Few beverage products saw greater growth during the pandemic lockdowns than ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. As consumers tried to bring a sense of occasion into the home, demand for high-quality, easy-to-create, portable cocktails soared.
High street sales saw triple-digit growth in 2021 and that is continuing into 2022 as the home cocktail culture moves out of home too into the on-the-move and travel sectors as a quick and convenient alternative to established favourites.
For once a consumer trend is simple for airlines, cruise and rail operators to replicate onboard as the choice of brands is expanding fast. With no long ingredient lists needed on the trolley, no prep or clean-up, they offer a way to present controlled ABVs and consistent taste with a sense of style.
The single-serve format also reduces potential contact points which is a hygiene plus post-pandemic and is appearing in cans, pouches and as miniatures, making delivery increasingly simple.
The category has been evolving. Where once ready-mix cocktails were full of artificial ingredients and colourings, now the focus is on cocktails with natural flavours and premium spirits.
They also cut across lifestyles with ranges covering both full-strength cocktails, lower-ABV and alcohol-free. Sugar levels have come down and there is improved ingredient transparency too.
The Tom Savano 100ml range of ‘luxury handcrafted world cocktails’ was recently selected by Virgin Atlantic for Upper Class. The mixes use artisan high-end spirits and aim to encapsulate the essence of the locations that inspire them, pairing that with quality, provenance and ingredients to truly tell the story of the destination passengers are headed too.
Founder, James Kerslake, says: “Cocktails should recreate a moment and a mood of happiness in a beautiful environment. They should be as evocative as music can be and they should bring a touch of glamour. I worked on thousands of recipes, travelling, journaling, sampling, and then mixing and testing at home. There is nothing worse than a disappointing, over-priced cocktail and have spent a long time making sure this range delivers the joy I personally expect from a cocktail.”
Ingredient issues were top of mind for Mindful Mixology founder Danni Wilson who launched after a long quest for cocktails with less sugar. Wilson says: “The average Espresso Martini contains more sugar in it than Coca-Cola, and I’d had enough of sugar hangovers. I was on the looked for products that had clear labelling, that were lower in sugar, and tasted good and there just weren’t any. I have to admit it was not easy to find alternatives that tasted great but ultimately all our mixes launched with either significantly less or with zero sugar.”
The 250ml bottles offer two servings for sharing or self-refills and come with a screw top. The company donates part of its profits to charity.
Dietary issues also drove the launch of Sipful. Founder Darius Darwell, a highly skilled brewer expert in craft beers, whose partner repeatedly experienced beer bloat. They began designing easy- to-drink, canned alternatives for her and ultimately launched a range of premium cocktails in a can, using only 100% natural fruit and flavours.
Brand image and ritual around the cocktail experience are also key. Scottish brand Angels Dare fuses fantastical imagery with crafted cocktails at 10% ABV. Its 250ml cans carry names like a Cheeky Wee Kiss, Secret Garden and Maverick Martini.
Whitebox Cocktails similarly goes for cans but these are mostly 100ml and feature quirky, characterful packaging designed to reflect the ‘personality’ of each cocktail. Founded by bartenders, the range includes the Pocket Negroni, Freezer Martini and Squeezy Margarita.
MOTH’s Margarita and Bacardi Mojito, in 250ml cans, showcased at WTCE in Hamburg. MOTH stands for Mix of Total Happiness, a mission the mixologists there aim to deliver onboard with fine ingredients and convenient packaging. Similarly named for an abbreviation, NIO – Need Ice Only, focuses on space saving being packaged in uniquely-designed flat pouches/sleeves.
TUBES, already recognised in the Onboard Hospitality Awards for its wines in tubes, added ready-mixed cocktails to its tubed range last year using 200ml tubes for five classic cocktail flavours.
Finnair’s signature cocktail is the ready-mixed Northern Blush, featuring local lingonberry flavour, created in collaboration with Mikropolis Cocktails. Lauri Ahonen, Concept & Category Manager at Finnair Kitchen, says: “Cocktails are a growing trend and have become a part of the meal service. People are now drinking them during the meal too so we wanted to add more choice. An aircraft offers limited opportunities for preparing cocktails so we went for ready-made premium drink mixes.”