It may seem like a trick question, but with ever more complex flavours, new liquid types, and an increasing number of brands suggesting their products be drunk on their own, we ask, do mixers have an identity crisis?
In the cast list of finished drink serves, mixers have always been a supporting player. There to enhance, not steal attention from a headline spirit, their role has been to always sit in the background. Though the rise of premium mixers over the past five or so years has brought them greater consumer attention, still, their role has been marketed as a high-quality addition to a high quality spirit. Until now.
It seems the definition of what a mixer is, what it is for, and how it is to be consumed, is becoming blurred, as brands begin to market products for consumption in their own right. Furthermore, the boundaries of what types of drinks are being marketed as mixers, is also ever expanding. As drinks habits change, mixers are having to adapt and occupy a space somewhere between being a soft drink, and even alcohol alternative in their own right. In short, mixers are increasingly trying to be all things, to all people, for a greater number of occasions.
What is driving these shifts?
Until recently, premium claims led when it came to marketing mixers, with a greater focus on the quality and province of ingredients. However, as more and more consumers look to moderate both alcohol and calorie intake, a mixer’s place as a better-for-you option that doesn’t compromise on taste is being exploited by a number of brands, through new flavours that aim to be a finished drink in their own right.
Health claims are now opening-up new opportunities in the mixer category pitting new liquids as a better-for-you alternative to standard sugary soft drinks. Brands are also beginning to add functional claims. Spirit specific mixers are emerging. And at the confluence of all of these trends, brands are pitching themselves as a solution to all needs; as both a mixer, soft drink, and even alcohol alternative. So, what are they?
New liquids for mixing
One of the most notable examples of this need to straddle the line between mixer, soft drink, and alcohol alternative is the rise of kombucha. Previously packaged and sold as a health drink, a number of new brands are pushing the liquid as both a better-for-you mixer, or something to be drunk in place of alcohol. Real Kombucha for example markets itself as “moving well away from the usual sticky, sweet, served-with-a-straw options” and is available in Dry Dragon (made with Dragon Well green tea) and Royal Flush, made with Darjeeling First Flush tea).
Billed as a complex, and healthier drink to sip solo, the brand also markets its products as a key mixer for non-alcoholic cocktail serves including a take on a Mojito, Bellini, and Martini. Other fermented products such as switchels, and meads are also being touted as ideal non-alc aperitifs, and in some cases, for mixing.
New uses for familiar liquids
Meanwhile, brands have been busy extending the uses and occasions that established liquids are suitable for. The most prominent of these may be soda. In the past year, soda has overtaken tonic as the mixer of choice for health-conscious consumers, touted as an ideal companion for everything from whisky, to gin, and vodka.
Alcohol brands from Vita Vodka to Suncamino Floral Rum are increasingly listing their perfect serve as with soda. And new flavoured sodas such as London Essence Company’s Roasted Pineapple Crafted Soda are being created to pair specifically with spirits such as rum, providing consumers with an alternative where conventional sodas have hitherto been the go-to option. Meanwhile, brands such as Sekforde Prickly Pear, Fig and Cardamom soda are intended to pair with liquids including tequila and mezcal. The London Essence Company Jasmine Peach Soda is even recommended as a suitable mixer for prosecco.
According to Bacardi’s 2021 Cocktail Trend report, 53% of RTDs sold in North America are vodka soda and flavours. And 31% of bartenders surveyed for the report, highlighted flavoured sodas as a key trend, and are among the top ten ingredients piquing bartenders interests. The vodka soda serve has been identified as a top consumer request for 2022.
When it comes to tonic – which possesses a famously divisive flavour profile due to its pronounced bitterness – brands have also begun adapting products to fit a number of new needs or serves. Notably, sipping neat. Again, from the London Essence Company, the Grapefruit and Rosemary Tonic is designed to be drunk alone, as is the Blossom Tonic from Artisan.
Future proofing the category
So do mixers have an image problem? And with such a demand for versatility, can mixers truly be all things to all people, and all spirits? With the megatrends in the industry – drinking less, drinking better, looking after health, and switching to alcohol alternatives – shaping both them and the products they’ve traditionally been mixed with, it makes sense for mixers to consciously ride and adapt to the trends shaping consumption.
As brands such as Fever Tree rightly pointed out during the rise of the premium mixer, for too long, mixers have been an afterthought, an un-evolving, static and underwhelming offer. Now, innovation and NPD is rapidly expanding the category.
But at which point does this drive for versatility become a problem? Do mixers run the risk of confusing consumers with a vast – and ever expanding – array of products? As the line between soft drinks, and mixers blur, will consumers know when to use them? And, are brands gearing up to challenge or compliment non-alc spirits?
It seems that having ridden the wave of success surrounding gin, many mixer brands are now prepping for its fall, pushing tonics et al as the ideal accompaniment to the spirits all tipped to follow it; step forward vodka, rum, and tequila. However, like gin, the splintering of the category into an endless array of choice for consumers, may be the thing that ultimately weakens sales for everybody.
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