Grab a share of the single-serve future

Single-serving, lower ABVs and pandemic self-treating all show how individual portions make sense in a socially-distanced world

Photo: iStock

Perhaps the defining characteristic of RTDs and miniatures is that they are for instant, personal satisfaction – these are not for sharing, they are personal. With defined dose/strength and volume, they are designed for one person as a one-off drink experience.

They could be alcoholic – miniature spirits, cocktails or spritzers in a can.

They could be chilled drinks like yogurts, iced coffee or milk – some form of individual treat.

They could be individual bottles of soft drinks – special flavours or NPDs.

What all have in common is the individual character of the consumption, and the fact that a little feeling of instant convenience – it’s no prep and ready-to -go – treat or luxury is involved.

Sales of alcoholic RTDs are increasing due to the premiumisation of the category, with many new products being developed because of the category’s shareability on social media. RTDs consumers access to a wide range of experiences which have historically been confined to the (still half-shuttered) on-trade.

For retailers, stocking a core range of canned cocktails is key, particularly around Christmas time, as consumers head into convenience stores with their shopper mission being to buy alcohol to take to Christmas events and parties.

RTDs are growing faster than beer, still wine, cider and spirits, with pre-mixed cocktails spearheading the category.

Indeed, sales of both alcoholic and booze-free variants have soared during the pandemic, serving as a substitute while the hospitality industry remained closed.

According to a 2019 Nielsen study, cans are the leading RTD format, with value growing by +36 per cent, and the impulse sector jumping by a third (33 per cent).

Miniatures also have been a hit with shoppers and c-stores will be wise to make these small but mighty bottles stand out in among the aisles in the lead up to big seasonal events.

With increasing local lockdowns and the latest Government restrictions expected to be in place for the next six months, getting hold of those comfort fixes will be crucial.

By placing emphasis on these two categories for the last quarter of the year,convenience owners will provide the ultimate line-up most desired by customers – endless brand options, infinite flavour choices and portable package sizes.

These are the following brands whose products are expected to be big hits during the chillier months as the nights draw in and temperatures drop.

Chilling with dairy

Healthy eating continues to be a popular trend within the UK and with people being advisedto work from home again,expect consumers to lean towards these alternatives.

However, the latest research published by IGD in found that almost two fifths of consumers (38 per cent) perceive eating healthily as expensive.

But the impact of Covid-19 has resulted in some good news, with 63 per cent now admitting their health is the primary driver when it comes to food and drink purchases.

Milk drink brand Yazoo has already pledged to make their products healthier by reducing their added sugar by 20 per cent, in line with PHE guidelines.

The plan means the company’s milk drinks will no longer be classified as HFSS, removing over 400 tonnes of sugar being consumed- helping combat the UK’s obesity crisis.

Wayne Thompson, business unit controller for out of home at FrieslandCampina, said that due to the long-life nature of their dairy products, sales spiked during lockdown.

“This has raised the profile of Yazoo and we have made the most of reminding consumers about the goodness of dairy drinks as a soft drink alternative to carbonated soft drinks.” he said.

Despite a drop in on-the-go purchasing, the manufacturer’s Chocomel sales have grown steadily every month from January to July, resulting in a YoY growth of 88 per cent in value sales.

Enjoyed either chilled or warm, and available in one litre or 250ml fully recyclable packs, these ready-to-drink SKUs have met many shoppers needs and no dips in sales within the convenience channel.

What’s more, Chocomel is now a £2.3 million brand with a 15 per cent share in the fast-growing premium flavoured milk segment.

This success in sales has also been balanced to some degree by people shopping more locally at convenience stores.

Kantar’s Covid-19 Barometer also supports this shift in shopping behaviour with 37 per cent of customers visiting new stores with the intention to continue shopping there.

What’s even more exciting for independent retailers, seven out of ten felt that shopping at local stores is more important for practical reasons.

This is an excellent opportunity to consider swapping or expanding RTD ranges with“better for you” options in order to boost sales and footfall, one option being drinking yogurts.

Joanna Goodman, head of marketing yogurt (Northern Europe) at General Mills, expects drinking yogurts to continue growing in trend thanks to their new innovative products that offers wellbeing and adventurous flavours.

“Traditional drinkable yoghurts are now needing to work harder to stand out amongst these challenger brands,” she said.

“Alongside this it is predicted that there will be a rise in products offering holistic wellness, whether that’s through gut health or reformulating recipes.”

Drinking yogurts serve as a great alternative to the traditional yogurt format, thanks to its on-the go packaging while still containing the essential nutrients for all ages.

