Get the Party Started!

Mojitos, margaritas, hurricanes, pina coladas. They’€™re popular cocktails on any bar’€™s roster but also cocktails that are available off-premise without any mixing, shaking or muddling involved. Prepared cocktails’€”also known as premixed cocktails, ready to drink (RTD), ready to serve and progressive adult beverages’€”make cocktail imbibing easy whether consumers are at home, on a boat or outside around a campfire. ‘€œReady to serve products have become a staple for home entertainers, providing a much needed convenience for busy lifestyles,’€ says Toby Whitmoyer , vice president and brand managing director, rum category, at Bacardi USA. And according to Michelle Sanders, Kahlua brand director for Pernod Ricard USA, data shows that the prepared cocktails market is worth $241 million and gaining value.

It’€™s also become a hotspot for product innovation. ‘€œInnovation is key in this category,’€ says Megan Frank, director of Skinnygirl Cocktails. ‘€œReady to serve is such a high impulse category, and it’€™s the highest impulse category of any spirits category based on Nielsen research so keeping it relevant in innovation is probably more important than any other category.’€

It’€™s about the newest products, the newest packaging, and the newest flavors. ‘€œConsumers are seeking flavor refreshment in the category,’€ says Sean Wachsman, Jack Daniel’€™s associate brand manager at Brown-Forman.

Skinny Spirits

What started with the Skinnygirl Margarita, a low-calorie cocktail created by Bethenny Frankel of the Real Housewives of New York and then developed into a brand that was sold to Beam in March 2011, is turning into an empire. ‘€œWhen it comes to cocktailing, women want cocktails that are low calorie and still taste great,’€ Frank says.

In April, Skinnygirl Cocktails’€™ expanded its low-calorie portfolio to include a ready-to-serve mojito and grapefruit margarita. Skinnygirl Mojito has less than 100 calories per serving, can be served straight from the bottle unlike a make-your-own mojito which requires muddling, and each 750 ml bottle retails for $14.99. Skinnygirl Sweet ‘€˜n Tart Grapefruit Margarita offers a twist on the traditional margarita and also retails for $14.99.

More releases are expected later this year and into next year. ‘€œInnovation will continue to fuel our growth in the short term and probably longer term because it’€™s what our target wants,’€ Frank says. That means product innovations like a possible sparkling beverage to packaging Skinnygirl in something more than its current 750 ml bottle. ‘€œWe do have some packaging innovation in the works,’€ Frank says, not ruling out cans as an option.

Bacardi recognized the need for a lighter cocktail line that still delivered its signature rum coupled with natural flavors and released their Classic Cocktails Light line in 2012. ‘€œWe launched [these] to bring great tasting products to the light sector,’€ says Stephanie Provost, Bacardi brand director, rum category. The original flavors, Light Mojito and Light Pina Colada, were joined in April with a Light Strawberry Daiquiri addition. All are available in 750 ml and 1.75 liter sizes and feature natural flavors, real juices and pure cane sugar, staples in Bacardi’€™s classic cocktails. ‘€œWe’€™ve seen explosion of growth within the convenient cocktails category,’€ says Stephanie Provost, Bacardi Brand director, rum category. ‘€œLast year we repositioned the product, really driving home the equity of our classic cocktails Mojito, Pina Colada and Strawberry Daiquiri and then a light line that accompanies that.’€

As the prepared cocktail category’€™s leader and the leading prepared margarita, Jose Cuervo continues to innovate. In 2011, it introduced the low calorie Jose Cuervo Authentic Light Margarita, and in summer 2012, it extended its light line-up with Jose Cuervo Authentic Wild Berry Light Margarita. ‘€œ[It] packs fewer than 95 calories per serving and is ready-to-serve using Jose Cuervo Especial Gold, the No. 1-selling Tequila in the world, triple sec and a mix of Strawberry, Blackberry and Blueberry flavors,’€ says Ami-Lynn Bakshi, Diageo Vice President, Marketing, Jose Cuervo.

Launched in summer 2012, CountryGirl Cocktails offers another refreshing twist to the low calorie cocktail craze. Their Margarita, Peach Sweet Tea and Lemonade flavors are roughly 50 calories and 16 percent alcohol per 1.5-ounce serving. The 750ml size retails for $13.99 while the 1.75-liter plastic bottle retails for $19.99. In May, Social Blends announced the release of Slim Lizzy Cocktails. the name suggests, these cocktails contain 45 calories per serving, making them the lowest calorie RTDs on the market. Available in Margarita, Strawberry Daiquiri and Cosmopolitan varieties, Slim Lizzy Cocktails comes in re-sealable, freezable single-serve pouches and 750 ml glass bottles.

