Is This The Best Sugar Free Canned Cocktail?

Food & Drink

Canned cocktails are here to stay. Whether or not you’ve been paying close attention to the ready-to-drink revolution over the past few years is irrelevant. It is now impossible to ignore. RTDs are on shelves everywhere—in all shapes, sizes and flavor profiles. With such a crowded market, consumers are keen on finding labels that best represent their specific interests. For many of them that means low-calorie, carb and sugar free offerings. It should hardly come as a surprise that these distinctions are often being flaunted in big and bold letters across point of sale marketing.

But what about taste? It can hardly be a secondary consideration. Brandon Cason knows this as well as anyone. Working with Deep Eddy Vodka in the early 2010s, the industry vet helped grow the company into one of the fastest growing brands in the country. He did this by expanding the portfolio of flavors available to consumers. And when he saw an opportunity to do something similar in the canned cocktail space, he didn’t hesitate.

The result was Canteen Spirits: a brand that goes big on flavor and light on calories. Forbes caught up with the early adopter to share some insight on his journey, along with thoughts on where the surging RTD subcategory of is headed in 2022 and beyond.

Canned cocktails have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. To what factors do you attribute this evolution?

Brandon Cason: As the wave of seltzer’s was really starting to take off in 2019, we knew that that eventually there would be a shift towards products that were more premium and made with actual spirits, and that is why we created Canteen. What was also very important beyond just taste was the desire for low to no-sugar and carbs. Products that are able to deliver rich, bold flavor but that don’t have sugar will always find acceptance for a large section of the population. 

When did Canteen first launch? Where did the name come from? 

Canteen was conceived in the Spring of 2019 when [my business partner] Daniel Barnes and I came together to create the first premium-tasting vodka soda which was intended to serve the on-the-go consumer. The name was intended to connect to the adventurous spirits of the outdoors. 

What are some of the key points of separation for the brand, in this increasingly dense market?

Our main drivers of value for consumers are in the flavor and taste of the product, which is light and refreshing, coupled with the fact that we are sugar-free and have zero carbs. All of the calories come from the vodka itself making it easy to drink without the guilt. 

What expression would be considered the flagship at this point? 

Our top-selling flavors during launch were Watermelon and Black Cherry. However, the moment we launched Strawberry and Pineapple the new SKUs quickly caught up to our pack leaders. What’s important to note is that inside our portfolio we have a very balanced share of flavors which all contribute strong sales. There are no weak [performers] in the line-up. 

You had a background in the vodka industry. How and why did you make the shift to RTD? 

We had always contemplated the idea of creating an RTD with my former brand. However, there was concern that we might not generate incremental sales and that we’d eat into our own volume. In this case, creating a completely new brand and new line-up of products made the most sense as we built this entirely new business, brand and product. We’re seeing our vision play out as more and more consumers look to ready-to-drink cocktails as their go-to drink for any occasion

Not all RTDs are created equally, of course. Speak to the differences between canned cocktails such as Canteen, versus flavored malt beverages? 

It’s all in the taste. There is a night and day difference between malt-based beverages and pure vodka-based seltzers. We’re very proud of what we have created and consumers are responding very favorable across the US. 

Currently there’s nothing to stop an FMB from presenting itself as a “canned cocktail”, correct? Is this something you’d like to see changed, from a federal labeling perspective? 

Cocktails are synonymous with spirits. If a brand is misrepresenting their ingredients to try and trick a consumer, they will not last long. Transparency is one of the most important factors in winning the hearts and minds of consumers. If the first thing a brand does is lie or omit truth, they are not going to last. Do it the right way, communicate the truth and you’ll be on the right path. This is also playing out right now in the tequila space. Many brands are mis-labeling the use of the agave to try and be seen as a tequila product when they are not. And of course there’s the Ranch Water phenomenon. The original recipe of Ranch Water includes the use of tequila. Even though there is no way to police the use of the phrase, there are too many non-tequila brands in the market pretending to be a pure tequila-based Ranch Water. Most consumers don’t yet know this, but that will change. And when people learn the truth, for those that mislabel and misrepresent, it will be tough to win back consumers in the long run. 

 Why the can as opposed to the bottle? 

Several reasons: Aluminum is infinitely recyclable versus glass which requires an enormous amount of energy to create. It’s also heavier to ship which equates to higher freight costs, and remains heavy when it goes into the market. More weight, more freight. Simple. And last but not least, glass is not ‘beach-ready’, ‘boat-ready’ or cool by a pool. We expect Canteen to be part of that occasion and we need to set ourselves up for success. 

Tell us more about your gin spritz line that’s currently on the way.

For those that may not like Gin or tend to avoid it, this will totally take you by surprise. It has many of the classic gin essences but in a completely reimagined taste profile. It’s refreshing and approachable and there is nothing ‘ginny’ about it. 

What more can we expect from Canteen as we eye 2022? 

More of everything! Only this time, with the power of [Anheuser-Busch] distribution behind us

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