Good to Go

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Story by Dave Eckert

Call them ready-to- drink cocktails, or RTD’s as the professionals do. It doesn’t really matter, they are popping up everywhere, and they are wildly popular. According to a recent report from Grand View Research, RTD’s market size was estimated at $853.2 million in 2022, and is expected to grow at annual rate of 14.0% from 2023 to 2030. The report cites more demand for flavored drinks with low alcohol content and an increasing number of premium producers entering the market as the main drivers of the sales surge. So, that’s the national picture. I wondered what kind of local portrait RTD’s are painting?

Lori Elliott, General Manager of Bubbles Wine and Spirits, says the RTD impact is easy to see. “We sell a lot of Margaritas. Our store sells more seltzers than cocktails. However, the trend is up. We see more and more new brands every week. Even Grey Goose has a bottled Martini that is quite popular,” Elliott told me. “I feel like we will not see an end to ready to drink cocktails. All the companies are looking for an increase in sales through innovation. I think many consumers just like to try new things. We will carry whatever makes our customers happy.”

Photo courtesy of Liquid Activations

From Joe Terranova, longtime spirits professional and owner of Liquid Activations, which organizes and promotes spirits events in Kansas City, came these insights. “Ready to drink cocktails, or RTD’s, have had a giant impact throughout time. Punches from the late 19th century were considered the first RTD’s. They were served at parties for high society where all guests had to do was grab a cup and drink. In today’s modern industry, RTD’s have exploded thanks to the lockdown forced by Covid 19,” Terranova noted.

Terranova says the category is hot as a pistol and he doesn’t see it cooling down anytime soon. “Some versions may rise and fall in popularity, but people looking for a convenient way to drink can always lean toward RTD’s. Trends indicate that if a trustworthy brand releases an RTD, consumers of those brands stay loyal and continue to buy their products no matter what they make,” Terranova shared.

Even though he’s built a career on spirits, not RTD’s, Terranova says, in general, they’re good for the industry. “RTD’s drive business, and that’s healthy for our industry. In my lifetime, it’s been wild to see wine coolers transition into hard seltzers. I’m excited to see where the category goes next,” Terranova said.

Photo courtesy of Big Thirst

Jake Barnett has been plying his trade as a beer and spirits expert around town for a number of years with stops at Harry’s Country Club and Restless Spirits Distilling. Now working as business development specialist for Big Thirst, an e-commerce company, Barnett says RTD’s are, and will continue to remain, hot commodities. “Spirit-based Ready-To-Drink cocktails continue to rapidly grow their share of sales in the industry overall, and I don’t think that will slow down any time soon. The concept of Ready-To-Drink has gone from a term that just people in the industry were familiar with to a household name,” Barnett commented. “The potential is pretty much unlimited. Initially, we were mainly seeing variants of some classic cocktails in a 12 ounce can: Margarita, Gin & Tonic, Vodka Lemonade, etc. Now, you’re seeing a world-class cocktail in a bottle like Bronson’s Punch, made here in Kansas City.”

Barnett says the quality of RTD’s has improved tremendously, and like Terranova, he views them as good for the industry. “I think RTDs are great for the industry, as they can drive innovation and help suppliers reach consumers in another way. They’re also great for consumers, because they offer a convenient way to enjoy bar- quality drinks at home, camping, a party-wherever,” Barnett stated.

Photo courtesy of Queen of Acorns

Finally, some thoughts from mixologist and mobile cocktail vendor, Bailey Swimmer. Swimmer, who mixes magical cocktail creations from her trailer under the moniker Queen of Acorns, says while the RTD category is surging, there will always be the need for handcrafted drinks made with pride and passion. “Anyone can buy pre-mixed cocktails, pour them over ice, and serve them to their guests. But you miss out on the immersive and impressive experience of watching your cocktail be made in front of you. The smell of the fresh lime juice, the sound of the ice in the shaker, the sight of watching your bartender in their flow, mastering their craft. It brings excitement to your event, creates conversation among your guests, and makes for a memorable experience,” Swimmer noted.

Swimmer says the growth in the RTD market hasn’t impacted business at Queen of Acorns, and she doesn’t believe it will. I hope she’s right as there’s something special about watching a mixologist ply his or her craft.




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