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Crafting convenience: the evolution of ready to drink beverages branding

Crafting convenience: the evolution of ready to drink beverages branding

Innovations in RTD packaging, trends, and sustainability for 2024 and beyond

lineup of ready to drink beverages in bottles and aluminum bottles and aluminum cans on a light purple background
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Explore the dynamic world of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, where innovation meets consumer demand for convenience, authenticity, and quality. Dive into the latest industry trends, from low-alc drinks to eco-friendly packaging, and uncover the branding strategies distinguishing top brands.

Discover packaging innovations that preserve beverage integrity and flavor while supporting sustainability, shaping the industry's future responsibly.


  • Market trends: Recent studies demonstrate a significant rise in consumer demand for ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, driven by convenience and quality.
  • Brand visibility: Strategies for enhancing brand visibility in a crowded market include unique packaging, social media use, and memorable customer experiences.
  • Innovation in product offering: Continuously innovating product lines to include a variety of flavors, limited editions, and health-conscious options caters to diverse consumer preferences.
  • Sustainability focus: Adopting eco-friendly packaging and sustainable production practices appeals to environmentally conscious consumers, further differentiating the brand in the competitive RTD landscape.

The state of RTD (ready-to-drink) beverages in 2024 and beyond

Market overview and growth projections

The year 2020 was a pivotal turning point for the RTD beverage market, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating existing trends and prompting a shift in alcohol consumption habits. The convenience and safety of at-home enjoyment led to the remarkable growth of RTD beverages, with changing consumer preferences toward wellness and healthier choices also influencing the market.

The ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage market is experiencing significant growth and is projected to reach $1,155 billion by 2030, with the RTD cocktail segment likely to see 11.4% year-over-year growth in 2023 This growth is driven by consumer preferences for quick and easy lifestyles, health and wellness, and marketing strategies.

The market includes alcoholic and non-alcoholic RTDs, with the alcoholic segment consisting of spirits-based, malt-based, and wine-based RTDs. The non-alcoholic segment includes CBD drinks, sparkling waters, teas, coffees, and other refreshing alternatives.

In 2024, the RTD beverage market is expected to continue growing, with a focus on convenience, instant gratification, and quality. The market is also seeing the rise of non-alcoholic alternatives in canned beverages, driven by the trend of health and wellness.

RTD craft cocktails in 4-packs (cans and glass bottles)
RTD beverages are seldom sold individually; instead, they are commonly packaged in sets of four, although options for eight and twelve are also available.

Leading trends in ready-to-drink mixed drinks in 2024 and beyond

Expanding the pre-crafted cocktails category

Ready-to-drink cocktails continue to enjoy high popularity, with further growth expected. A notable mention is the French 75, a classic bubbly cocktail, now available in RTD form, showcasing the industry's ability to adapt and innovate. The most popular flavors include variety pack, iced tea, black cherry, lemonade, margarita, classic margarita, and mango, emphasizing the enduring popularity of traditional cocktails in convenient forms. Limited-time offerings, such as holiday-themed and internationally inspired flavors, are also in demand.

Cranberry juice is becoming a staple in RTD cocktails like the Cosmopolitan, highlighting the adaptability of traditional ingredients in pre-mixed forms. The unparalleled creativity in flavor and ingredients, now incorporating fresh lime and fresh lime juice, positions RTD cocktails as an attractive option for consumers seeking both convenience and quality. It offers a “bar experience” without the high price tag. Ginger beer is used in RTD versions of Moscow Mule and Dark 'n Stormy, bringing the spicy and refreshing taste of these classics to the ready-to-drink market.

Lemon juice and lime juice are essential for adding a citrusy flavor to RTD cocktails, enhancing their freshness and appeal. Orange juice and orange liqueur are utilized in RTD cocktails like the Sidecar and Margarita, contributing to their complex flavors and authenticity. Pineapple juice is featured in RTD tiki drinks like the Zombie and Jungle Bird, offering a taste of the tropics in every sip. Premium vodka is a key ingredient in high-quality RTD cocktails, ensuring a premium drinking experience. Sparkling wine gives a lively twist to RTD cocktails like the Kir Cocktail, adding a touch of elegance. Brands are achieving a new height of sophistication and originality, previously unseen in the industry.

small 150mL cans and 125mL glass bottles of exciting RTD cocktails such as: daiquiri, espresso martini, paloma, rosé negroni spritz, old fashioned, martinez, vesper and manhattane
The unparalleled creativity in flavor and ingredients positions RTD cocktails as an attractive option for consumers seeking both convenience and quality. It offers a "bar experience" without the high price tag. Brands are achieving a new height of sophistication and originality, previously unseen in the industry.

