The 2024 RTD Growth Brands Awards — Canned Cocktails Thriving

The thirst for ready-to-drink beverages has expanded significantly over the past few years. So much so that Fortune Business Insights projects that the global RTD beverages market size will grow from $749.17 billion in 2023 to $1,155.14 billion by 2030.

Though the market is booming, it’s also becoming increasingly saturated with brand after brand debuting their own RTDs — making it difficult to compete. So how can a brand stand out on the shelf? Here’s a look at some of this year’s crop of Growth Brands winners, and a few ways they’ve managed to increase their sales this past year.

Tracking Consumer Culture

Since its first marketing campaign in the 1980s, Rising Star winner Absolut has been known for a simple yet effective approach that is both purposeful and cheeky, according to the brand’s vice president of marketing Matt Foley. For Absolut, the key to standing out has always involved keeping its finger on the pulse of culture.

“As a brand born to mix and known for its cocktail mixology, Absolut continues to mix people, cultures and perspectives together,” says Foley. “We as a brand are committed to continue to be there for consumers at culturally relevant moments. We think this year people are going to fall in love with the iconic Absolut Cosmo all over again, which mixes history with culture for the brand.”

After seeing the RTD market’s massive growth, Rising Star winner Malibu, which like Absolut is owned by Pernod Ricard USA, introduced rum-based cocktails in a can in 2021. With flavors such as Strawberry Daiquiri, Pineapple Bay Breeze and Rum Punch, the RTDs aim to make consumers feel like they’re in vacation mode 24/7.

“We’re constantly staying on top of bringing our consumers convenient ways to enjoy Malibu’s hottest cocktails,” says Foley. “We’re also gearing up for festivals like Stagecoach and Hangout, where Malibu will have activations leading into its next big campaign to dominate summer.”

Rising Star winner Dulce Vida in 2023 launched its tequila-based RTDs in May 2023. The company focused on sustainability: Dulce Vida’s cocktails come in Tetra Pak cartons, which are made primarily from paperboard Ñ a renewable, recyclable, plant-based material.

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Noting the rising consumer tastes for tropical flavors, ready-to-serve cocktail brand and Rising Star winner On the Rocks Premium Cocktails debuted a new Strawberry Daiquiri flavor in February 2024. The flavor launched in time for Valentine’s Day, with the red hue of the drink matching the holiday’s theme color.

The Finnish Long Drink, a long drink RTD brand, pays attention to consumer culture by listening to customers. The Rising Star winner announced this year that it’s making the Peach flavor a permanent beverage option.

“What really convinced us to make it a permanent addition was the feedback we received from consumers,” says cofounder Ere Partanen. “They were incredibly persistent and quickly fell in love with the flavor. Our goal has always been to introduce Americans to long drinks, and Peach is a flavor that truly seems to resonate stateside, so what better way to bring even more fans into The Long Drink Family.”

Fast Track winner Monaco Cocktails debuted a brand refresh in 2023 with new monochrome cans, each featuring an emblem stating “established in 2012” within a refreshed logo.

Redesigns such as this help to make beverages stand out more on the shelf and compete against the hundreds of other RTD brands. Fast Track winner Cutwater also updated its look early last year. The new visual brand design provides more clear graphic cues, featuring bold colors and illustrations to showcase flavors and cocktails.

The design displays the ABV front and center and clearly mark the amount of shots in each can. Other creative changes included a larger logo for easier recognition on crowded shelves and cleaner typography for readability, the company states.

Interacting with Fans

Staying close with their customer base is a common theme among the Growth Brands winners. Rising Star winner Mom Water credits its growth in 2023 to the fans. CEO Kara Woolsey says the brand has focused on opportunities to get in front of fans and be able to put liquid to lips.

Mom Water features six different vodka-infused RTD flavors, all boasting women’s names that align with the “Mom” brand. The company also recently announced expanded distribution into six additional states, on top of the 30 the drinks were already sold in Ñ a testament to just how much Mom Water is growing.

