It seems it’s getting harder to go to a party or a night with friends these days without tripping over a bunch of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. So I’m guessing that while it might be World Cocktail Day, there’s a fair chance that you’ll be celebrating it, not with a bartender-made drink but instead, with an RTD.
But it’s not just the popularity of RTDs that is surprising. If you were thinking that every week seems to bring a new variation or brand onto the market, you wouldn’t be half wrong. The US online liquor store Drizly had over 450 RTD brands on their site last year … a number that was actually a 45% increase on the year before and a staggering 170% increase on the numbers in 2019.
Now it’s understandable to think that the increase is all due to the pandemic. After all, we were all a little guilty of being one of those people in lockdown who just wanted something easy, convenient and simple to drink as we watched dust bunnies slowly drift across the lounge room floor.
Yet as the world was allowed out, the RTD space has continued a sustained acceleration, all based on consumers’ desires for greater convenience, innovation and elevated flavour choices.
In fact, the International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR) believes that since 2018, RTD has become the fastest-growing major drinks category globally, and they expect the category to significantly outperform the wider beverage alcohol market over the next five years, increasing their market share to 8% by 2025.
Now while you might expect that this is all due to the US and its love affair with Hard Seltzer, you might be surprised to realise, as Drinks International points out, that Japan has a 22% share of the global RTD market, while Australia, Canada, the UK and China are also key markets. Of course, the US will continue to dominate but really, RTD cocktails are as global as World Cocktail Day.
Brandy Rand, chief operating officer of the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, probably put it best when he said: “It’s important to note that RTDS aren’t only stealing share from beer, they’re also attracting spirits consumers in markets such as Australia and the UK, and cider drinkers in South Africa. We’re also seeing a significant premiumisation trend in RTDs as more and more new brands enter the space.”
It seems as we continue along with the RTD juggernaut that little can in your hand is progressively becoming all grown up. While cheap, sugary liquids whose only virtue was their bubbles, might have been the pioneers, it seems that the category is starting to attract some of the larger players into the fold.
Companies like Bacardi are increasingly looking at options for their rum, not to mention other spirit brands like Bombay Sapphire and its Cazadores 100% agave tequila to be crafted into RTDs.
But they are by no means the only ones. Irish whiskey giant, Jameson released its first-ever ready-to-drink offering with Jameson Ginger & Lime, earlier this year to coincide with St Patrick’s Day. And the last year has seen premium vodka companies like Absolute and kettle One enter the arena with their own renditions of Moscow Mules, Vodka Spitzes and an orchard’s worth of fruity flavours.
But it seems everyone is getting on the RTD bandwagon, with some bars producing their own and even restaurant chains like the Hard Rock announcing the release of its own range of ‘HardRock, Hard Seltzers’ in March, the question remains what will RTDs mean to the future of hospitality. In a post-pandemic world, it seems they are a saving grace for venues that are understaffed and a solid revenue raiser in places where to-go cocktails can still be sold.
Many believe that as the quality of RTD offerings rises, RTDs will have an increasingly solid future on-premise. Bo Kiri in London’s Peckham has taken that idea a step further by proudly offering a range of more than 250 different chilled cans to either drink in or take out. The venue boasts seven metres of fridges, divided into categories: Softs, Low-and-No, Beer, Cider and Mead, Hard Seltzers, Cocktails, Spirit and Mixer, and Wine and Fizz.
While craft cocktail bars will always have a place, venues like Bo Kiri told The Spirits Business that they believe they are the future of RTDs. But once the can is opened, and the drink is drunk, can RTDs really have a place in our future? It’ll be interesting to see if the cans, really can.