When the Coca-Cola Company first revealed its Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola RTD launch with Brown-Forman, the consensus was the soft drinks giant was on to a winner.

RTDs continue to grow both globally and at home, and the category has outpaced wider declines in BWS to record value growth of 2.8% [NIQ 52 we 9 September]. And, despite unprecedented cost of living pressures, shoppers are prepared to pay a premium for quality canned cocktails.

Hence, capitalising by introducing one of the on-trade’s most popular serves – the humble Jack & Coke – as a premix format into the off-trade made perfect sense. The data shows the UK launch has been a hit, with the line racking up sales of £13m since March [NIQ].

It is therefore no surprise that Coca-Cola’s latest innovation in alcohol follows a similar formula, a vodka lemonade premix, made from its Sprite lemonade and Pernod Ricard’s Absolut Vodka, which will land in European markets early next year.

Coca-Cola’s brand pull in alcohol

Coca-Cola said its latest RTD would bring together “two of the world’s most recognisable global trademarks” and allow it to build on a stated ambition to create a “total beverage company”.

While it is true vodka has a long history as a base for alcoholic RTDs, and lemon-lime dominates flavour trends in soft drinks, neither Sprite nor Absolut have quite the same brand pull as Coca-Cola or Jack Daniel’s.

Nevertheless, a lighter-tasting alcohol premix will certainly help Coca-Cola convert drinkers who steer clear of dark spirits.

With the might of the Coca-Cola Company and Pernod Ricard behind it, the SKU will likely secure almost universal distribution overnight, which is bad news for challenger brands looking to break into an increasingly overcrowded RTD aisle.

It will provide competition to Smirnoff’s growing range of vodka premixes and could mop up from Gordon’s free-falling RTDs, volumes of which have tanked 24% [NIQ].

In short, there’s almost no chance the innovation won’t be a success. But isn’t it all a bit predictable, and is this really the height of alcohol innovation?

Premixed vodka lemonade made from household brands

One of the most exciting parts about the RTD category in recent years has been the extent to which retailers have been prepared to back truly innovative NPD. And it is such launches that drive growth, with all the top five biggest, long-serving RTD brands in volume decline [NIQ].

The spate of RTD innovation in recent years, which has tapped into rising on-trade drinks trends, means consumers can head to their local supermarket and pick up anything from a 15% abv Negroni to a 0.0% Passionfruit Martini.

Hence, everything about the decision of Coca-Cola to opt for a vodka and lemonade premix, made from two household brands at a sensible abv of 5%, feels a little uninspired. Even the decision to pick Absolut over the Coca-Cola HBC-owned Finlandia vodka appears to have been taken with the Swedish vodka’s crowd-pleasing credentials in mind.

Admittedly, not all innovation has to break boundaries, and not every shopper seeks something off the wall. In fact, consumers often turn towards trusted brands and familiar flavours, especially during tough financial times. But would it have killed Coca-Cola to be a little bolder?