A massive display of Svedka vodka sodas and teas greeted me at the door. Other floor displays throughout the store pitched bright-colored cans of premixed cocktails, like a gin and tonic from Bombay Sapphire. Newer canned spirits brands such as High Noon and Cutwater stacked the cases high and sold them – at a premium.
An entire section of shelves was permanently labeled “Ready-to-Drink.” An endcap display, big enough to incorporate a full-sized bicycle, marketed a product from craft beer trailblazer Dogfish Head (eventually acquired by Boston Beer). The display wasn’t for beer, however. It was for canned cocktails by Dogfish’s distilling unit. Even Dos Equis offered a blanco tequila ready-to-drink margarita.
I asked an alcohol distributor stocking a display about the transformation (spurred in part by consumers’ boredom with beer). “It’s non-stop,” he said of the canned cocktail, hard seltzer, and canned wine introductions. “If one doesn’t work, they bring the next thing in.” What is being taken off the shelf to make room, I asked? “Getting space is easy, because so much is out of stock,” he said. (So that’s one silver lining to supply chain disruption).
With the hard seltzer mad rush now settled down, consumers and purveyors are turning their attention to canned cocktails to capitalize on a new craze. Established players, such as brewers in a stagnant beer industry, are looking for growth. Constellation Brands will launch a spirit-based canned cocktail this year under license from Coca- Cola. (The buzz even prompted BD to add the category to our annual awards contest.)
Like the hard seltzer category, expect a canned cocktail bubble and eventual shakeout. Tito’s is already making fun of the canned cocktail trend. Still, a meaningful long-term category will have been born, as it was with hard seltzers.
At the liquor store I visited, a wall was painted with a quote from the late writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard: “The only way that I figure to improve upon Coca-Cola, one of life’s most delightful elixirs, which studies prove will heal the sick and occasionally raise the dead, is to put bourbon in it.” He’ll get his wish later this year when Brown-Forman and Coca-Cola launch a canned Jack & Coke.
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