Yesterday, Coca-Cola announced a product seemingly designed to get me horribly, horribly drunk on a beach: a canned Jack & Coke in partnership with Brown-Forman, the company behind Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. Per a press release, the 5% ABV canned cocktail is hitting shelves in Mexico later this year, with a U.S. release expected in 2023.
The news comes just as other major beverage brands—Simply Beverages and MTN DEW, for example—are investing in the ready-to-drink (RTD) adult beverage market. And while hard seltzers, the low-sugar forebear of the RTD scene, aren’t going anywhere fast, the Jack & Coke announcement presents an interesting question: Are consumers moving away from seltzers in pursuit of something a little more robust?
If 2021 was the year of the ghost kitchen, 2022 is the year of the RTD. Earlier this year, online booze retailer Drizly published a report that indicated ongoing RTD growth, with more than 450 RTD brands on Drizly—which is, the brand notes, a 45% increase in options compared to the previous year.
The RTD boom includes designated canned cocktail brands like Cutwater, which is to be expected. What’s interesting is the behavior of major brands like Coca-Cola, which seems to be aggressively expanding its boozy RTD options as the trend grows. As CNN reports, Coca-Cola owns both Topo Chico and Simply Beverages, both of which launched alcoholic versions this year. CNN adds that the company will soon launch Fresca Mixed, created with Corona brewer Constellation Brands. Then there’s HARD MTN DEW, which certainly, ahem, left an impression on my taste buds earlier this year. Everything’s coming up RTD.
Here’s one theory: Consumers are moving away from the weird sugar panic that unfortunately became associated with the pandemic. Folks are reaching for fancy craft sodas, sugary-sweet cocktails—basically, anything that tastes like a good time. And while brands continue to reliably offer low-sugar and sugar-free drinks (the upcoming Fresca Mixed, for example), brands seem to be taking note that consumers want products that taste good, actually.
Like them or not, canned cocktails are also a utilitarian approach to certain types of booze. I don’t typically keep margarita ingredients lying around, but I’ll stash a few canned margs in my fridge for a rainy day. I rarely drink rum and don’t have room for it on my bar cart, but I’ll gladly try a canned rum and coke to see if it hits the spot.
Ultimately, the ubiquity of RTD cocktails proves one thing: the brands are listening. Like Hercules ascending to Mount Olympus, brands have proven they can give the people zero-fuss, highly portable alcoholic drinks with no mixing or garnish required. Now, let’s see how the flavor stacks up.