As the hard seltzer segment took the alcoholic beverage category by storm, it allowed alcoholic beverage manufacturers a key opportunity to push the limits of innovation into ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail options. And the innovation paid off. The RTD cocktail trend quickly rose to prominence in off-premise channels as customers jumped at the chance to purchase cocktails in a can or bottle from their local convenience store.
RTD or pre-mixed cocktails continued their rapid rise to success during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when due to lockdowns and social distancing rules, many customers turned to c-stores to stock up on alcoholic beverages they could consume at home.
“Hard seltzer-correlated ready-to-drink cocktails drove $120 million in U.S. off-premise sales in the 52-week period ending June 13, 2020, while growing at a 127% rate compared with the previous year,” Nielsen noted in its report, “Hard Seltzer Defies Categorization and Limits As The Most Resilient Alcohol Segment in the U.S.,” June 2020.
Customers’ focus on health was a driving factor behind hard seltzer’s growth trajectory and is similarly boosting the RTD cocktail segment, noted research firm Mintel’s “RTD Alcoholic Beverages: INCL Impact of COVID-19 US, December 2020.”
The Mintel report further found that RTD cocktails with lower alcohol by volume, health-focused flavors and natural ingredients are likely to resonate with customers looking to make healthier choices. What’s more, most RTD cocktail consumers are selecting the product due to convenience, and they tend to perceive the product as both quality and premium. RTD cocktails also score high marks with customers on both refreshment and flavor, Mintel found.
Millennial customers especially tend to be adventurous when it comes to seeking out beverages with new flavor combinations, making them especially drawn to the bold and unique flavors often found in hard seltzer and RTD cocktails.
Many convenience stores responded early to the RTD cocktail trend in 2020, after seeing the success of hard seltzer in previous years, and they rushed to make space in their coolers for an array of RTD cocktails. Heading into 2021, c-store retailers were reporting strong sales for RTD cocktails and predicting ample opportunity in the segment in the future.