Ready-to-Drink Cocktails: The Trend That Took Over 2021 Is Here to Stay

By Clara Frezza

Canned cocktails have never seen quite an explosion like over the last year. While there are a few different stories about the first-ever ready-to-drink cocktail, according to The Daily Beast, they date back to the late 1800s, earlier than many of us would have imagined.

The “ready-to-drink” category, which initially focused primarily on young consumers and value offerings, was revived with brand new lifestyle releases, booming with a variety of new product developments and sleek packaging. These products are now enjoying soaring success in numerous global markets, especially in  the US, showing a big change in the category’s image and slowly taking over the hearts of consumers. With the rise of to-go cocktails offerings from restaurants, outside celebrations, and consumers looking for different ways of at-home entertainment, Nielsen reported in August 2020, an increase in RTDs of 86.8 percent, a big difference compared to the 21.5 percent recorded pre-Covid. The pandemic dented sales in most markets, but this did not apply to the RTDs, as they continue to gain market share.

Decades ago, the category consisted of mostly sugary drinks, made with unnatural ingredients, and these products would disappear in the background compared to the quality you could get with traditional cocktails. Now, the ready-to-drink monster has moved towards higher quality, catering to the premium trend. Their renaissance positioned them as better-for-you, craft, super premium, and offering an interesting array of flavour profiles. While consumers are looking for convenience, RTDs have to compete with the wide availability of on and off-premise premium spirits and mixers, by matching or outperforming the quality of other choices. 

While the original selling point of RTDs was convenience, this isn’t enough for consumers anymore. The premiumization of ready-to-drink cocktails was accurately predicted to be dependent on not only better tasting flavors, but also the offering of a wide range of well-known and beloved brands, as well as personalized experiences that consumers would expect from their favorite bars and restaurants. The market’s brands are meeting consumers’ demands for more sophisticated flavors, different alcohols, and the use of more natural and better-for-you ingredients. You can now find the products made of all and any alcohol, from vodka, to tequila, to liqueurs; low on calories and sugar, with sophisticated and complex flavors. 

And just like that, it now looks like the RTD market couldn’t get more crowded. The premiumization of canned cocktails will continue to grow this year and beyond, with more anticipated releases from long-standing, well known and trusted brands.  Healthier recipes, more complex flavors, and alternative alcohol bases play a big part, together with modern packaging designs and targeted lifestyle marketing.