Why Kiwis Love RTDs

Convenient and coveted, there’s no stopping our affection for the new generation of RTDs

If you’re a frequent visitor to your local Liquorland, you’ll have noticed that over the past few years – even with the pandemic’s disruptions on retail and distribution – the ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage options have expanded exponentially. 

RTDs are nothing new. Anyone over 30 will have memories, fond or not, of those sugary, head-banging numbers we used to devour in our early twenties. Thankfully, most canned and bottled pre-mixes are focused on the ‘better for you’ message – which means they may be low-sugar, low-carb, low-calorie or gluten free (or all of the above). Many also offer glass-free portability, which of course has been fantastic for all our outdoors gatherings of late.  

“For someone who buys RTDs most weekends, they’re definitely a fast and easy option,” says Ashley Walker, Liquorland Marketing Assistant. “There’s so much variety in pre-mixed drinks now, and they’re easy on the wallet. Yes, the marketing and packaging can be pretty captivating, which sways people to try the latest drop.”

Rise and shine

Much like fashion and food, New Zealand follows similar life cycles to the rest of the world when it comes to our drink choices. “The growth in pre-mixed drinks aligns to what we have seen globally,” says Tim Norman, Senior Brand Manager at Lion. “There’s been a rapid rise in sodas and seltzers, and with low barriers for entry into the pre-mix drinks category it’s easy for people to create a drink and bring it to market. The challenge being, how you promote it to get the pull-through.”

According to the IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record), who monitor global alcohol trends, the rapid rise of spirit-based RTDs in the US is driven by vodka and tequila bases, accounting for more than half of new spirit-based RTD launches in the past two years. Here in Aotearoa, vodka reigns supreme as the most common base, followed by our beloved bourbon. Stacey McLeod, Liquorland Digital Marketing Specialist, says, “Vodka is extremely versatile, and doesn’t have a particularly intrusive taste, which lets the flavours shine. Gin-based RTDs are seeing massive growth as well, which is likely due to full-strength gin’s incredible rise in recent years.”

Toast in article imagery 19

Good foundations

Not all spirits are created equal, so if a high-quality base is important to your decision, it pays to check the ingredients. “Base spirts for any RTD is critical,” explains Mark Neal, Co-founder and Marketing Director of Scapegrace Distilling Co. “Our core business is to distil premium full-strength vodka and gin, so it made sense to use our own handcrafted spirit as the base for our RTD, as opposed to a cheaper alternative. Keep in mind that if a gin-based RTD is not using actual distilled gin with botanicals, then essentially they may be blending gin flavouring with ethanol, to help the flavour of gin come through in the drink.” Tim concurs, saying that base spirits are very important and that consumers want to know what they are getting. “We’ve seen some alternative base products within pre-mix not resonate as much with consumers,” he says. 

Taste test

Once the base is in place, coming up with flavours and mixers can be just as tricky. Especially when development of products can be months if not years before release (for example, Smirnoff Soda took eight months from conception to canning, and each variant of Scapegrace is about a year in the making), so being able to predict future flavour trends is key. 

Depending on the size of the company (and their budget), conducting consumer research gives an effective insight to what will sell. Mark says that his consumer research consists of several sensory focus groups, and then the best variants are shortlisted, refined and re-tested. “Only the fit will survive!”

Greenhill Seltzers founders, Sam Bulman and Jamil Eisele spend as long as they need to get their flavours just right, saying, “Our product development is ongoing and we’re constantly updating recipes based on feedback from our customers. Our top sellers are all pretty close [in sales numbers], but our Lime & Elderflower flavour is always up there. We’ve spent a massive amount of time on this one to get it just right.”

Spirit and taste aside, there’s no doubt that the convenience of grab-and-go coupled with a practical price point (in comparison to purchasing a full-strength spirit, and multiple mixers) is the reality of why RTDs will continue to crush it. Fast food isn’t going anywhere and seemingly, neither are fast drinks.

WORDS Pamela McIntosh 

Our Picks