Portable packaging

‘€œThe ready-to drink category reaches its peak during the summer months when consumers are looking for refreshing drink options that are portable and require little preparation,’€ says Lisa McCann, Brand Director, Malibu, Pernod Ricard USA. Malibu Cocktails is no stranger to convenient packaging. The brand has already packaged its products in portable 1.75-liter pouches, but this summer it added 200 ml cans available as single-serve or 4packs. With 5 percent ABV, Malibu’€™s signature flavor is combined with either pineapple, cranberry or cola, three of today’€™s most popular mixers.

‘€œMalibu’€™s new and innovative can offerings truly speak to the summer season of on-the-go enjoyment,’€ McCann says.

The brand’€™s pouch family is expanding with the addition of Malibu Blue Hawaiian and Malibu Pina Colada Light. The Blue Hawaiian rounds out the established tropical favorites like Malibu Tropical Sea Breeze, Malibu Rum Punch and Malibu Tropical Mojito. With 75 calories per serving, Pina Colada Light draws from the success of Malibu’€™s other low-calorie options like Malibu Caribbean Cosmo Light. With the new flavor release comes a packaging upgrade of Malibu’€™s 1.75 liter pouches. A new spout features a reinforced safety latch that will reduce leaks and spills. The pouch uses stronger materials and includes an additional pouch layer inside the external pouch to keep the liquid inside cooler longer.

Before Malibu’€™s cans, Pernod Ricard USA introduced the cans concept to Kahlua’€™s pre-mixed cocktail line-up. In June 2012, Kahlua Ice Espresso, Kahlua Iced Mocha and Kahlua Cinnamon Spice appeared in 200ml cans, available to purchase as single-serve ($2.50) or 4pack ($9.99). ‘€œThe more modern, trendy packaging stands out on the shelf, in the cold box and in secondary locations where these active consumers shop,’€ says Michelle Sanders, Kahlua Brand Director for Pernod Ricard USA. ‘€œThe Kahlúa Cans-To-Go consumer embodies an ‘€˜in and out’€™ mentality.’€ And they’€™re all about convenience.

Jose Cuervo’€™s Authentic varieties, regular and light, are available in lightweight plastic bottles, which makes margarita creation simple whether at home or at an outdoor social event. The brand also has a new look for its Golden Margarita, the first super-premium ready-to-serve margarita cocktail. ‘€œJose Cuervo Golden Margarita will move towards packaging that falls in line with our Especial line as the frosted glass bottle will be replaced with a clear square design featuring hard lines as well as the Jose Cuervo signature prominently embossed on the side profile,’€ Bakshi says. She adds that the 1.75 liter bottle now features metal bottle caps.

Au Natural

Bacardi Classic Cocktails aren’€™t the only pre-mixed drinks that pride themselves on their natural flavors. In September 2012, VeeV Spirits introduced VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails, the first organic and all-natural RTD cocktails. These cocktails combine Veev Acai Spirit, the company’€™s first product that launched in 2007, with fresh ingredients to create Margarita, Lemonade and Cosmopolitan varieties. This certified organic product is 30 proof, less than 125 calories per 3-ounce serving, and retails for $14.99.

With buzzwords like ‘€œall natural,’€ ‘€œlow calorie,’€ and ‘€œlow carb,’€ COCO Cocktails is bringing three coconut water cocktails to the marketplace this summer. Skinny Coco, Coco Mango and Maqui Coco Mojito offer a can-to-cocktail-glass drink that counter a bartender’€™s coconut water-infused cocktail and pack the potassium benefits of coconut water.

Gone Bubbly

Margaritas have long been frozen, but Sauza gave it a new twist with its Sparkling Margarita that features effervescent bubbles and a margarita taste. The ready-to-serve cocktails were released in April with three flavors, Original Lime, Wild Berry and Mango Peach, and retail at $12.99 for 750 ml and $7.99 for 375 ml. ‘€œIt’€™s fresh, bubby, and ready-to-serve’€”perfect for any ladies’€™ evening with friends,’€ says Vanessa Jenkins, Senior Marketing Director of Tequilas at Beam Inc. ‘€œNow you can simply open and pour margaritas that will truly bring some sparkle to the party.’€

With all these new releases, let’€™s get this party started.

Malt-Based Magnates

Spirits-based prepared cocktails aren’€™t the only RTDs making waves this season. Skinnygirl, Bacardi Classic Cocktails, and Jose Cuervo Authentic Margaritas are sharing the limelight’€”and terms like ready to drink, ready to serve, and progressive adult beverage’€”with their cousins, the malt-based prepared cocktails.

