Cape Line Sparkling Cocktails part of rush into ‘better-than’ drinks

Hard seltzers are on fire. Kombuchas and cannabis-infused beverages are all the talk. And aguas frescas and other low-calorie sparkling cocktails are hitting shelves. Anheuser-Busch even spent millions to air a spot during the Super Bowl for its rebranded hard sparkling water, Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer.

A movement is afoot in the beverage alcohol industry, and it has substantial implications for beer. What started as a rush to spiked seltzers is opening a new category of lower-calorie, high-flavor drinks in the so-called better-than space. As a growing number of drinkers march toward this new class of drinks, a new battleground is emerging to capture them.

Today, a third of beer drinkers report their consumption of beer is down compared with a couple of years ago, and a full quarter of beer drinkers “are more interested in consuming alcohol beverages made with wellness in mind versus a couple of years ago,” according to Nielsen data presented at Beer Business Daily’s Beer Summit. Health-related beverage alcohol social media conversations are up more than twofold, and 57 percent of American households said that low sugar is an important influencer in deciding what to buy.

“We are not the only ones who identified this space, which is great because it signals a true consumer need,” says Sofia Colucci, vice president of innovations for MillerCoors. Enter Cape Line, a new line of carbonated, cane sugar-fermented drinks from MillerCoors.

The brand is slated to hit retail in April, promising to bring new legal-aged male and female drinkers into the beer category with a proposition premised on “delivering all of the flavor without all of the calories and sugar,” Colucci says. “What we offer is a unique proposition. We have the flavor of classic cocktails like margaritas that people love, but with just 120 calories, we have 75 percent less calories. Even better, we have a clean and simple ingredient list with just six ingredients and nothing artificial, and great natural taste.”

Cape Line is the latest MillerCoors play in this expanding better-for-you space. It joins Henry’s Hard Sparkling Water, a fast-growing hard seltzer brand that’s planning a major expansion in 2019, and Saint Archer Gold, a new craft light lager debuting in test markets that promises a slightly stronger flavor profile with low calories and carbohydrates.

Cape Line is gearing up for a battle in this nascent, yet tightly contested space of high-flavor, better-for-you options, which is flooding with competitors that range from multinational beer companies to startups. Constellation Brands is extending off its Corona brand with Corona Refrescas; Anheuser-Busch, via its Golden Road craft brewery, plans to release Spiked Aguas Frescas; Boston Beer Co. is unveiling a lower-calorie, organic tea called Wild Leaf; Diageo’s Smirnoff brand is out with a line of fruit-infused coolers called Smirnoff Sourced; and Bai founder Ben Weiss is rolling out a new brand called Crook & Marker.

Most aim to appeal to a drinking public that’s on the whole consuming less beer. Why? About 40 percent say because they’re “opting for a healthier lifestyle.” The percentage of Americans listing “health” as one of their top concerns rose to 21 percent in 2018 from 18 percent in 2017, per Nielsen.

On top of that, more than two thirds of North American consumers saying they want “to know everything that is going into their food” and another 61 percent saying the “shorter the ingredient list, the more healthful the food or beverage,” according to Nielsen.

But they still want flavor — drinks that taste natural, Colucci says. “While some of our competitors are using sweeteners like erythritol and stevia, which help reduce sugar and calories, consumers are telling us the liquid tastes artificial and syrupy. We prioritized taste and simple, transparent ingredients.”

Packaged in slim cans, which lend a premium look and feel to the line, Cape Line is made from fermented cane sugar, the key to creating a clean, neutral base on which to build its three flavors: Blackberry Mojito, Margarita and Hard Strawberry Lemonade. The brand aims to appeal to 21- to 45-year old men and women “who are looking to make better choices but unwilling to sacrifice on taste,” Colucci says.

Backed by a substantial marketing budget that will launch a week after the product hits shelves, as well as strong placements in chain stores throughout the U.S., Cape Line is poised to take off out of the gate, Colucci says.

“Like any new product launch, it takes some time to build awareness and trial,” she says. “We are committed to going all-in in year one, and more importantly, getting a fast start at launch with increased spending during the summer. We are getting fantastic support from our customers and distributors, with broad distribution commitments and displays planned so that consumers will find Cape Line in stores.”