Donna Berry 2019CHICAGO – Canned adult beverages have been gaining traction in recent years as their portable, non-breakable structure makes them suited for outdoor events and public gatherings. While beer has long been available in single-serve aluminum cans, the packaging is relatively new to wine, hard seltzers and mixed cocktails.

One might think with social distancing measures in place, along with the shutdown of sports, concerts and other large gatherings, sales of the single-serve alcohol drinks would be slowing. On the contrary, sales are booming, especially in municipalities that have relaxed alcohol sales laws and now are allowing for delivery and curb-side pick-up during stay-at-home orders.  

Health- and wellness-conscious consumers also have learned the single-serve format assists with portion control. Many products are designed to be low in alcohol and in calories, further appealing to the mindful drinker.

While many breweries, wineries and beverage companies already had single-serve canned offerings in their product line, the coronavirus’ impact on where and how people purchase and consume alcoholic beverages fueled marketers to produce more and varied offerings.

Metropolitan Brewing, one of Chicago’s oldest independently owned breweries, decided back in December 2019 to offer one of its best-selling on-tap lagers in 12-oz cans. Because of COVID-19, the company accelerated efforts for an early May launch and added two other brews to the plan.

“We wanted to give our fans and consumers something to look forward to,” said Tracy Hurst, co-founder and president.

Local wineries want in, too. The market for canned wine surged from less than $2 million in 2012 to about $28 million by early 2018, according to Nielsen data. The category then climbed to more than $69 million in 2019.

Round Barn Winery and Distillery, part of the Moersch Hospitality Group, Baroda, Mich., entered the category in 2019 with Flavor Trip Canned Wine Cocktails in four varieties: cherry spritzer, Crantini, peach bellini and red sangria. Raspberry lemonade was recently added to the line.

The first year’s sales were successful, said Sue Veldman, marketing director. The winery is optimistic about its future given consumers’ continued support during the pandemic.

“We continue to experience high demand for our Flavor Trip canned series, which aligns with what we are seeing nationally for growth in this segment overall and during the pandemic,” Ms. Veldman said. “Currently we offer our products ‘to-go’ through curbside pickup at the Round Barn Public House (during the week) and at the Round Barn Estate on Saturdays. They are also available through our online store.”

Distilleries are partnering with beverage manufacturers to create convenience cocktails. Many of them have a healthy twist to keeping consumers interested in “adulting.”

“Consumers may still be reluctant to visit bars and restaurants once stay-at-home orders are lifted ... so there’s a lot of growth potential for premium ready-to-drink cocktails that offer a similar premium drinking experience at home."
 – Holly McHugh, Imbibe Inc.

“In wake of COVID-19, many consumers are unable to experience premium cocktails at bars and restaurants because of stay-at-home orders in several states,” said Holly McHugh, marketing associate, Imbibe Inc., Niles, Ill. “Consumers may still be reluctant to visit bars and restaurants once stay-at-home orders are lifted due to fear of crowds and getting sick, so there’s a lot of growth potential for premium ready-to-drink cocktails that offer a similar premium drinking experience at home.

“Though alcohol is not typically associated with health and wellness, there are products entering the market such as ready-to-drink vodka sodas enhanced with spirulina, hard kombucha, electrolyte enhanced beers and turmeric ciders. In wake of COVID-19, products that offer an escape and have a healthy twist could appeal to consumers.”

Las Vegas-based Two Chicks is introducing three RTD cocktails that are spirit based and made with natural essences of fruit and botanicals. Sparkling Vodka CuTea is vodka with peach, cucumber tea and thyme. Sparkling New Fashioned is whiskey, spicy ginger and orange. The sparkling apple Gimlet variety is gin, apple and cucumber.

The cocktails are gluten-free, 5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV) and less than 100 calories per serving.

The innovation team at Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, identified a gap for cocktail lovers in the hard seltzer market, with consumer research showing 83% of cocktail drinkers are interested in a complex and sophisticated beverage, according to a consumer survey conducted by Qualtrics, Provo, Utah. Enter Social Club Seltzer.

“With the growth of the hard seltzer industry comes consumers looking for new offerings that fit different occasions,” said Lana Kouznetsov, vice president of beyond beer at Anheuser-Busch.

Each of the flavors is designed to evoke the same sophisticated flavor profile as its cocktail counterpart, but with the format of a seltzer with 7% ABV. The Old Fashioned is a take on a classic whiskey cocktail. It balances the flavors of blood orange, warm spice and a hint of smoky oak. The Sidecar cocktail has stone fruit flavor notes with fresh lemon. The Citrus Gimlet is a blend of citrus flavor notes and a hint of juniper.

Brewers Collective, the craft business unit of Anheuser-Busch, is also now in the flavored malt beverage category with the debut of LQD, which is formulated using fruits naturally fermented to create the alcohol-based beverages.

LQD is making its debut in three flavors: hard agave limeade, hard passion fruit green tea and hard hibiscus green tea, with hard hibiscus lemonade coming this summer. Each 12-oz can is under 200 calories and contains 5.2% to 5.9% ACV.

“After brainstorming with brewers from across the 13 craft partners that comprise Brewers Collective, it became apparent there was an opportunity to collaborate on a unique ‘beyond beer’ offering,” said Marcelo Michaelis, president of Brewers Collective. “With craftsmanship and real ingredients at its core, LQD has provided our brewers with a platform through which they can directly and creatively address consumer needs.”

San Francisco-based 21st Amendment Brewery wants to ease the pain of social distancing and restricted travel with the seasonal release of Tropical Sparkale. It’s a taste of the islands in a single-serve can.

“We source premium real fruit from our longtime purveyor partners, and we are excited to offer this new flavor profile that has the refreshing pop of a sparkling fruit beer with a crisp, tart pineapple flavor and sweet coconut finish,” said Shaun O’Sullivan, brewmaster and co-founder. “At 4.2% ABV and crafted to reduce gluten, Tropical Sparkale brings a sense of relief and a reminder that we can still enjoy a ‘getaway’ while at home."

View slideshow of single-serve alcoholic beverage innovation.