Liquid Thinking

Are RTD's Boring?

Are RTD's just that bit boring and what can brands do about it?

25th May 2022

Sun’s out, cans out. They may be a convenient format, and consumers now have more choice than ever when it comes to canned cocktails, spirit and mixers, seltzers et al. But amidst the plethora of new launches, is there really that much variety? As a flurry of new launches emerge for the summer, we ask, are RTDs actually quite boring?

During the lockdowns of the pandemic, canned RTDs became the format of choice for drinks makers, offering brands the opportunity to reach consumers confined to their homes or socialising in outdoor spaces. For consumers themselves, they offered the opportunity to explore a range of spirits and serves, at an accessible price point, and in a format suitable for their new shivering, come-rain-or-shine, make the most of it, outdoor lifestyles. Park bench drinking never looked so good.

The thing is, the format may have proved useful – especially as previously explored, for brands such as non-alc spirits – for presenting to consumers their perfect serves, and taking brands into new moments. But – and it’s a big but – as we embrace our almost-back-to-normal lives, are they interesting enough to keep consumers attention?

The thing is, besides a sea of gin and tonics, or various spirits mixed with soda water, what else is there? For most new products emerging, it’s hard to see a true point of difference. Has there so far been that much innovation? It might be useful to look at the most recent launches to find out.

Seltzers, again

First up, there’s still a number of new entrants trying to make hard seltzers happen; in the UK at least. Falling shy of calling itself a hard seltzer, Corona’s first global non-beer launch is described as an alcoholic sparkling water. And when it comes to seltzers, a number of common tropes have emerged.

Firstly, launches are now largely coming from prominent brands across other drinks categories; think Smirnoff, BrewDog, Kopparberg, and in the US, the new Jim Beam bourbon seltzer; a pattern Corona follows.

Secondly, the flavours across the category are largely similar, with peach, black cherry, and lime occurring repeatedly. In this at least, Corona veers from the trodden path slightly, with a flavour line-up of Guava & Lime, Raspberry & Lemon, and Grapefruit & Lemongrass.

As the category evolves in the US, more big players are joining, bringing their brand identities to the category with either alternate spirit bases, such as Jim Beam bourbon, or Two Trees bourbon barrel aged seltzer. Some are evoking lighter versions of popular cocktails, such as Top Chica’s Margarita Hard Seltzer. However, none of these bids to expand the category provide consumers with anything particularly new, nor that they couldn’t get elsewhere.

Vodka turns to spritzes

Other recent new launches come from a plethora of vodka brands. Ciroc, Grey Goose Essences, and Svedka have all recently debuted canned vodka spritzes. Though they’re the first RTD extensions for some of the premium vodka brands helping consumers to take the brands with them more easily into new occasions, again, their roster of flavours feels achingly familiar. Grey Goose offers Strawberry and Lemongrass, White Peach and Rosemary, and Watermelon and Basil, Ciroc offers Watermelon Kiwi, Sunset Citrus, Pineapple Passion, and Colada, while the Svedka spritzes Orange Mango, Pineapple Guava, and Raspberry Kiwi.

In a question of who is influencing who, the latest round of White Claw flavours include Citrus Yuzu Smash (lemon and yuzu), Tropical Pomelo Smash (pomelo, lime, orange and lemon), Watermelon Lime Smash (watermelon and lime), and Wildberry Acai Smash (wild berries and acai).

What else?

Looking across the industry, the only other new RTDs to emerge in time for the better weather, are gin and tonics, ‘pimped’ lemonades, and tequila-based canned cocktails. Packaged versions of Ranch Waters (a Texan serve of lime, tequila and Topo Chico – other sparkling mineral waters are available), are emerging in the US too, again following a theme of light, water-based refreshment.

It’s not hard to see why producers are looking for a safe bet. In a turbulent economy of rapidly diminishing disposable incomes, RTDs offer consumers an affordable way to access their favourite spirit brands. According to US drinks delivery service Drizly, in its fourth annual Consumer Trend Report, RTDs are the top choice for consumers asked what drinks they anticipate buying more of this year, and 73% said they’d consume RTDs in the home, which leads to questions over whether home mixology had had its day.

But after a couple of years of pent-up creativity from bartenders, and flavour and spirit exploration by consumers, we ask, why isn’t there anything else more interesting happening? The RTD boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s died when too many brands, with too little differentiation joined the rush, all wanting a piece of a pie that consumers were getting frankly bored of. This led to a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing.

Now, as the RTD category becomes more homogenous and an increasing number of brands chase existing trends (tropical, lighter serves, and soda serves for example), alongside a share of the market, brand-owners better watch out.

To stand out among the flurry of new products, and the groaning shelves of existing ones, brands need to offer something truly new, and create rather than follow the trends. With no clear leaders currently offering to take the category anywhere new, expect the price culling to commence.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

Please contact us at [email protected] or 0207 101 3939