'Premium level' RTD shots find new footing on-premise in Japan

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

Japan is the second biggest market in the world for RTD beverages, catching up to the US in sales.
Japan is the second biggest market in the world for RTD beverages, catching up to the US in sales.

Related tags liquor spirits Cocktails Shot Vodka Tequila

New York-based LIQS Cocktail Shots is taking its growth international with November’s launch into Japan. Its lines of liquor-based and wine-based shots build their audience first on-premise at concerts, stadiums and festivals.

LIQS portable alcoholic shots have been on the market in the US since 2014. After debuting in Florida, the brand has expanded to 18 US states, and in 2019 launched a second wine-based product and entered the Japan market.

Founder Harley Bauer told BeverageDaily that setting up the brand was challenging at a time before the RTD alcohol market exploded in popularity. LIQS had few competitors, and wanted to make a new concept with high quality, premium spirits and real fruit juice. Bauer said it was also important to be low calorie, low sugar and gluten free to cater to health conscious consumers.

All LIQS shots are 50ml, larger than the standard shot size of about 30ml. The lineup includes Vodka Lemon Drop, Vodka Kamikaze, Vodka Lychee Grapefruit, Tequila Cinnamon Orange and Whiskey Fireshot.

The shots are packaged in recyclable and reusable PET plastic with a pull-back seal for convenience and safety. Bauer said it’s most common for customers to enjoy the products as shots, but can also be poured over ice and sipped.

Off vs on-premise

The first four years of business were spent building up the brand in independent liquor stores and mom-and-pop shops before being accepted in the chain market, according to Bauer. LIQS is now distributed with Walmart, Circle K and Total Wine & More.

He called the first few years ‘an uphill battle,’ because RTDs were not a popular format for spirits. Those on the market were poor in quality and not widely distributed.

“The amount of brands to hit the market in the last two or three years is astonishing. We’re happy to see that, as all these brands are helping contribute to the wider global acceptance of RTDs,”​ Bauer said.

And after seeing consistent double-digit growth in the US, the LIQS team identified Japan as the second biggest market in the world for RTD products. Bauer said they knew they wanted to take LIQS international, and Japan ‘blew away’ every other country as its RTD market is catching up to the US in terms of sales.

In November, LIQS officially introduced its liquor-based shot products in Japan with a launch party. For the first year it plans to prioritize on-premise accounts like nightclubs, bars and music festivals to gain brand awareness and expose it to their target demographic.

Shuto Ikedai, importer for LIQS at Carters Corporation, said “LIQS is perfect for this market. The uniqueness, portability and great flavor offerings directly appeal to the Japanese consumer.”

liqs 4

Bauer said LIQS set out to be primarily an off-premise brand, because that’s where RTDs have succeeded in the last two decades. But they have found value on-premise in the US because the shots are an active selling item that they can be sold away from a crowded bar. At sporting events and concerts, they can be sold from different, mobile vendors.

Tremendous shot possibilities

LIQS also imagined its target demographic in the US to be 21-35 year olds, assuming young people were doing the most shots. But after in-store tastings they found consumers in their 50s and 60s are purchasing LIQS because “it’s convenient without sacrificing quality.”

In Japan, Bauer said consumers of all ages are catching on to the quality of these products just like in the US. They will sell the same liquor-based shot flavors and varieties in Japan after finding they resonate well with the Japanese consumer.

“I have a feeling that it’s going to continue from country to country, being that there’s so many great manufacturers out there now doing it at this premium level,”​ he said.

LIQS’ wine extension also launched this year with Lemon Drop, Kamikaze and Margarita with a wine base. Bauer said LIQS wanted to diversify its portfolio and create a product appropriate for venues only licensed to sell beer and wine.

The wine shots have a 15% ABV, between 55-60 calories and 4-13g of sugar, compared to the liquor shots’ 20% ABV, 102-164 calories and 4-5g of sugar. The wine product is only in US retail for now, with expansion to come later. Bauer said it has “opened up a tremendous amount of possibilities”​ for LIQS.

For the liquor product, LIQS will remain focused on Japan, and said its next international launch will likely be in the UK. In early 2020, LIQS is expected to launch in Indiana and Louisiana.

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