Sales of coolers soaring, gaining larger segment of BC booze market

Coolers are the hot seller

British Columbians have upped spending on booze during the pandemic, with residents following the global trend of increased consumption of ciders, coolers and spiked spritzers.

Heads of the world’s largest alcohol producers say they are paying more attention to what has long been a small category, compared with beer, wine and spirits, and British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch statistics show that their efforts are being rewarded.

One recent quarter, for example, saw sales for so-called "refreshment" beverages soar 42.5% over the same quarter in the previous year.

“By the end of the summer, refreshment sales should be double what we had four years ago,” said Dmitry Batishchev, category manager for refreshment beverages and beer for the BCLDB’s British Columbia Liquor Stores division.

"In terms of assortment – the breadth and depth of assortment, and product selection – we have already doubled."

Increased sales and product selection have prompted government-run liquor stores to devote more shelf space to what is often referred to as refreshment beverages, particularly in the spring and summer, Batishchev added.

British Columbians’ penchant for these beverages may be fitting, given that B.C.’s Anthony von Mandl, with his Mark Anthony Group Inc., was a pioneer in the category.

Von Mandl created Mike’s Hard Lemonade in 1996, and in 2015 sold the Canadian and international rights for that drink to Labatt for a reported US$350 million, as part of a deal that included Palm Bay vodka coolers and Okanagan Premium ciders.

Von Mandl in 2016 launched his White Claw spiked spritzer in the U.S. and it became a runaway sensation. He had to wait until 2020 to debut the drink outside the U.S. because his 2015 agreement with Labatt included a five-year non-compete clause.

White Claw’s early 2020 Canadian release resembled “a new Apple iPhone launch, with hundreds of fans lined up around the block,” Scott Walton, president of the Mark Anthony Group’s wine and spirits division, told BIV.

“We are now in process of building White Claw into an iconic global brand, with launches last summer in Ireland, the U.K., and the Netherlands; and our expansion in Europe, and beyond, continues this spring.”

Von Mandl told the Financial Post last year that he expected his drink to take a 10% share of both the Canadian and U.S. beer markets within the next two years.

Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, which owns Labatt, is equally bullish on the refreshment sector.

He told analysts on a May 6 earnings call that “the lines between established segments within alcohol – beer, wine and spirits – continue to blur.”

He calls this emerging fourth category “beyond beer,” and said it includes ready-to-drink beverages such as canned wine.

“This segment is expected to grow by 45% between 2019 to 2024,” Brito said. “It is estimated to grow to $58 billion in global sales by 2024, according to Euromonitor.”

Data from the quarter that ended on March 31 showed a 23.6% jump in refreshment drink wholesales to liquor retailers, restaurants, pubs and bars – to $75,815,260 from $61,344,779 in the same quarter a year ago.

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