This sub-category has seen a 35 per cent increase in value to £43.2 million, with volumes jumping by 26.9 per cent to 19.2 million litres [Kantar].

In late March, kids’ yoghurt value sales increased by 1.3 per cent, with Yoplait brands leading the turnaround with value sales growing +5.6 per cent and Petits Filous by +9 per cent.

Petit Filous Drinking Yogurts is also the only Mess-Free kids snack that packs calcium and vitamin D that can last up to eight hours out of the fridge, making an ideal must-stock to attract on-the-go families.

“Since launching our Petits Filous Mess Free Yoghurt, it has achieved £2.8million value sales, totalling 1.4 per cent market share within Kids and 35 per cent market share within Kids’ Drinkable(2),” explained Ms Goodman.“It is now the number one kids’ innovation of the past three years.”

General Mills also identified a single-serve gap in the market among young adults, with four out of five 13 to 18-year-olds not consuming their recommended level of vitamin D3.

To resolve this, Yoplait Kids re-launched their yoghurt drink brand YOP for 2020 with a brand-new 180g format and flavour, Tropical, alongside their Raspberry and Strawberry variants.

YOP is also enjoying a resurgence in sales after being hit hard due to lockdown restrictions so definitely one for c-stores to add within their RTD range.

Traditionally performing well within the convenience sector, YOP is a great addition within the RTD sector thanks to its grab-and-go appeal that can be enjoyed any time.

General Mills is also hoping their YOP and Petits Filous Mess Free brands will appeal to environmentally conscious customers with both RTDs boasting 100 per cent recyclable packaging.

“We know shoppers are looking out for these cues on shelf, so it’s important that brands shout about their sustainability credentials where they can.” said Ms Goodman.

C-stores looking to widening their dairy drinks products must include these SKUs if morning sales do well, with 30 per cent of this category being consumed at breakfast time [Kantar].

Staying with the theme of morning beverages, Starbucks RTDsis currently the fastest growing sub-category in soft drinks (+28.4 per cent MAT value).

The world’s largest coffeehouse chain’s RTD flavoured milk products, created by Arla, have been so successful, UK sales have knocked rival Yazoo off the top spot, with sales reaching £63.6 million [Nielsen].

Iced coffee drinks are a big trend within the convenience sector and Starbucks is dominating the market with four of the five top selling SKUs part of their portfolio.

Responsible for 46 per cent of all iced coffee sales[Nielsen] and predicted to grow at a minimum 15 per cent CAGR across the next three years [Mintel], this globally recognised brand offers untapped retail opportunity.

Michael Lomas, commercial marketing manager at Arla, said several marketing strategies and new products are being introduced to keep consumers re-purchasing.

“As a relatively new category it’s important to drive awareness. Starbucks continues to add more incremental value to the category on all-time measure,” he explained.

“Starbucks offers a range of POS solutions to help operators tap into the opportunity,” he continued. “Shoppers tend to pick up RTD Coffee as they shop on impulse, ensure fridges remain stocked for key periods – breakfast, lunch and afternoon pick me ups – to ensure customers are encouraged to make incremental purchases.”

Joining the iced coffee line-up in August 2020 is the Doubleshot yet: Doubleshot Intenso Black and Doubleshot Intenso Dark (RSP: £1.99, 200ml per bottle)

Packaged in a resealable, distinctive red aluminium bottle that is 100 per cent recyclable, Starbucks latest products will be sure to stand out on c-store shelves as an eye-catching on-the-go choice.

Nevertheless, the fairy-tale of the iced coffee category success still comes at a price, their high sugar and calorie content can detract consumers opting for healthier variants.

The demanding trend for RTDs to break this pattern and provide “free from” and “low and no”alternatives while still delivering on great taste is increasingly mounting.

“Starbucks also understands the importance of providing consumers with ‘better for you’ options and all products in the Chilled Coffee range display nutritional information on-pack to help customers make informed choices,” said Mr Lomas.

“It has a range of options for all coffee lovers to enjoy which includes No Added Sugar,Black, Lactose free and No Added Sugar Skinny Latte in the Chilled Classics range.”

This health kick trend has become more prominent since lockdown started,yet c-stores can lead the way with Starbucks’ re-launched Chilled Classics Skinny Latte -containing no dairy or added sugar at only 77 calories per cup.

In March 2018, two new variants within the Doubleshot range was also introduced; No added sugar and Espresso Black, without milk – all great options for health-conscious consumers.

