Ah, 1993. Haddaway asked us "What Is Love?" X-Files hit screens for the first time and the Bacardi Breezer was launched, catapulting RTDs into every pub fridge in the land.
Since then life for 18 to 24-year-olds, the category's core market, has changed considerably.

These days only 9 per cent of them are in work, a significant number are still living at home and their free time is just as likely to be spent in the gym, Snapchatting from a coffee shop, or at home watching Netflix, as it is propping up the bar.

So, are RTDs even relevant to today's youth?

 

LondonRd

 

The category remains in decline – down 15 per cent in volume and 14 per cent in value to £240m in the on-trade (CGA MAT to 01.10.15) – but this is slower than last year and it remains a sizeable market. What is more, a new generation of RTDs are coming through to reinvigorate the category.

A number of these have emerged from the Global Brands portfolio which, alongside "classic" RTDs such as VK, also includes the revamped Hooch brand and Hoopers, a range of "traditionally British brews," which is showing a 64 per cent volume growth over the last year.

 

HoopersBurger

 

"For this market there are an ever increasing number of drinks choices, so we need to keep RTD brands relevant and appealing," explains marketing and export director, Simon Green.

"A brand like Hoopers, with its more traditional packaging, brown bottle and its British cues, offers something different."

It also lends itself to lower tempo occasions, offering the tantalising prospect of getting a slice of the "with food" opportunity (today's 18 to 24-year-olds being more likely to eat out than previous generations at the same stage of life).

"The Hoopers variants are all made with real fruit juice and we promote that a lot," says Simon. "The way we position them (against cider) also makes them a great option for mealtimes."

Cocktails are another area of inspiration for RTD producers. Global Brands itself has just brought out London Rd, for example, a three-strong range of ready-to-drink jam jar cocktails, and they are not the only ones – Hi-Spirits launched the Tails range back in 2014.

"We were looking for a ready-to-drink cocktail partner for some time, as we think it will be a pretty big category in five years or so," says Dan Bolton, the company's MD.

"People are drinking cocktails more often, in more venues and on more occasions already, so we are confident that this high quality, pre-mixed option will benefit both bartenders and consumers."

This shift to the cocktail sector is significant for RTDs because it enables them to come out to play earlier in the evening, driving consumption.

Likewise the Daddy of the category, WKD, is also looking to other sectors for inspiration.
Brand owner SHS Drinks is this month (February) launching WKD Blush, influenced by the growth in rosé wine and wine fusion drinks such as Echo Falls Spritz.

 

WKDBlush

 

Marketing director, Debs Carter, explains: "For WKD this is an overtly female piece of NPD but, having undertaken a huge piece of research into this generation recently, we found there is much more blurring between the genders. For example, it is just as socially acceptable for men to drink rosé wine as it is for women now.

This isn't the only piece of innovation to come out of WKD this year, either. Already the company has rebranded WKD 1 to WKD Shot, with a new flavour and look.

Debs also admits the team is looking closely at the cocktail market for possible future inspiration as well.

"Our research demonstrates, not just that the core RTD market has changed, but that the pace of change is even greater now among this group than at any time in the last 20 years," she says.

"We need to bring new people into the category and we can't do that by just doing what we've done before."

WKDShot

 

New RTD launches for 2016

  • WKD Blush – a pink WKD flavoured with passionfruit aimed at adding some sophistication to the range.
  • WKD Shot – Originally WKD 1, this renamed shot variant comes in two flavours: Blue and Fiery, a sweet chilli & mango variant.
  • Hoopers Plum & Sloe – Following huge success during pre-Christmas testing, this will become part of the brand line-up this year.
  • VK – an as yet unconfirmed new flavour to be released later in 2016.