‘€œWe look at the category as an overarching platform of convenient cocktails,’€ says Stephanie Provost, Bacardi brand director, rum category. ‘€œThat category, in our minds, splits between ready to serve and ready to drink. We’€™re seeing a blurring of those categories from our perspective.’€ She explains the ready to serve products were spirits-based multi-serving cocktails while ready to drink was malt- or wine-based and single-serve cocktails.

Diageo’€™s Smirnoff Ice adds the seasonal Peach Bellini to its line-up of premium malt beverage offerings. Available from February to September of this year, this spring-inspired drink comes in a 6-pack package that retails for $7.99. Released in April 2012, Smirnoff Ice Black, the third line of flavored malt beverages for Smirnoff, conveniently packages its premium malt mixed drinks in cans. With flavors like Lemon Lime, Fruit Punch and Watermelon, these beverages contain a higher ABV than their cousins and offer bolder flavors. In June 2012, Smirnoff and Parrot Bay introduced frozen pouches to its line of naturally flavored premium malt beverages.

A staple for the summer months, Smirnoff’€™s flavors include Frozen Strawberry Lemonade, Frozen Blue Raspberry Lemonade, and Frozen Cherry Limeade. Parrot Bay’€™s five percent ABV frozen cocktails come in flavors like Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri, Frozen Mango Daiquiri and Frozen Pina Colada. Both brands of ready-to-serve packages are available in 10-ounce single-serve pouches that retail for $1.99.

Mike’€™s Hard Lemonade Co. made a name for itself in its bottled drinks and then its cans, and in April, the company announced its hard lemonade would be available in pouches. The brand’€™s most loved flavors’€”lemonade, black cherry lemonade, classic margarita and strawberry lemonade’€”were turned Frozen and launched in single 10-ounce pouches. The product has smooth ice crystals for a sorbet appearance, and the pouch uses technology that prevents it from getting sticky. ‘€œMike’€™s is synonymous with innovation and an unrelenting drive to create best in class products,’€ says Kevin Kotecki, the company’€™s president.

Mike’€™s also released a new spring seasonal beverage, Mike’€™s Hard Blood Orange, to meet demand for cutting edge flavors. Though Blood Orange is currently only available through mid-summer, Mike’€™s Hard Strawberry Lemonade was also released as a seasonal flavor and is now a year-round favorite. American Beverage Corporation’€™s Daily’€™s Cocktails, the leader in frozen pouches, already provides more flavors than other brands, according to Daily’€™s chief marketing officer, Lisa Coker. But in 2013, it released even more, adding three varieties to both its light and tropical cocktail lines. January saw the introduction of Light Margarita, Light Mango Passionfruit Daiquiri and Light Pink Lemonade; the three boast 180 calories per pouch and joined Light Strawberry Margarita in the Light Line. The brand expanded its tropical line, which includes Pina Colada, with the February release of Bahama Mama, Blue Hawaiian and Hurricane. The new convenient pouches brings Daily’€™s total to 13 flavors. Daily’€™s Cocktails plans to innovate with more introductions this year.

Jack Daniel’€™s Country Cocktails (JDCC) is seeing positive returns after its new innovations launched in April 2012. Three new flavors’€”Watermelon Punch, Berry Punch and Downhome Punch Light’€”were released and packaging was improved to align with Jack Daniel’€™s positioning, according to the brand’€™s associate brand manager, Sean Wachsman. ‘€œAfter the launch of new packaging and flavors in April 2012, JDCC has reversed 12-month trends 35 points going from -17.2% to +18.2%,’€ Wachsman says.

Things seemingly can only go up for the Brown Forman brand as it has even more excitement for 2013. April saw two 12-pack options’€”a sampler and Lynchburg Lemonade, the first authorized cocktail by Jack Daniel’€™s’€”three 16-ounce can four packs available in Downhome Punch, Watermelon Punch and Lynchburg Lemonade. But perhaps the most exciting development for the brand will come on October 1 when JDCC introduces its first seasonal flavor, Jack Apple. ‘€œSeasonal flavors are an important part of innovation in the PAB category, similar to the beer category,’€ Wachsman says. ‘€œThis will be available for a limited time after which we’€™ll launch a new seasonal flavor for the warmer spring/summer months.’€ In April 2012, Bud Light Lime unveiled its Lime-A-Rita, a ready-to-drink margarita that’€™s mixed with Bud Light Lime. Selling 500,000 barrels in less than eight months, it was so successful it was second to only Bud Light Platinum. In March, Anheuser-Busch announced the launch of Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita, an 8 percent ABV flavored malt beverage that mixes Bud Light Lime with a strawberry margarita. ‘€œThe response to Lime-A-Rita, especially among non-beer drinkers, was tremendous, and we knew we’€™d tapped into a winning insight we could build on,’€ says Rob McCarthy, vice president, Bud Light.

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