Adopting no/low-alcohol alternatives

The popularity of non-alcoholic ready-to-drink (RTD) options is growing, establishing them as essential offerings in beverage collections throughout the year. Latin American-inspired flavors, including mezcal, tepache, and falernum, are expected to shape the future of both menu selections and cocktail creations.

750mL bottle of no-alcohol tea-infused beverages with an attractive branding: Margarita and Mojito
The rise of bold, non-alcoholic beverages that embrace current cocktail trends and flavors is undeniable. These versatile drinks can be savored in their original form, known as mocktails, or they can be enhanced with a spirit to create a customized alcoholic beverage, giving consumers greater control over the alcohol content.

Revitalizing the seltzer and bubbly cocktail segment

Seltzers and spritzers cater to a growing demand for lighter, lower-calorie alcoholic options. These drinks typically feature sparkling water, wine, and sometimes fruit flavorings. They are favored for their lower alcohol content and calorie count compared to traditional cocktails, appealing to health-conscious consumers.

Wine spritzers, a classic example, blend wine with club soda and ice, providing wine flavor with added versatility in mixed cocktail recipes. Club soda adds sparkle and effervescence to these drinks, enhancing their overall flavor and experience, making them a popular choice in various cocktail recipes like Americano, Aperol Spritz, Tom Collins, Gin Fizz, and Sparkling Sweet Tea Cocktail. In contrast, hard seltzers are popular for their alcohol content, usually combining sparkling water with spirits, wine, or malt.

While both offer a bubbly experience, wine spritzers have higher alcohol content (around 6.9%) compared to hard seltzers. The flavors of spritzers are often more refined, suggesting the use of dry white wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio for a balanced sweetness.

sauvignon blanc spritzer in a single serving aluminum bottle, hard seltzer, spritzed pinot grigio, moscato spritzer and tropical spritze
Spritzers and seltzers are experiencing a resurgence in popularity among consumers who value these refreshing, single-serve beverages for their convenience and lower alcohol content.

Rising flavored varieties for beers

Beer sales saw a modest 1.4% uptick in 2023, largely propelled by imports and flavored malt beverages. The ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage market, notably in beer, is shifting towards flavored varieties, resembling popular RTDs. This shift responds to consumer demand for convenience and diverse flavor profiles, prompting breweries to invest in technology and automation to meet this growing preference.

fun series of Danish beers in the Berliner style combining exciting fruit flavors

Expanding wine offering with pre-mixed wines cocktails

Pre-mixed wine cocktails, both still and sparkling, are becoming increasingly popular in the RTD beverage market, offering a convenient and refreshing cocktail experience without the hassle of extensive preparation. Emphasizing minimalistic and modern design, these drinks highlight simplicity, transparency, and purity through clear packaging and simple labels. With a focus on health-conscious options and unique flavors, pre-mixed wines and cocktails represent a significant trend in the RTD sector.

slim can and glass bottles (wine, sparkling and spirit) containing made-for-you wine cocktails
Wine cocktails are emerging as a vibrant category within the ready-to-drink (RTD) market, yet there seems to be a lack of uniformity in branding and packaging. Consumers can enjoy these innovative beverages in various forms, including cans, traditional wine bottles (both still and sparkling), and even spirit bottles, offering a diverse range of presentation and consumption experiences.

Rediscovering classic cocktails like ready-made sangria

Pre-made sangria is gaining popularity in the RTD beverage market as a convenient way to enjoy this Spanish delight. Available as premixed bottles or concentrates, pre-made sangria typically uses 100% natural citrus flavors, offering a refreshing and tasty option for those seeking convenience without sacrificing flavor. Enjoyed alone or with extra alcohol, it's a top choice for a refreshing drink.

diverse selection of pre-made sangrias in both bottles and cans
Typically celebrated for its affordability, made-for-you sangria not only appeals to the budget-conscious consumer but also stands out with its vibrant, colorful design. This attention to aesthetics ensures it's not just the price that attracts customers, but also the visually appealing packaging capturing the essence of fun and festivity.

Optimizing RTD beverage packaging

The most popular materials used for RTD (ready-to-drink) beverage packaging include aluminum cans, glass bottles, PET bottles, tetra pak boxes, and plastic bottles.

  1. Aluminum cans: Aluminum cans are the most recyclable type of beverage container and are becoming more popular for RTD cocktails. They provide a better portion size for RTDs, particularly for products that need to be consumed before they go flat. Aluminum cans are lightweight, easy to transport, and can help prevent UV light from shining directly on the product. They are also suitable for carbonated drinks, as they maintain carbonation for a longer time than other materials.
  2. Glass bottles: Glass bottles are often used for high-quality RTDs, such as premium spirits and cocktails. They are perfect for carbonated drinks, as they maintain carbonation for a longer time than other materials. However, they are not suitable for pasteurized products and may not be the best option for fragile materials during transportation.
  3. PET/plastic bottles: Plastic bottles are lightweight, shatter-resistant, and economically efficient, making them ideal for various RTD beverages such as tea, coffee, and energy drinks. They preserve the flavor and quality of drinks, offer better portion sizes for products that should be consumed quickly, but are less environmentally friendly compared to other packaging options.
  4. Tetra Pak boxes: Tetra Pak packaging is perfect for aseptic purposes, ensuring freshness for products rich in nutrients and vitamins. It can help protect the tea from heat, humidity, and light, allowing for at least six months of shelf life without refrigeration or preservatives.

