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Ready-to-drink beverages are seasonal, consumed predominantly between April and October and are closely associated with outdoor or on-the-go consumption – these are the main findings of a qualitative study with urban residents aged 20 y/o – 45 y/o conducted by LOGO Market Research & Consulting in March 2020 and applying the online community method.
There is a significant difference in consumer attitudes of those who are aged between 20 y/o – 35 y/o and those over 36 y/o: while for the former the RTD products introduce diversity and represent a “modern alternative” to traditional alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, the latter harbor feelings of distrust towards RTD products due to adherence to established traditions and doubts about their quality.
Currently, RTD products are not well-known and rarely used, but based on the results of this study the category has the potential to grow among younger consumers, especially if it responds to their willingness to “break with tradition” and offer them unexpected/unknown flavors, wrapped in a modern and eco-friendly packaging – glass, carton, aluminum (can).
Other important findings include the need for a refreshment on warmer days as the main trigger for purchasing RTD beverages and the leading criteria for selection comprising of taste, price and product availability. The fact that these drinks are perceived as “new and unfamiliar” makes consumers indifferent to brands which then get pushed into the background.
RTD CATEGORY: PRODUCT PLUS SOMETHING ELSE
Let us now take a closer look at how consumers understand the RTD category and what are the main things they associate it with.
Namely, these are ready for immediate consumption, packaged beverages consisting of one main and a few complementary ingredients. The products are usually chilled (stored in refrigerated showcases) and are available in an easy-to-use “on-the-go”, single-use packaging. These include, first and foremost, coffee drinks consisting of coffee, milk and flavors (e.g. cappuccino, latte, macchiato) or coffee and Coca-Cola, as well as low-alcohol cocktails (e.g. Piña colada, Mojito, gin and tonic, vodka and Coca-Cola).
Further on we will focus specifically on coffee beverages and alcoholic cocktails as they are identified by consumers as the main products defining the RTD category. Other beverages that consumers perceive as ready-to-drink are low-alcohol beers with fruit flavors, cold teas, energy drinks, wine with fruit flavors and sparkling wine in single-use packaging.
Common to all of them is the convenient, quick, easy use for on-the-go situations: “The opportunity to enjoy your favorite coffee beverage despite the hectic schedule and without spending any time to prepare it.” (female, freelancer, 39 y/o, Sofia)
Precisely the on-the-go convenience is the main benefit of RTD products according to consumers. However, it is at the expense of their relatively high prices and lack of availability in stores (found mainly in petrol stations and supermarket chains). The contents of the products raise concerns in consumers over the age of 36: “I only consume them when I cannot buy something I can prepare right there and now. I am anxious about the many artificial ingredients and preservatives.” (female, research associate, 45 y/o, Sofia)
RTD COFFEE – FOR SITUATIONS WHERE THERE IS NO “REAL” COFFEE
An essential feature of RTD products is their perception as “chilled beverages” that “refresh and revitalize” dynamic people in the warm season. Many of the participants drink RTD coffee only when they are out and about. These types of beverages are purchased mainly at petrol stations, and their main advantage is the convenience of being consumed on the go without the risk of spilling.
For most respondents aged 36 y/o and above RTD coffee is not able to completely replace freshly brewed coffee. The pre-made products are rather seen as a last resort for situations when consumers are in need of energizing but are unable to drink coffee: “If I’m on the road but I am able to afford a short break, I’ll drink real coffee. In case I don’t have time and I am only stopping for a refuel, I’ll have a RTD product” (male, 45 y/o, computer specialist, Sofia).
The reasons for this are the perception of the beverages as “unhealthy“ and “artificial“, containing preservatives and a great number of additives, their relatively high price (between 2 and 4 leva for a single-use item), as well as the already established habits to drink hot, freshly brewed coffee.
