Wine regions around the world have been making creative wine cocktails for generations. Examples include the Kir from France, mimosa from Italy, and watermelon Torrontés from Argentina. In America, it was wine coolers in the 1980s. But today the category has been reinvented, and wine cocktails come in all flavors and sizes – usually in a ready-to-drink (RTD) can.
And the wine cocktail category is exploding. According to Nielsen, wine cocktails grew 102% in dollar volume in March 2021 compared to the same time last year, while the related flavored wine category increased by 33%. Indeed, the whole RTD cocktail market size is expected to reach $1.63 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 12%, according to Grand View Research.
What’s Driving the Growth of Wine Cocktails
“One of the contributing growth factors to flavored wines and cocktails,” explains Danelle Kosmal, VP of Nielsen’s Beverage Alcohol Practice, “is the increasing consumer demand for new flavor profiles, variety, and experience. Flavored wines and cocktails all meet these consumer demands, providing wineries with a competitive product to traditional hard seltzers and other spirit-based ready-to-drink cocktails.”
In fact, it is the success of hard seltzer brands such as White Claw that there are so many new entrants to this category. Since a hard seltzer can be made with any type of alcohol, from spirits, wine, or malt-based, there have been a number of new wine-based seltzers, such as Barefoot Hard Seltzer and Stella Rosa Tropical Flash.
Wine cocktails made with sparkling water or soda, traditionally referred to as wine coolers, are also on the rise. Some new entrants include Bev Sparkling, Barefoot Spritzers, and Vintage Wine Estate’s Gaze Wine Cocktail. All of these come in colorful and easy to open cans.
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Even wines made from the agave plant are capitalizing on the growth of the wine cocktail category. One of the most popular is Fly Bird Agave Wine, though it is sold in a traditional glass bottle, rather than cans at this point in time.
Another factor driving the growth of this category is the concern with health and alcohol moderation. This ties into the “Better for You” movement, as many of these new wine cocktails advertise lower alcohol, sugar, and carbs.
Finally the desire for convenience, and the ability to purchase a wine cocktail in a RTD container, such as a can or box, is very appealing. The fact that the cans are often one serving, without the need to calculate calories and alcohol intake, makes them very convenient for busy consumers.
A Threat to Traditional Wineries?
Wine purists and many traditional wineries often scoff at the wine cocktail category. They believe it isn’t serious wine, and could threaten their livelihood. But experts, such as Jon Moramarco, founder of bw166, a company that conducts beverage alcohol research, disagrees.
“This new flavored wine/wine cocktail category is much like the wine coolers of the 1980s,” says Moramarco. “They were what attracted baby boomers to the wine industry, and then later, they moved up to higher price point still wines. Wine cocktails provide the same on-ramp for millennials who are in their same stage of life — the mid-30s — as the baby boomers were at that time.”
Danelle Kosmal with Nielsen agrees. “This potentially is an excellent way to introduce younger legal-drinking age consumers into the wine category through interesting flavor options with flavored wine and cocktails, while also introducing them to more traditional varietals within the brand’s portfolio.”
The Issue of Defining a New Category
As with any emerging new product category, there are a few issues in defining and differentiating between these new types of wine. For example, Nielsen, which tracks wine retail sales, defines flavored wine as enhanced with added flavors, such as strawberry, whereas wine cocktails come in smaller RTD sizes. Sangria, however, is put in a different category.
The U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau that categorizes wine for tax purposes, only has one category (22.06) for flavored wines and wine cocktails. But they also add sangria, cider, sake, plum and agave wine to this.
These definition issues are most likely irrelevant to the consumer. However, for professionals tracking the growth of these categories, they are important for reporting accurate volume and dollar sales growth.