The US grapefruit-flavored soft drink Fresca has been a go-to cocktail mixer for years, serving as a base for everything from a boozy gin bucket to palomas.
With the popularity of canned cocktails on the rise, Fresca’s parent brand Coca-Cola saw an opportunity. It is partnering with alcohol beverage company Constellation to launch a line of alcoholic Fresca drinks this year. It’s Coca-Cola’s latest foray into the so-called “ready-to-drink” sector following the release of Topo Chico hard seltzer last year.
Coca-Cola’s plans highlight the growing popularity of canned cocktails
“I think it’s interesting that Fresca is doing this,” says Samara Davis, founder of the Black Bourbon Society. “It’s just another brand entering this space that is quickly becoming crowded.”
Canned cocktails have been around since the late 19th century, but they started gaining popularity again in the years leading up to the pandemic. Nicolette Teo, the co-founder of the LA Spirits Awards, says the trend was driven by producers with access to better-quality spirits and natural ingredients.
The popularity of to-go drinks only grew during the pandemic, as states loosened their public drinking laws and Americans avoided drinking inside bars. The volume of ready-to-drink spirit-based cocktails consumed by Americans grew by by 53% in 2021, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, and is expected to grow by 29% annually through 2025.
Entries of ready-to-drink cocktails to the LA Spirits Awards grew by 422% between 2020 and 2021, according to Teo. She says the category has become so popular they expect to see these numbers rise again during this year’s competition.
What good is gin Fresca in a can?
Popularity of to-go cocktails aside, is a canned gin Fresca going to measure up with the real thing? Davis is skeptical.
“I’m intrigued to see where this goes, but it will not replace cocktails for me,” she says. “There’s a cocktail culture, there’s an artistry to me, that you can’t put in a can.” It’s a versatile soda, though, and Davis can see it going well with anything from tequila to bourbon to vodka, as well as becoming popular among younger consumers.
Teo agrees. “A good complex, high proof cocktail is hard to recreate in a can and in the quantities needed for a canned ready-to-drink [cocktail] to make sense economically,” she says, but adds that she wouldn’t say no to one on a camping trip or tailgate. She also says today’s market has improved considerably compared to the “too-sweet, neon-colored offerings” of yore.
When it rolls out Fresca mixed cocktails, Coca-Cola will have plenty of competition in this already crowded space. Household liquor names including Jim Beam, Absolut, and Bacardi have all hopped on the canned-cocktail trend in recent years. Pepsi, meanwhile, is currently working on an alcoholic version of Mountain Dew.