The RTD Beverage Market Is Growing — What Does This Mean for Your Business?
Explore the factors driving the growth of the RTD market, challenges you may face as a beverage company, and how you can leverage this growth for success.
Ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages come premixed and ready to consume as soon as they’re opened. These convenient drinks may be categorized by their alcoholic bases — mainly malt, wine, and spirits. But there are also other types of nonalcoholic ready-to-drink beverages, including coffees, teas, sports and energy drinks, and more.
Since the pandemic, the popularity of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages has skyrocketed, and Drizly’s 2022 Consumer Trend Report estimates that 2023 will only see this segment of the alcohol market continue to climb. Additionally, the global RTD cocktail market size and share was estimated at $886.35 million in 2022 with a predicted increase of 13.2% by 2032.
With RTDs capturing more and more of the market, it’s important to stay informed so you can leverage this segment’s benefits and stay relevant as consumer preferences change.
Factors Driving RTD Market Growth
Convenience and Portability
According to a 2022 report by the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), 92% of consumers bought RTDs due to their convenience. Beverages in canned packaging have proven to be particularly popular compared to ready-to-drink cocktails in a bottle, ready-to-drink alcohol pouches, and other packaging options because of the durability, portability, and recyclability of cans.
RTDs are also convenient to purchase, with supermarkets, convenience stores, breweries, and similar stores predicted to make up the largest market share of RTD sales.
Health and Wellness Trends
The rise of RTDs can also be linked to increased health-conscious choices among consumers in general. Many ready-to-drink cocktails contain a lower alcoholic content of around 5%, with gluten-free, low-fat, and keto-friendly options. Consumers are also drawn to natural and/or locally sourced RTD ingredients such as real fruit juice.
Innovation and Product Development
Much of the current expansion of the cocktail ready-to-drink industry comes from its wide range of products. The Polaris Market Research report mentioned above claims, “the introduction of fresh flavors to alcopops (carbonated alcoholic RTDs) … are supporting the industry's expansion.”
International flavors are another trend, with companies from around the world expanding into foreign markets to reach new consumers or partnering with foreign producers to offer interesting, authentic flavors to their current market.
Challenges for Beverage Companies Seeking Growth and Diversification
Competing for limited shelf space is a continuous problem in the beverage industry, especially for new ready-to-drink products, which retailers are often wary of making room for compared to established brands.
That said, the continued fast growth of the RTD market suggests that it is far from reaching market saturation. RTD canned cocktail sales in particular have grown 226% in the last 6 years, with consumers continuing to buy in greater numbers.
The DISCUS report mentioned above found that spirits-based ready-to-drink cocktails were by far the most popular compared to other alcoholic RTDs, with 55% of the respondents preferring spirits, 19% beer, and 18% wine.
Data firm IRI has also noticed a trend away from traditional beer and spirits toward “premium seltzers and cocktails.” And, of course, there are the continuing trends toward healthier alcoholic beverages with lower alcohol content and an emphasis on premium ingredients.
In America, 16 states still do not allow spirits-based RTD products to be sold in grocery stores, despite comparable levels of alcohol to beer and other malt-based RTDs. Taxes pose a further challenge for spirits-based and wine-based RTDs, with federal excise taxes alone running twice the rate of taxes on malt-based RTDs and seltzers.
Strategies for Success in the RTD Beverage Market
Premium seltzers and cocktails are driving much of the growth in the alcohol market segment, suggesting great potential for market expansion, especially through the introduction of different flavors.
Beverage businesses may also find regional expansion opportunities online as more consumers search e-Commerce sites like Amazon for ready-to-drink cocktails.
Product Differentiation and Innovation
The 2022 DISCUS report found that variety was one of two primary growth drivers in the RTD market, with 94% of customers choosing RTDs because they offered their preferred flavor.
Strategies for differentiation and innovation in the RTD market include:
Offering unique flavors
Superior health benefits (lower calories, lower alcohol content, free-from options, etc.)
Premium products featuring natural, organic ingredients and small batch artisanal mixes
Package design that reflects premium quality, such as sturdy high density polyethylene (HDPE) can carriers
Bringing a foreign product to a local market
Emphasizing eco-friendliness through recyclable packaging and locally sourced ingredients
Current trends suggest that competing on quality and health benefits may have especially high returns.
Branding and Marketing
Much of the growth in the RTD market is pushed by rising demand for healthier, higher-quality drinks, so branding and marketing that reflect health and premium quality are popular. This can be reflected through colors, font, and word choice but also drink containers and packaging.
For example, our Craft-Pak® can carriers are available in 32 standard colors and limitless custom colors to match your branding, helping your product “pop” on a crowded shelf or refrigerator.
Outfitting your cans in premium shrink sleeves is another great way to showcase your distinct brand and help your products stand out from the competition. Compared to pre-printed cans, shrink sleeves typically have a much shorter lead time, require smaller minimum order quantities, and offer more color and ink options.
Partnerships and Collaborations
Partnerships and collaborations are common growth strategies in the increasingly competitive RTD beverage industries, allowing businesses to more easily expand their scope and customer base and break into new markets.
For example, regional brands may benefit from helping local convenience stores quickly fill out-of-stock shelf space. In return, they gain the opportunity to win over new consumers.
Working with other companies extends to production as well. ProMach is a family of product brands that operate across the entire production process in distinct business lines.
Working with a leading supplier of beverage processing equipment or an established provider of labeling automation, coding, marking, and production solutions can help you achieve your growth and diversification goals while simplifying your filling and packaging systems.
RTDs typically require careful and precise packaging systems to maintain the integrity of the beverage during handling. It may also be beneficial to implement semi- or fully automatic tray forming and sealing solutions, as this type of machinery can improve production rates and preserve the product.
Capitalizing on the Growing RTD Beverage Market
The ready-to-drink beverage market’s growth shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Despite growing competition, RTD beverages still present a potentially lucrative opportunity for players who are willing to innovate in a way that caters to changing consumer preferences.
While diversification is often key to thriving in today’s RTD market, that doesn’t have to mean an increase in costs for your business. Companies who switch to Roberts PolyPro can save up to 25% on the cost of can carriers.
To discover the specific ways you can save, download our Cost-Savings Guide today.