From canned gin and tonics and bottled Negronis to craft cocktails packaged in pouches and bags-in-a-box, spirits-based ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails have come a long way since the days of sticky-sweet Margaritas in jugs. The pandemic accelerated this already-growing segment of the RTD category, as people sought easy ways to enjoy their favorite drinks when bars and restaurants were shuttered. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, pre-mixed cocktails and spirits-based RTDs were the fastest-growing spirits category in 2021; there was a 42 percent increase in revenue and a 56 percent increase in sales volume from 2020. In 2022, they accounted for 13 percent of the total RTD market—a five percent jump from the previous year.
“Spirits-based RTDs offer consumers a premium bar quality serve that is convenient for all moments of conviviality,” says Natalie Accari, the vice president, RTD and convenience, of Pernod Ricard North America. She adds that an industry push for premiumization is an important factor. “While convenience is paramount in this category, it shouldn’t come at the expense of quality.”
In 2021, vodka overtook tequila as the most popular base for spirits-based RTDs, with 45.9 percent versus 33.3 percent of market share, respectively. While two-ingredient spirits and mixers like tequila and & soda and rum and coke still sell well, recently there’s been a shift towards more complex RTD cocktails that highlight the interplay between spirit, bitters, and liqueurs. “Most cocktails are too complicated and costly for customers to make at home,” says Melkon Khosrovian, the founder of Greenbar Distillery in Los Angeles, which makes several canned and bottled cocktails. “The prep especially kills the moment—RTDs make having a cocktail at home as easy an option as having one at a bar.” And single-serve formats are on the rise, with canned offerings increasing their share of the market from seven percent in 2019 to 31 percent in 2021.
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Over the past 15 years—and especially in the last five—more producers have released RTD cocktails that advertise lower alcohol, sugar, and calories, made with premium spirits and organic ingredients that appeal to the mentality of mindful drinking. “There seems to be increased demand for high-quality products and cleaner labels,” says Bryce Morrison, the cofounder and CEO of Mom Water and Dad Water, which launched in 2021. “Spirits-based RTDs tend to check those boxes.”
Learn more about the current state of the RTD cocktail market in our infographic below.
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Kelly Magyarics is a wine, spirits, travel, and lifestyle writer in the Washington, D.C. area who holds the WSET Diploma. You can reach her on her website, kellymagyarics.com and on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.