LAS VEGAS—Forget shaken versus stirred. These days, consumers are seeking out booze that is simply ready to drink.

Ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic as restaurants and bars were shuttered, but demand has remained strong, said Jon Berg, vice president of thought leadership for beverage alcohol at NielsenIQ and moderator of Saturday’s session, “Behind the Boom: Ready-to-Drink Cocktails Are Shaking Up the Cold Box.”

“Spirits-based RTDs have seen a particularly impressive growth at 55%, and this trend is likely to continue,” Berg said. “Consumers enjoy the product simplicity, and spirits RTDs take the intimidation out of mixing a drink for themselves or for guests.”

Berg expects that double-digit growth rate to continue in the RTD spirits category, although he notes that, in an era of seemingly endless options, hard soft drink and hard seltzer manufacturers may face challenges.

“Hard soft drinks are poised for development,” he said, “but lower cost alternative brands could come into the market just as retailers need to promote more as consumers exhibit recessionary behaviors, such as seeking deals. Also, look for branded private labels to jump into this subsegment.”

“Hard seltzer,” he said, “will need new innovation elements. Package type and flavor have been innovations during the growth period to remain relevant, but new value-added components are needed. Watch for ‘good-for-you’ ingredients and claims seeking to reinvent.”

And what about wine?

“Roughly 30% of RTD purchases are reminded/impulse purchases that rely on brand affiliation,” Berg said. “Well-known wine brands have leverage here. Creating sparkling wine cocktails—sangrias, mimosas, spritzers and bellinis—should be top of mind, as these beverages are often viewed as adjacent to RTD spirits.”

If variety is the spice of life—and of the liquor cabinet—c-stores that can use their cold vaults to provide customers with a breadth of choices will be well-served. How to choose your inventory could be as simple as considering your retail location. Is shopping a primary mission? If so, having a representation of all key segments is essential, said Berg.

Your location may also influence the primary demographics of your customer base, which in turn impacts which alcohols you should have on hand.

“We tend to see shoppers in the 35- to 55-year-old range skew the highest for purchase of overall RTDs,” said Berg. “Higher income levels also index toward spirits-based RTDs. Hard seltzers have been more appealing to 21- to 44-year-old consumers.”

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