What low alcohol RTDs can learn from low alcohol beer

By Kate Johnson, Highball Cocktails

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags NABLAB RTD alcohol expert insights

No and low alcohol drinks are ready to revolutionise the RTD market. But while brands may focus on reduced ABV and calorie content, at the end of the day it's the taste which will determine whether they win or lose in the marketplace, writes Highball Cocktails founder Kate Johnson in this guest article.

If you’ve been in the game long enough, you’ll remember when the first wave of alcoholic ready-to-drink products hit the market. Think Bacardi Breezers in the 90s, Smirnoff Ice in the noughties and not forgetting the almost fluorescent WKDs glowing from bartenders’ fridges.

When drinks producers noticed a gap in the market for RTD cocktails, we saw the rise of gin and tonic in a can and pina coladas in bottles; not only did consumers have the opportunity to buy their favourite cocktails in the supermarket to enjoy from the comfort of their home, pubs and bars could serve the perfect cocktail to their customers, without a mixologist on hand.

Now it’s the turn of low and no alcohol brands to revolutionise the RTD category and take what they have learnt from the successes that the alcohol-free market has already seen, to further innovate within the drinks sector.

Although a relatively recent creation, the no and low alcohol sub-category is already booming. With 15% now having alcohol free days​ and the fact that Dry January had 6.5 million sign ups this year​, it was only a matter of time before the RTD market flourished as it did when pre-mixed alcoholic drinks first launched in cans and bottle formats.

NoLo brands have to remember that consumers looking to cut down their alcohol intake aren’t likely to be expecting to compromise on the taste and quality of the drinks they love, so it’s crucial that producers and retailers are able to offer parity products.

In reality, no and low alcohol brands have to work harder to convince their customers that no alcohol can be just as good as the alcoholic drinks they typically choose. Taste is king and retailers, licensees and brands should recognise that if a product does not taste good enough, consumers simply won’t buy it again.

We all remember the first non-alcoholic beers that launched and the not-so-convincing taste profiles. The low alcohol category has so much more to offer now and it should be possible for RTD non-alcoholic cocktails to conjure up the same touch points of experience, luxury, fun, friendship and more, that their boozier cousins do.

For consumers, familiarity is key and the more familiar a product on the shelf looks and sounds, the less risky the purchase is. People have always loved a good cocktail and choosing a classic Margarita with 0% alcohol, or an alcohol-free G&T is a much safer choice for those navigating the NoLo section of the drinks aisle for the first time. If brands can master familiarity and taste, and retailers keep taste and authenticity front of mind when deciding what to stock, it’s a great recipe for repeat custom.

Looking beyond taste, health is a big driving factor behind many people choosing to reduce their alcohol consumption. Retailers have a real opportunity to capitalise on the markers of health that consumers value as part of their decision making - sugar content currently being key. Producers should ensure that their non-alcoholic offering is lower in refined sugar than their comparative alcoholic drinks, whilst also striking the right balance to ensure they still deliver on all-important taste credentials.

You simply have to take another look back at the first alcohol-free beers to realise that taste always comes out top, no matter the perceived health benefits that are associated with going alcohol-free.

So yes, healthier products are and will continue to be important but, for many, low sugar is the cherry on top, or the added garnish on the glass that give cocktails their Instagram-worthy appeal. It’s an added bonus for shoppers who are choosing a non-alcoholic cocktail for health reasons, but they’ll only keep coming back for more if they like the overall taste.

highball kate

Low sugar, or other added health benefits, should not be used as a reason to stock a product but instead they should look for premium taste which matches the real thing if they want to appeal to the growing audiences looking to reduce alcohol consumption.

Kate Johnson has over 20 years’ experience developing marketing strategies to build brands and businesses, both in leading agencies and as a freelance consultant. In 2019 she co-founded Highball Cocktails, the UK's first range of non-alcoholic RTD cocktails, creating a new sub-category in the NoLo drinks sector.