle. 

“That’s why we are switching our focus to single 275ml bottles, and why we are planning to launch two new lower-calorie variants which will add more flavours and choice as well as a further layer of sophistication. We also want to increase the focus on our Mixed Flavour 10-pack which we believe also plays an important part in encouraging trial as it’s a great party pack. In fact, our current Mixed Flavour 10-pack is showing strong growth and is the best performing WKD SKY in multiple grocers – sales value has grown by 8% over the last year while RTD category sales value was down by 7% [Nielsen, year to July 2016]. The 70cl bottles and single variant multi-packs will, however, remain an important part of our range as we know they suit our loyal WKD consumers.” 

SHS Drinks is turning to social media advertising in a bid to spread the word of the overhauling of WKD among its target age group.

Sykes said: “The launch of WKD Blush earlier this year and this summer’s WKD Blush Hour campaign was a tentative step-change for the brand in trying out some new conceptual ideas and shifting towards a more balanced gender positioning. The response from retail customers as well as consumers has been extremely positive and has helped shape the plans we are now unveiling.

“We are confident that the combination of a new direction, new pack designs, two new lower-calorie variants and a comprehensive social media programme will make a big impact amongst our primary 18 to 24-year-old consumers.”