Ready-to-drink cocktails hit grocery store shelves

Published: Jun. 28, 2023 at 5:08 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s been about a year since legislation made canned cocktails more accessible in Vermont, and that’s creating a new market for small businesses across various sectors.

You might be familiar with these kinds of drinks. They’re made with spirits, rather than malt liquor. That includes national brands like High Noon and local ones like Gin and Tonics from Barr Hill.

Canned cocktails can now be found on store shelves in the beer and wine section of stores. That’s a big change from a few years ago when these kinds of cocktails could only be sold in state-licensed liquor stores. And in liquor stores, they’ve moved spots from the liquor section to the beer and wine section.

There are 78 liquor stores in Vermont, but up to 2,000 alcohol retailers like gas stations and grocery stores that sell beer, wine and other beverages.

“We have more access to consumers. There’s just the convenience of being able to get it in more places,” said Sophia Barselow from Barr Hill.

Barr Hill, Citizen Cider, Black Flannel and Mad River Distillers are some of the local businesses putting their products on local shelves.

“It just took off and grew and grew, and it was interesting with the Vermont ones because sometimes they can be a little higher in price, but that doesn’t stop people from buying it,” said Jason Baldwin, the owner of 802 BWS in Burlington.

Baldwin says Vermont ready-to-drink cocktails are creating a smaller version of a local craft beer market.

“It’s expanding,” he said. “Smaller breweries are coming out of these cocktails—they see the niche for it. A lot of companies are coming out with different styles.”

Baldwin says thanks to Vermonters supporting Vermont businesses, Barr Hill’s Gin and Tonic has already surpassed sales of many beer brands; more than 106 4-packs have been sold since April.

“The ready-to-drinks have hugely increased our business and complemented our spirits business,” Barselow said.

Statewide, canned cocktails coming on the scene are impacting other beverages, too. Wendy Knight, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery, says allowing canned cocktails to be sold in more than just state liquor stores opens up valuable store and warehouse space.

“We free up the space from the canned cocktails, and we’re able to add the flavor tequila mezcal, the amaros, those products that consumers want and a lot more of have been able to expand that inventory,” Knight said.

Knight said cocktails make up less than 1% of retail sales, but the expansion is already making an impact.

“We here today have generated $27 million to the general fund. So we’ve been able to expand availability and add additional products without negatively impacting sales or tax,” she said.

Knight said overall, retail sales for alcohol in Vermont are up at least 2% from last fiscal year.