It's In The Can: RTD Cocktail Growth Continues

Ready-to-drink cocktails, following a 2020 pandemic boom due to their convenience and safety, continued to enjoy growth in 2021, thanks in part to more products in market.

E&J Gallo’s High Noon --which markets itself as a hard seltzer (fermented malt beverage), but is really a vodka-based beverage -- dominated Drizly’s Ready-to-Drink (RTD) cocktail sales for the second straight year during 2021, according to a report by the alcohol ecommerce giant’s BevAlc Insights.

High Noon not only took the top spot among all RTD brands, but landed seven of Drizly’s top 10 SKUs, including the top three (its variety pack was #1). 

High Noon was followed in RTD brand sales by Anheuser-Busch’s Cutwater, Beam Suntory’s On The Rocks, Proximo’s Jose Cuervo, Beam Suntory’s Skinnygirl, Kendall Jenning’s 1800 Tequila, Buzzballz, Bacardi, The Long Drink Company and Fisher’s Island.



Cutwater, Skinny Girl and On The Rocks also placed products on the best-selling SKU list, with Cutwater’s Tequila Margarita rising from ninth place in 2020 to fourth place in 2021.

“This underscores flavor trends within the category,” BevAlc Insights said. “Other than light, fresh, hard seltzer-like RTDs, margarita RTDs lead flavor offerings.”

Drizly’s fastest-growing RTD brands in 2021 were, in order, Social Hour, Dry Fly, Boston Beer’s Dogfish Head, Beam Suntory’s Hornitos, Uptown, Dezo, Costa Brava, Rancho la Gloria, Treaty Oak and Diageo’s Ketel One Botanical.

Overall, BevAlc Insights found that demand for RTD, spurred on by COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, continued to grow rapidly in 2021 even as consumers began returning to bars and restaurants. Part of the reason was the increased number of brands available: Drizly  said it sold 450 RTD brands in 2021, a 45% increase over the previous year, and a 170% increase over 2019.

RTD purchasers skewed female (60%), with age demos led by millennials (62%) and Gen X (23%).  But Gen Z, over-indexing in the category compared with overall sales, accounted for 9% of sales.

Canned formats, with 68% share, comprised the majority of Drizly’s sales.

While RTD sales share on Drizly remains small, accounting for nearly 2% share of total sales in 2021, that was up from 1.1% in 2020 and just 0.4% in 2019.

And Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights, expects the upward trend to continue. RTD, she said, “is still a very small piece of the total liquor category and about half the size of its hard seltzer counterpart, so we believe there is still room for continued growth.”

In fact, BevAlc Insights’ report refers to an IWSR prediction that the category will grow 11.5% annually through 2024. Drizly’s own 2021 Retail Report found that 60% of retailers plan to stock more RTD cocktails in 2022.

Paquette predicted that consumer education will be a key driver for the category. “Consumers will become savvier about what they are drinking,” she said, “from ingredients, to attributes like organic and gluten-free.”

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