Participants between the ages of 20 and 35 have a more positive attitude towards this type of coffee. For them, it offers “variety when it comes to traditional flavors” and is a good energizing product for the afternoon, especially on weekdays. What appeals to this age group is the variety of flavors on the market (coffee and Coca-Cola, latte, cappuccino, etc.). The fact that they are chilled makes them especially suitable for warmer days and for some consumers they even replace the need for a snack: “They satisfy that afternoon appetite for caffeine and something sweet.” (male, 23 y/o, student, Sofia)
Price is a major barrier for younger consumers. Most of them avoid drinking RTD coffee on a daily basis since they perceive the beverage more as a “temptation”, a sort of reward that they sometimes allow themselves: “After an exam or when going through a difficult day.” (female, 21 y/o, student , Sofia)
Known and purchased brands are Coca-Cola, Nescafe, Viva, Emmi Caffe, Wave, Mizo, Vinut, Rauch. The lack of sufficient advertising and the limited distribution of this type of drinks leads to consumers neglecting the brands and choosing according to the preferred extra ingredient in the coffee (milk, Coca-Cola, flavors, etc.). Price is also an important criterion during purchase.
Consumers see potential for growth in this category that could be made possible by better distribution in convenience stores and larger grocery retails and offering more product variations to accommodate different tastes and demands (sugar-free, low-sugar content, various caffeine concentration variants, etc.). The top demand centers around healthier and “greener” products that do not contain preservatives and artificial additives. Carton and aluminum packaging (can) are preferred to plastic packaging.
RTD ALCOHOL COCKTAILS – THE BAR IS EVERYWHERE
RTD cocktails are again favored by consumers aged 20 to 35. They associate them with summer, outdoor parties, fun, music, friends, and joy.
For this group of consumers RTD cocktails and mixes have many advantages: They are convenient to drink anywhere and at any time, without investing any effort in their preparation; They are available in convenient, single-use packaging, which facilitates their consumption during informal, spontaneous gatherings with friends: “You do not even need a cup.” (female, 27 y/o, administrative officer, Sofia); There is a variety of combinations and flavors; It is easy and convenient to try something new.
RTD cocktails are also perceived as “innovative” products providing a modern alternative to traditional alcoholic beverages. Last but not least, their low alcohol content makes them suitable for warmer seasons and allows consumers to indulge in a “risk-free pleasure”. The price is perceived as relatively high and is a major disadvantage according to younger consumers, who pay between 4 and 5 leva for a single-use item.
Most consumers over the age of 36 remain skeptical of this type of RTD beverage. Similar to their attitude towards pre-made coffee, they have doubts about the quality of ingredients and possible effect on health.
What is common for both groups of consumers is the strong association of RTD cocktails with outdoor consumption: in the park, during hiking, on the beach, when having a picnic, etc. Consumption at home is perceived as financially disadvantageous, while the preferred options in bars and restaurants are locally brewed beverages because of their higher quality. The fact that RTD cocktails are often unavailable in smaller stores located near outdoor gathering places makes consumers less likely to purchase them: “If these drinks are not found in convenience stores, it is only logical that I cannot consume when I want to.” (male, 34 y/o, HR specialist, Sofia)
Known and purchased brands are Bacardi Breezer, Smirnoff Ice, Smirnoff & Coca-Cola, Aperol Spritz, WKD, Le COQ. As with RTD coffee the relatively sparse advertising and limited distribution make most consumers unfamiliar with brands. The main criteria for selection are taste (the preferred mix of ingredients or cocktail) and price. Some users have experience with favorite RTD mixes from abroad, which are still not present on the market here.
Besides expanding the selection of brands and products on the market, consumers would like to be introduced to new, unusual flavors, different from traditional cocktails: “Maybe a chili or wasabi flavor – something experimental.” (male, 23 y/o, student, Sofia)
Also, there is a demand for the products to be packaged in cans as they are light and easy to use.
In line with the global trend, RTD beverages are gaining popularity on the Bulgarian market as well. Perceived as innovative products that break with tradition, they have the potential to become part of the lifestyle of younger, urban consumers, and the most important condition for this to happen is ensuring availability in more stores.
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