Other recommended must stocks for c-stores owners wanting to draw footfall through Starbucks RTDs include number one bestseller the Chilled Classics Caffé Latte, alongside the Doubleshot Espresso, Frappuccino Mocha and Chilled Classics Caramel Macchiato.

Always ready to go

As one of the top purchases in the impulse channel, soft drinks are an important category for convenience stores to keep updated on, and they are currently growing at +1 per cent.

It’s vital for retailers to maintain the fine balance of providing their customers popular brands and the latest trends from flavours to nutrition.

After growing consecutively YoY and expanding their portfolio for the past decade, Vimto has now hit a record high value of £90.8 million[Nielsen].

Becky Unwin, senior brand manager at Vimto says the company’s new Remix range adds breath to their soft drinks including squash, carbonated and still variants.

She said: “We’ve risen through the ranks to become the UK’s number two squash brand, which as one of the original makers of squash, is something to celebrate.”

Available in Orange, Strawberry and Lime with no added sugar Vimto Remix is crafted from real fruits and a top secret blend of herbs and spices which should excite new and existing fans.

Orange flavoured soft drinks are the second most popular next to cola, so convenience owners can expect this well-known brand’s new variants to be a crowd pleaser.

However, what might be the biggest surprise within the RTD market is that energy drinks sales have continued to rise despite concern ove rhigh caffeine and sugar content.

Kantar reported a 1.4 per cent increase and with the nation still in unprecedented times, of a pandemic combined with a recession, retailers can expect the shoppers wanting a boost to keep afloat.

A popular choice among young people, one study found that energy drinks’strong appeal to under 18s in particular included their low prices and versatility for numerous occasions from social gatherings to gym sessions. The British Soft Drinks Association website states energy drinks makeup around five per cent of the total soft drinks market.

Unsurprisingly, Red Bull is one of the top three bestselling energy drink brands, contributing to a whopping combined total £962 million [Nielsen 52 w/e 16 February 2019].

More frequency across the retail industry has meant over the past year the brand now reaches one in ten shoppers in the UK, with volume per buyer (packs) up 27.7 per cent to 24.4 per year.

“Today Sports & Energy is worth £1.4 billion, with growth totalling over £22.6 million vs 2019,” said Red Bull UK. “The consistent performance of Functional in the category has ensured that Sports & Energy has remained in growth.

“We believe this (250ml can) is the perfect pack size for Functional Energy and it fits most consumers’ energy needs, containing the same amount of sugar as a glass of apple juice and the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

Maximising space is one of the top merchandising tips Red Bull recommends retailers going forward, 50-60 per cent of soft drinks space should be dedicated to the top five bestselling brands.

Vertical blocking is another effective sales marketing strategy, this will help ease consumers shopping decisions and time among the aisles.

Small but perfectly formed

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic almost half of shoppers (49 per cent)said that they have discovered new brands sold within retail [Kantar’s Covid-19 Barometer].

The rapid change of most people’s daily routine has naturally crossed over, with common shopping behaviours undergoing a major shift.

Products by lesser-known brands initially overlooked in favour of trusted big names are now getting the unexpected spotlight to satisfy people’s comfort food and drink cravings.

Alcoholic RTDs sales are growing faster than beer, still wine, cider and spirits combined [Nielsen], with pre-mixed cocktails leading the way for this category.

Miniatures are also extremely collectible, giving consumers the opportunity to sample products from a wider range without having to purchase a full-size bottle.

Most miniatures are often sold as a double pub shot, making them ideal as small but thoughtful gifts for birthdays, corporate gifts and mailing.

Taking away the hassle of blind cocktail mixing measurements and unexpected sharing of your favourite tipple with others, miniatures are ideal for solo consumption and for in or outdoor occasions.

C-stores should expect these tiny bottles to pack a punch in the lead up to the festive season, serving as a likely stocking filler for adults.

Before the Christmas countdown kicks off, blended Scotch whiskey makers Chivas are helping football fans toast the new season with their “Cheers from Home’ delivery service.

Launched on 18 September, buyers receive a whiskey kit which includes drinking glasses and ice to create a Chivas Highball on match days.

Available to order via Chivas’ official website in four variations for either £10 or £20, Chivas’ kits are ideal for Big Night In events and virtual happy hours. It’s a great idea that can be replicated in-store, with take home packs of miniatures and mixers making great gifts and self-treats.

Drinking still remains a big part of football culture so c-storesought to consider innovating in-store promotions leading up to major games airing on TV.

