Ready-to-go drinks or RTDs are beverages that are ready to be consumed straight out of the package. Many beverages including soda and dairy products are marketed in this form. The alcohol industry joined the RTD sector over three decades ago. Alcoholic RTDs are more commonly known as alcopops. These are ready made alcoholic cocktails usually combining a spirit or wine with fruit juice, soft drink or something similar.
The history of alcopops
Alcopops gained a lot of popularity in the 1990s. By nature alcopops are marketed in ways very attractive to younger people. They are often fruity, sweet and come in colorful packaging sometimes with cartoon style design which are attractive to younger people. The alcohol industry was soon called out for driving underage alcohol use with these new products. Research called for banning or strictly restricting these alcopops because of the harm to children and youth. Many countries imposed high taxes on these products leading to an increase in price and therefore a decrease in consumption and overall popularity among younger people.
However, the alcohol industry did not abandon the alcopop idea. Instead they rebranded. One example of this rebranding is the bogus wellness alcohol trend started by the industry. While this claim is obviously factually wrong, the marketing pivot was able to attract younger demographics who were more health conscious. Hard Seltzer is one new category of alcoholic beverage under RTDs which are disguised alcopops marketed as healthier by the industry.
Present day alcopops
- Smirnoff Ice
- Mike’s Hard Lemonade
- Bacardi Breezer
- Skyy Blue
- Wild Leap Blueberry Vodka
- Jack Daniel’s Hard Cola
- MG Spirits
- Vodka Cruiser
- White Claw
- Evolve HardPop
Outrage was sparked recently regarding Juiced Boxes alcopops in the United States which come in the product packaging of juice boxes which are commonly consumed by children. The packaging features a cartoon design and apart from being attractive to young people poses the danger of accidentally being consumed by children due to their similarity to juice boxes. The only difference is the age warning labeling which is rather small and could easily be missed by non-English speakers.
Harm to youth and children
The alcohol industry rejoices in the growth of their RTD category. For the three years leading up to the pandemic, RTD alcoholic beverages were the fastest-growing category, up almost 20%. While the global alcohol industry is set to fall about 12% in 2020 due to the pandemic RTD category has remained popular and heavily consumed at home.
- In the U.S., alcohol is already the most commonly used substance among young people.
- The 2019 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey found that more than a quarter of high school students had alcohol in the 30 days before they took the survey. Additionally, one in seven reported binge alcohol use in the last 30 days.
- According to a recent study, nearly a half (46.3 %) of all calls to U.S. poison control centers involving supersized alcopop consumption were made for consumers below the legal age for alcohol use.
Alcopops are packaged to be very attractive to youth. They are cheap, sweet and can be disguised as juice, all of which attract underage children to the product. These products are easily available at most supermarkets. The alcohol content in these RTDs are very high with 20% or more alcohol.
One can of these supersized alcopops contains an alcohol content of 5.5 standard alcoholic beverages. This means that having one can equals binge alcohol consumption.
In the U.S., the trend for young people staying alcohol-free for a longer time has been increasing.
- In 2015, a study by the University of Michigan found that high school students increasingly make alcohol free choices, with about 75% of seniors disapproving of alcohol use during the weekends.
- In 2020, JAMA Network reported results of a study and found between 2004 and 2017, the age of starting alcohol and tobacco use for teens rose from 16 to 17 years.
Starting with the millennial generation alcohol-free lifestyle is becoming increasingly more common with youth. The current Gen Z is the least alcohol consuming generation in history.
The alcopops is a perverse strategy by the alcohol industry to push alcohol on to the least alcohol consuming generation in history.
Times of San Diego: “Opinion: Ready-to-Go Drinks Are Alcohol Industry’s Latest Attempt to Entice Teens”
Modern Restaurant Management: “What Restaurants Need to Know About RTD Adult Beverage Trends“
Wikipedia: “Ready to drink“