Pre-mixed drinks

21 December, 2012

Consumers are starting to really embrace the convenience of a pre-mixed drink in a portable format. Hamish Smith reports

Consumers are not bartenders. In the main they want their drinks to arrive with the minimum of fuss. Complicated serving rituals, measures and alcohol-to-mixer ratios involve input, effort and knowledge. Having it pre-mixed makes life easy. People like easy. So why has it taken the spirits world so long to realise this? Why only now, in the past few years of a few hundred-year-old spirits industry, is the pre-mixed can format being seriously embraced? 

Perhaps brand owners were waiting for perceptions to change – there was a time when pre-mixed products were considered cheap, naff, even damaging to brand equity. But in 2012, in the mainstream at least, pre-mixed is not only acceptable, for some customers in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand it is preferred. 

‘Convenience occasions’ are multiplying as we become busier and lazier, and even in the home – the one place we might have the time and tools to self-open, mix and decant – consumers are now seeking the easier option. 

All this has meant growth for the sector – in 2011 it swelled 3.7% globally – and further expansion is expected at least until 2016 (Euromonitor International). Driving growth seems to be cans, party pouches and kegs, rather than the old-style RTD bottle that sparked the first Smirnoff Ice/Bacardi Breezer/Reef wave of the mid-90s. 

Mimicking bar calls

Today’s pre-mixes tend to mimic punters’ bar calls. Scan a UK supermarket drinks shelf and you’ll likely find Captain & Cola, Bacardi & Cola, Smirnoff & Cola, and Gordon’s & Schweppes Tonic. This mirroring of bar calls creates a circle of consumerism that must make marketers very happy. A brand’s signature serve is taught in the on-trade and reinforced in the off-trade. Consumers are almost programmed through word association.  

Of course, the pre-mixed can is not new, but the format has only recently gained real traction. According to the UK’s First Drinks, pre-mixed volume  was up 28.2% to 43.1m units in the UK in the past 12 months, with value now at £70.1m – a 29% increase year on year. 

All-purpose appeal

According to many brands, growth is due to the pre-mixed can’s all-purpose appeal. “The convenience factor of premix brands makes them ideal for at-home occasions as they are a great option for those that do not have the skill set, time or facilities to create mixed drinks from scratch at home,” says David Irwin, director of convenience & wholesale, Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands. He says Jack Daniels is now the number two pre-mix in the UK off-trade and grew 37.8% in value in the year to date.  

Along with Jack Daniel’s cans there are lazy serves of Jim Beam, Canada Club, Jägermeister, Bell’s, Grant’s, Greenall’s, Pimm’s, Archers, The Famous Grouse, Three Barrels, Southern Comfort  – in fact, it might be easier to list the mainstream brands that don’t have a pre-mixed version. 

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