Cracking open a miniature bottle is a luxury moment – it’s the perfect size for a drink, just for one, and instantly reminds us of settling into a seat on an airplane heading someplace pleasant away from work and worries.

Likewise, cocktail lovers have also been embracing RTD versions of classic mixers from the comfort of home thanks to their portability and mess-free preparation – and the instant imaginative transport to somewhere exotic and leisured.

A canned option is great for convenience sellers looking to limit the number of items handled at checkout and boost sales on alternative products.

Brenda Fiala, global VP, strategic insights and analytics of Bacardi Ltd, expects this category to keep trending over the next 12 months.

She said: “In the UK alone, RTDs are predicted to have a forecast volume compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 71.7 per cent from 2019 to 2024.

“Flavours and formats will become increasingly important as we move into autumn/ winter, with people seeking ‘warming’ cocktails with seasonal flavours.”

To broaden their audience appeal post-summertime, Bacardi has released a range of new flavours to the nation that have proven popular in Europe.

Carta Blanca and Cola; Spiced and Cola; Raspberry Spritz; Cola Zero and Razz Mojito will give c-stores an excellent selection of complex, cocktail combinations.

In the UK alone, cocktails-in-a-can have grown at +15 per cent in off-trade in just the last year (Nielsen MAT to May 2020)making them an absolute must if not already stocked.

“RTD growth is flying in key markets globally,” comments Hayley Read, Gobal Breezer director at Bacardi LTD. “We’ll also expect to see a shift into more sophisticated design for added desirability for all ages and genders and to appeal to a more refined audience.”

Sticking with the high-end demeanour for the brand, the convenience sector can expect exciting packaging options for RTD cocktails and miniatures from glass bottles to vessels.

Jacob Briars, global advocacy director at Bacardi, says these initiatives cater to all shoppers’ needs for instant and upcoming occasions suitable for hot or cold serves.

“As the category grows, we will see innovation in format and vessel designs, with the purpose of putting consumer convenience front and centre.” he said.

Lower alcohol volumes are forecasted to remain a top trend with customers beyond 2020, with most RTD cocktails in the market deliver on this.

Providing increasing competition to the low and no beer category as well, if retailers are not convinced to why Bacardi’s products should be a listed must stock,a great opportunity will be missed (especially at Halloween and New Year’s Eve).

“The ABV of these perfectly portioned drinks is similar to a beer and lower than wine, which makes them an ideal choice for the mindful consumer looking for a lower strength option when socialising with friends.” Mr Briars explains.

Another route being increasingly explored is the blurring of alcohol categories, with hard seltzers predicted to encounter the highest growth rate within the UK’s RTD category over the next five years (The IWSR Hard Seltzer Report, July 2020).

Known globally as the beverage with around 5 per cent alcohol and under 100 calories, hard seltzers USP is ideal for the Millennial and Gen Z-er audience.

Debuting their first ever Rosé Seltzers in August (RRP of £2, available in 12 x 250ml cases), Echo Falls is on a mission to appeal to consumers looking to moderate their alcohol consumption.

Norbert Jozsa, Head of Category, and Insight – Europe, at Accolade Wines said their campaign for their new product focuses on attracting younger consumers.

He said: “The range aligns with our new ‘your friend in wine’ brand positioning, as we look to bring back younger shoppers to wine and navigate them through the portfolio, who we may have been lost to other categories such as gin.”

Containing only 69 kcal and no artificial fruit flavours Echo Falls latest RTD comes in three on-trend fruit fusion flavours in 250ml cans: Blueberry and Hibiscus, Strawberry and Pink Pepper and Raspberry, Lychee & Rose.

Introducing the Rosé Seltzers as a lower alcohol and calorie drink as Macmillan’s annual Go Sober for October challenge gets under way will be a perfect in-store promotion opportunity.

Retailers will not only be displaying support for national-driven campaigns but show they understand shoppers wishes to cut back on their alcohol consumption.

Final thoughts

The last quarter of 2020 still remains mostly an unclear picture meaning the convenience world must think how to continue meeting the needs of the nation better than ever.

With budgets expected to become tighter, hybrids of customers’ favourite drinks and tipples in the form of RTDs and miniatures will be all the rage, as the trends are already demonstrating.

Undiscovered flavours and improved recipes packed and ready to consume on the spot will be an alluring feature that c-stores ought to include when trying to take the edge off financial stresses for both parties.

Morrisons and Tesco might be reintroducing item limits, but this will only open up the chances for independent stores that they too offer a diverse product range in midst of global uncertainty.