Though non-alc spirits answer a clear consumer need, there remain substantial hurdles to convincing consumers not only to buy them, but to try them in the first place. The most immediate of these is cost, followed a close second by confusion of what and how to drink them. Much like their spirit cousins, RTDs then, seem to offer a solution. But are they cause for confusion?
As the weather begins to brighten – and the correlation between sensible Government Covid policy, and the spiking number of new cases broadens ever further – one thing’s for certain; alfresco drinking is on the horizon. Did you know if you spot your first inappropriately shirtless man by the end of March, it’s going to be a great summer? We’ve counted two so far.
But we digress. Longer evenings and shorter sleeves mean that it must be RTD season. Yes, though the season for canned drinks seems to have drifted into most of the year, spring is a particularly ripe time for new launches aimed at summer drinking, from hard seltzers to now….. non-alc RTDs.
The necessity for portable, canned formats during the first Covid lockdowns prompted much of the first wave of these products in Spring 2021. They included Gordon’s 0.0, Lyre’s, Caleno, Amplify, Stryyk, and Martini. Most – though not all – stuck to the formular of non-alc alternatives of familiar serves, such as a gin and tonic. However, the new launches for 2022 are a little more creative.
The need for something different – but not too different
First up, there’s the new range from non-alc aperitif brand Everleaf. The brand, one of the first non-alc spirits originally launched in the UK by bartender and conservation biologist Paul Mathew in January 2019. It expanded the range, adding Everleaf Mountain and Marine in late 2020, renaming the original Forest.
Aptly, they’ve chosen the trending spritz serve for their debut into canned formats. Everleaf Forest Spritz is described as bittersweet with saffron, vanilla and honeyed orange blossom. Mountain Spritz combines cherry blossom, strawberry and rosehip. And Marine Spritz uses bergamot and savoury seaweeds.
Adding a twist
Even when keeping things simple, brands are adding a twist and following the trends. Also new to market are the non-alc expressions from St Andrews-based distiller Eden Mill, which has combined its alcohol-free ‘gin’ Eden Nil with both tonic (as expected) and lemonade.
The brand says they are intended to provide alternatives to “typical soft drinks”, so its interesting that they have opted to mix with one of the most widely available soft drinks, and one that’s become a default choice for abstainers who struggle to find sophisticated non-alc brands behind the average bar. Perhaps the sweet and familiar will prove a tempting lure to consumers who have not yet tried its non-alcoholic distillate made using water, juniper, coriander, lemon balm and cardamom?
Perhaps the most innovative approach comes from the Mocktails brand. Though producers are increasingly mastering replicating the taste of spirits in their non-alcoholic formulas, they often fall down when it comes to other sensory experiences. The heat, and let’s put it delicately, the high you get from booze are a frontier only being attempted by a few. But when it comes to mouthfeel, the Mocktails brand is the first to attempt to offer something satisfying in a can.
Its new range features Mockarita, Mockapolitan, Mockscow Mule, and Sansgria; we’re not going to insult your intelligence explaining each one. Each can features a widget to nitro-charge each liquid, adding texture, aroma, and a visually differentiated liquid meant to resemble a freshly shaken cocktail.
Steps in the right direction
What’s clear when looking at the range of non-alc RTDs available is that this segment of the market is still very much in its infancy. And brands are having to walk a very fine line between offering something familiar enough that consumers feel comfortable to sample, but exciting enough to make them want to in the first place.
RTDs are increasingly becoming a crucial recruitment tool for brands hoping to tempt consumers to commit to a full-size bottle, offering a way to trial it at an affordable price, while also demonstrating how to mix it.
However, they now have an increasingly diverse, nuanced and sophisticated soft drink market to compete with. What’s the difference you ask, say between an Everleaf Spritz and Campari’s traditional non-alc aperitif drink, Crodino? About £1.40 per can/ bottle. Whereas Crodino is widely available in multipacks where each bottle works out at roughly 90p each at their cheapest, the Everleaf cans have an RRP of £30 for a 12 pack, or £2.50 per can.
Non-alc spirits, even in RTD form, still have a high price point that they’ve perhaps not yet convincingly justified to consumers. It will be the role of creative branding agencies, as well as flavour innovation teams to figure out ways to differentiate them, visually as well as taste-wise.
Flavour and experience wise however, these new RTDs feel like they’re taking the category in the right direction, moving the experience of consuming one beyond a direct replacement for existing full strength serves (an area ripe for consumer disappointment) into something that can’t be compared, and able to stand on their own.
The addition of new textures, and mouthfeels – in short, additional sensory experiences – as well as distinct and unique flavour profiles will be a key method for differentiation from the soft drinks category, will better help producers justify their prices, and will truly pit them as a worthy replacement for alcoholic products.
Expect not only further non-alc RTD products to launch - this is not a radical prediction – but expect them to offer greater experimentation when it comes to flavour, heat, mouthfeel, and even replicating the buzz from booze. The likely biggest shift however, is the expectation that more and more brands will debut with an RTD first – winning consumers over in a much more cost effective way – rather than their spirit replacements themselves.
Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 101 3939