The choice of packaging material depends on the product's characteristics, the targeted market, and the purposes of the business. RTD beverage packaging should protect the quality of the product, appeal to the target market, and reflect the brand's positioning and values.

Ready to drink beverages in various bottle shapes and sizes
Single-serve, ready-to-drink beverages are often packaged in bundles of 4 to 12 units. This strategy boosts volume sales and provides a chance for more impactful branding.

Designing the future of RTD beverages

The design trends for RTDs (ready-to-drink) beverages in 2024 and beyond focus on simplicity, authenticity, and unique flavors.

  1. Simplicity: Many RTD brands are embracing understated simplicity in their design, which delivers a message of transparency and directness. This approach allows the product to take center stage, emphasizing the purity and simplicity of the drink.
  2. Blurring of categories: RTDs are blurring the lines between traditional beverage categories by mixing the heritage of beer and wine vernaculars. This creates a more diverse and inclusive range of products that cater to various social settings and preferences.
  3. Pairing with food culture: RTDs are increasingly being designed to pair well with casual dining experiences, appealing to adventurous food lovers seeking something other than just wine or beer. This trend emphasizes the importance of mealtime pairing and the role of RTDs in enhancing the overall dining experience.
  4. Craft and artisanal RTD cocktails: The rise of craft and artisanal RTD cocktails reflects a broader movement in the food and beverage industry that values craftsmanship, storytelling, and local ingredients. Consumers are drawn to products that offer a sense of place and tradition, making craft RTD cocktails a preferred choice for those seeking an elevated drinking experience.
  5. Incorporation of unique and exotic ingredients: The incorporation of unique and exotic ingredients has become a hallmark of innovation and differentiation in the RTD cocktail industry. Examples include Yuzu, Hibiscus, Açai, and Saffron, which add refreshing, sophisticated, and luxurious flavors to the drinks, appealing to adventurous palates and health-conscious consumers.
  6. Bold and transparent: Embracing transparency, directness, and simplicity, this design trend responds to consumers' increasing demand for healthier, more authentic beverage choices, and their appetite for innovative, distinct flavors.
single-serve RTD beverages in cans and glass bottles next to 4-packs
For high-volume (or premium) ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, brands readily adopt unique bottle designs to enhance brand distinction and achieve standout shelf presence.

Concluding thoughts on RTD branding and packaging

The RTD market is entering an exciting phase where tradition meets innovation, and sustainability, customization, and quality take the spotlight. Brands are crafting experiences through packaging that resonate with both loyal fans and new consumers, emphasizing ingredients, tactile packaging, and product excellence. In conclusion, the RTD sector reflects broader consumer trends favoring convenience, diversity, and sustainability.

By embracing nuanced flavors, eco-friendly packaging, and innovative design, brands are shaping a dynamic future. Success lies in balancing authenticity with innovation, catering to global tastes while respecting local traditions.

gin + prosseco spritzer can next to a bottle of pre-crafted negroni cocktail

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What distinguishes RTD packaging from other beverage packaging?

RTD packaging is notable for its reflection of the beverage's ease of use, quality, and lifestyle appeal. Creative designs, practical functionalities, and innovative formats are employed to tell the brand's story, transforming each product into a statement that captivates consumers’ interest and identification with the brand.

How significant is sustainability in RTD packaging?

Sustainability is gaining significant importance in the RTD packaging sphere. Progressive brands are selecting eco-friendly materials and optimizing processes, recognizing that consumers prefer and support brands demonstrating environmental responsibility. This commitment not only broadens market appeal but also contributes to the global initiative of minimizing ecological impacts.

Does packaging affect the perceived quality of RTDs?

Indeed, packaging plays a critical role in shaping consumers' perceptions and experiences. Thoughtfully curated packaging can elevate expectations and enhance the overall consumption experience, positioning the RTD as more luxurious or unique.

Best practices for photographing RTD products?

Capturing the essence of RTDs in photography means highlighting texture, color, and design with the best lighting to show their unique character. Outshinery specializes in creating clean, digital visuals and animations for RTD products, using digital rendering to bypass traditional photography's limits. This method offers unmatched creative freedom and vividly brings the brand's story to life, meeting strategic marketing goals.

large bottle of pre-made maragarita in a custom bottle with crocodile features and embossing
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