“Building on 2023, we’re continuing to focus on opportunities where fans can engage with the brand,” Woolsey notes. “We have a fun, custom-built Airstream mobile lounge called ‘She Shed,’ which will be the focal point of several of our activations and tailgates.”

Fast Track winner BeatBox Beverages has a similar path to success. Cofounder and CEO Justin Fenchel says that the brand’s bread and butter is music festivals and connecting with consumers at these fun outings.

“We sponsored or were a part of over 150 major music festivals in 2023, not counting the other numerous local events, venues and different outings,” he says. “We were out there in front of customers and sold over one million Tetra Paks last year. It was a great way to authentically connect, talk, get feedback and have fun with consumers.”

Because the music festivals have worked so well for BeatBox Beverages, Fenchel says 2024 will hold a similar strategy. The brand will push for more distribution into new markets, as well as debuting new, innovative flavors.

Rising Star winner Fresca Mixed in 2023 encouraged consumers to “get in on the secret” with a campaign in which fans could enter to win a trip to the Hamptons by submitting their juiciest secret.

The spirits-based canned cocktail brand amplified awareness through multiple appearances with its brand ambassador Andy Cohen, as well as vaious promotions on social media.

“The brand also launched our first variety pack, which featured consumer favorites Mango Citrus, Mixed Berry Citrus, Pineapple Citrus and Original Grapefruit Citrus,” says Beth Krigel, senior director, emerging brands, for Fresca Mixed.

“We know how important the variety pack format is in this category, so that led to increased sales and more opportunities for consumers to try the brand.”

Fast Track winner High Noon Sun Sips launched a tequila-based seltzer variety pack in 2023 with a “Sun’s Up” marketing campaign. The platform encouraged consumers to always “live like the sun is out and manifest the perfect day ahead — one that features good friends, good drinks and great moments that make it all worth remembering,” according to the company website.

Strategic Digital Media Investments

Social media continues to be key in reaching consumers and building brand awareness. Rising Star winner Hunni Sparkling Soju, a line of canned sparkling soju cocktails at 4% ABV, attributes its growth in 2023 to highly targeted social media campaigns alongside partnerships with growing and influential Asian-American creators and brands.

Parent company Yobo Spirit House plans to continue and expand investments in digital media, influencer/creator content and partnerships, and will keep growing partnerships in the fashion, entertainment and nightlife spaces.

The value generated by influencers has more than doubled in the past five years, according to Statista, with a quarter of brands now regularly collaborating with social media content creators. Rising Star winner Ten Ball Cocktails, a higher-ABV canned cocktail beverage brand at 10%, also partners with influencers and brand ambassadors to help spread the word.

Partnering with Major Brands

Jack Daniel’s last year partnered with Coca-Cola to create a Jack Daniel’s & Coca-Cola canned cocktail. This Fast Track winner was inspired by one of the most popular bar calls, the company says, with two large household brand names. Jack Daniel’s, which has offering whiskey-based RTDs since 2020, just extended the line with Jack & Ginger Ale RTD in March 2024.

Rising Star Grey Goose vodka launched a ready-to-serve Martini cocktail in a bottle in April 2023. Grey Goose vice president of marketing Aleco Azqueta says the brand wanted to promote the innovation with a cheeky campaign that underscored the simplicity of the product, so they teamed up with Paris Hilton.

“Through playful content, we showed that there is no ‘creative directing’ required for the Grey Goose Classic Martini Cocktail,” explains Azqueta. “It comes expertly batched, so all you need to do is shake or stir and garnish. Paris was a great partner to work with and so perfect for the role. We had fun reimagining some of her most iconic phrases, including adapting her classic ‘that’s hot’ line to ‘that’s cold’ in reference to our ice-cold Grey Goose Martinis.”

Krystina Skibo is the Trade Managing Editor at Beverage Dynamics. Reach her at kskibo@epgacceleration.com. Read her recent pieces RTD Trends in 2024 and Brandy and Cognac: Welcoming a New Generation.

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