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Premium Mixers Capitalize On Off-Premise Opportunity

August 4, 2021

Consumers are trading up across occasions and settings, opting for pricier craft drinks. Growing in tandem with higher-end spirits are a rapidly expanding field of premium mixers. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, premium mixer brands, on the whole, have fared well recently, with many reporting growth and successful pivots to DTC and retail sales over the past year.

The leading brands in the loosely defined category are Fever-Tree and Q Mixers, with both offering a variety of flavored sodas and tonics to suit different spirits and cocktails. Last year, Fever-Tree saw U.S. sales jump by over 20% to nearly $81 million. Globally, the brand moved 546 million bottles and cans (of various sizes), according to Impact Databank. Fever-Tree USA CEO Charles Gibb attributes the growth to a wellspring of success in the off-premise, even as much of the company’s on-premise sales withered during the worst of the pandemic. “The greatest challenge for all of us was the loss of 30% of our business overnight that, essentially, we didn’t see start to recover until the last few months,” he says. In recent weeks, Fever-Tree debuted a new cola flavor retailing at $5 a four-pack of 6.8-ounce cans.

Leading up to Covid, Q Mixers founder Jordan Silbert says the brand was making exceptional connections in the on-premise, especially in hotels, having secured placement in Marriott, Ritz Carlton, and W Hotels, among many others. “Our bar and restaurant business was growing like crazy—around 85%—in the years leading up to Covid,” he says. “Covid, obviously, shut down a lot of bars and restaurants, and our restaurant business went almost to zero.” But retail volume was up 73% year-over-year. In May, Q refreshed its packaging, centering a variety of drinks on the brand’s boxes and partnering with actor Joel McHale to bring new consumers into the fold. Silbert sees a bright future for Q, citing a roughly 90% reorder rate for the mixers. The brand is currently doing best in the largest U.S. spirits markets—California, Florida, and Texas, specifically—but as the world returns to normal, Silbert says Q is aiming to boost its developing markets, too.

Affinity Beverages’ Regatta Craft Mixers offers a focused portfolio of ginger beer (including a light option), club soda, tonic, and ginger ale, with the aim, according to Affinity CEO Sam Zarou, of being a simple and essential step for home cocktail making. “We want to provide step two,” he says. “Step one is the spirit. And step two is the mixer.” Regatta club soda is made with evaporated Pacific sea salt that helps the mixer stand out on the market and, Zarou says, pairs well with mezcal, Blanco Tequila, and vodka. He adds that sourcing non-GMO products for Regatta is also core to the brand.

Brands like Agalima and Barsmith offer craft options for easily making drinks like Bloody Marys, Margaritas, Old Fashioneds, and sours. These brands both offer options for conscious consumers looking for organic (Agalima) or non-GMO (Barsmith) mixers. Brands like Taffer’s Mixologist offer mixers for both cocktail classics and flavored Margaritas, while also giving calorie-conscious consumers an easy option for a low-calorie Margarita.

California-based Perfect Puree and Fresh Victor are two other brands making inroads. Napa Valley’s Perfect Puree aims to offer bars and restaurants high-quality fruit purees for both cooking and cocktail making, while Fresh Victor has seven flavors including Mexican Lime & Agave, Cactus Pear & Pomegranate, and Three Citrus & Mint Leaf, among others, and serves retail, on-premise, and DTC customers. “We have Fresh Victor refrigerators that we’re putting in grocery stores,” says CEO Ken MacKenzie. “Strategically we’re putting it in a wine and spirits section where no product like ours has ever lived before,” he says. Meanwhile, some mixer players are expanding into the pre-packaged cocktail segment. Amid the trend toward premixed cocktails, Chicago-based premium mixer company Zing Zang recently added canned cocktails to its offering.—Shane English

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