A dynamic force mixing the best of the spirits world into handy lightweight packages, RTDs continue expanding the segment’s repertoire of signature cocktails and overall sales. “Customers are looking for a cocktail bar brought into their home where they can share more interesting flavors in the comfort and safety of their own space,” says Paige Flori, co-owner of Boutique Wines, Spirits, & Ciders in Fishkill, New York.
Displayed in an endcap facing the store’s main entrance and on the shelves across from the checkout, RTDs are front and center at Flori’s store. The number of pre-mixed cocktails have more than doubled from 32 in 2020 to 71 in 2022, with sales volume increasing about 80% last year. Top-selling offerings at the store include Current Spirits Pink Lemonade ($3.50 a 12-ounce can), Cutwater Tequila Lime Margarita ($5), Mule 2.0 ($5), and Dry Fly “On The Fly” Bloody Mary ($5 a 355 ml.-can). “Companies that are local, family-owned and/or artisanal are gaining ground,” Flori says. “The pandemic has taught consumers to be more aware of product sourcing and ingredients.”
Flori expanded the store’s selection with several Empire State brands, including New York City’s Death & Co., Brooklyn’s Social Hour, Elmford-based Current Spirits, and most recently, Beacon-based Liquid Fables. The 20% abv Social Hour Harvest Whiskey Sour ($9 a 250-ml. can) showcases George Dickel 13-year-old Tennessee whiskey. “The category is going to see an influx of smaller companies, offering more creative styles of cocktails,” Flori says.
Boutique Wines co-owner Gennaro Flori agrees that RTDs are expected to continue moving upscale. “We are starting to see customers looking for true craft cocktails with more complex, artisanal flavor profiles,” he notes.
In Pennsylvania, pre-mixed cocktails increased 83.7% to $52.7 million in 2021, with spirits-based RTDs increasing 84.7% to $44 million and wine-based RTDs advancing 78.7% to $8.7 million. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) expanded its canned cocktail inventory with 48 new entries in 2021, bringing the total to 252 offerings. “With convenience and attractive price points as primary drivers for customers, spirits- and wine-based RTDs represent a significant growth area,” says Tim Holden, chairman of the PLCB.
High Noon Vodka Hard Seltzer ($18 an 8-pack of 355-ml. cans) was the biggest selling RTD in the Keystone State in 2021. “RTD items, specifically canned items, will continue to move away from seasonality and become popular products year-round,” says Holden. “Sales will continue to grow but may plateau a bit in 2022 as we reach assortment saturation and as consumers settle into preferred brands. We also expect to see a reduction in the number of RTD items we carry as slower-selling items are sold through and not rebought.”
Nationwide, RTD volume surged 27% last year, according to Impact Databank. The category is receiving industry support and not expected to slow down. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) secured tax reductions for spirits-based RTDs in Nebraska and Michigan and expanded retail outlets for them in Wolverine State. Bills rolling to 2022 legislative sessions were introduced in Hawaii, North Carolina, Vermont, and Washington and activity is anticipated in several other states.
“DISCUS will continue to point out the tax disparity between RTDs at the federal level,” says Christine LoCascio, DISCUS chief of public policy. “We will also work state-by-state toward a more level playing field and greater market access for spirits-based RTDs.”