A blurring of category lines demands that we embrace
R&D and innovation to meet consumers’ changing tastes.
By Brigid Mannarino
Every year or so, Apple comes out with a new iPhone. While brand enthusiasts can go into detail about the differences between the latest models, most consumers simply upgrade every few years or as our budget allows. Knowing the brand Apple is enough. This is also the way most consumers look at the RTD category. They buy based on brand, not on features — or, in this case, the base spirit.
RTDs are the next opportunity
Many consumers are not aware that their canned wine, cocktail or hard seltzer is even called a “ready-to-drink” or “RTD.” This is because consumers don’t really care. They are content knowing that they’re drinking a tasty, convenient and popular alcoholic beverage. This has been a challenging adjustment for our industry, as we have grown so accustomed to the crystal-clear divisions between wine, spirits and beer.
Today, companies need to cross-pollinate, partner and open brand new verticals. We’ve come upon a pivotal moment in time where only the fast-thinking players thrive, and I strongly believe the technicalities of the liquid are not barriers to growth for any tier. Just this month, California introduced a bill to let spirits-based RTDs be sold under the same license used for wine and beer.
IWSR estimates hard seltzers account for the majority of the RTD category, but also that there’s significant opportunity for canned cocktail brands and other seltzer-like products of any base. Not many wine brands have seriously taken the plunge into RTDs, but those that have are finding great success. In 2021, for example, Duckhorn introduced Decoy Premium Varietal Wine Seltzers to “provide wine lovers with something genuinely unique and appealing in this popular category.” Consumers have hugely embraced this single-serve format.
Creative emerging brands have found the most success in this already crowded space. For example, drinks brand Loverboy developed a Cosmopolitan Martini canned cocktail and an Espresso Martini canned cocktail, both made of orange wine. At a recent industry conference, the company’s founder explained that the lower ABV makes for a much smoother consumer tasting experience and allows for wine-based direct-to-consumer shipping. He further pointed out that many consumers don’t pay attention to the base alcohol when buying RTDs.
Retail categorization can be tricky
Additionally, retailers should avoid lumping all RTDs into an “RTD section.” While it may seem like the most straightforward thing to do, consumers are not thinking about the base so much as they are considering the brand, drinking occasion, taste, convenience, ABV, natural flavors, and calories. The wine-based Loverboy Cosmopolitan Martini, for example, might actually make the most sense in the vodka section, where a consumer is thinking about purchasing vodka to make a cosmo.
An RTD-only shelf may quickly become overwhelming for consumers to navigate. In brick-and-mortar stores, space is precious, so compare your RTD SKUs’ sell rates against the entire store, not simply other RTD SKUs. Consider your demographic. If your store attracts mostly wine drinkers, introducing canned wine may be your first step into this ever-growing category.
E-retailers have actively been testing various placements and formats. Currently in its top navigation, Drizly.com, lists hard seltzers under the beer category and RTDs under liquor. Canned wines are not listed separately and are instead found in the respective varietal section.
ReserveBar.com, previously known for premium spirits and wine, launched GetStocked.com in time for the recent Super Bowl. According to a press release, the site offers speedy delivery of canned seltzers, cocktails and other RTD goodies. This strategic initiative was “accomplished with input and support from the most exciting brands in the craft beer, RTD and other beverage alcohol and non-alcohol canned beverage segments … to help consumers navigate the complex landscape of canned beverages.”
This blurring of category lines demands that we embrace R&D and innovation to meet the consumer — no matter what our tier is in the 3-tier system. Drinks producer Everyday Weekend says it best on its website: “Not a Wine. Not a Seltzer. Something New.”
May we all succeed with this Something New!
Brigid Mannarino is director of growth marketing at beverage alcohol service provider, importer and distributor MHW Ltd. She provides thousands of brands from 80+ countries with industry news, guidance and brand acceleration opportunities. She educates the media, industry associations and conferences on how to come to market in the United States. Prior to leading growth efforts for MHW, Mannarino led several marketing agency teams on market research, brand identity and advertising campaigns. She also served as the brand marketing manager for an ultra-premium craft vodka brand where she created educational engagement programs for both the trade and consumers.