The global rise of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails reflects a powerful shift in market behavior, which sees convenience above all else as the dominant consumer need. This trend, broadly speaking, is a millennial invention. They created the wave and now we’re all riding it. Millennials, digital natives, don’t necessarily prefer physical over virtual consumption experiences, even when wining and dining, where traditionally the ambiance of the venue was central. Hence the rocket-fuelled rise of food-delivery giants like Deliveroo, UberEats, and JustEat. After all, what could be more convenient than ordering a la carte from one’s sofa?
With the dials somewhat tweaked, this same logic applies to cocktails. Consumers happily forego the pomp and ceremony of the swanky bar for the convenience of RTD options – and the significant savings. At first, the quality was dubious. Premix offerings made with no-name spirits and bizarre lists of numerical “ingredients” concocted in a laboratory. And, yes, unfortunately, this is still the majority case; but things are improving. Now, virtual bars like The Bottled Bartender, offer authentic quality RTDs (they hand mix them with the exact ingredients a brick-and-mortar bar uses). Likewise, other high-quality companies, like Mr. Consistent have arisen to meet the growing need for premium fare. Consequently, imbibers can get the same standard of drink in the convenient premix form and have them courier delivered to their door.
Premium RTDs bring “serious” cocktail drinkers into the fold, boosting an already ballooning global market. For context, Nielsen found that the US RTD cocktail market grew by 83% (to $105.37) million during 2019. Growing demand for food and drink “on-demand”, in conjunction with the rapidly expanding infrastructure of online delivery services, means that all roads apparently lead in one direction: an increasingly digital consumption landscape, in which virtual bars feature prominently.
Of course, RTDs are never going to replace the cocktail bar experience, which is about far more than the drink as an outcome. Rather, the drink as process, as theatre even, is what matters along with a variety of other abstract associations which come part and parcel with a “night out”. Even the most dashing courier (and there are many) is a poor substitute for the Tom Cruise Cocktail flaring experience, the electric of the crowd, and the possibility of a chance encounter. The point of RTDs, from our perspective at least, is to bring high-quality drinks into wider appreciation; in a sense, to democratize cocktails by making them accessible, literally (delivering them) and financially (half the price of a bar). So far, so good.