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Ready-to-Drink and Pre-Mixed Cocktails Market in China

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Executive Summary

In recent years, the global alcoholic ready-to-drink (RTDs) and premixes market has shown tremendous growth. There is a surging demand for innovative and high quality, but affordable beverages, and brands are eager to meet the challenge. The Asia Pacific region accounts for the largest market share, where Westernization influences consumer behavior.

In China, the demand is high among young consumers. The ready-to-drink category delivers on convenience, as there is no need for preparations unlike mixed alcoholic drinks. A local brand, RIO, holds the biggest market share, but in recent years, many new players have been entering the market. This is resulting in increased sales and competition.

For ready-to-drink companies to succeed in the Greater China markets, you should: 1) understand the competition in the markets, 2) identify the best local markets to target, 3) develop the right pricing strategy, 4) craft a successful branding strategy, and 5) find reliable local partners to achieve sales goals in the market.

The experience of RIO and Diageo demonstrates the value of investing in analyzing and understanding the market. Their success in China shows the return firms can enjoy when they accurately assess the market and competition and employ the time and due diligence necessary to develop strong relationships with suitable local partners who can help them establish reliable sales channels.


The Ready-to-Drink Market in China

The ready-to-drink market in China may be small, but it is predicted to grow rapidly. By 2020, it is projected to reach US$4.7 billion. In the past decade, the performance of pre-mixed cocktails have been negatively affected by the recession, but both local and foreign brands are optimistic about the rising demand among consumers.

 Alcohol-based RTDs are mostly preferred by Chinese light drinkers. They are convenient to consume and are cheaper than the cocktails being offered in bars. In 2013, sales of pre-mixed cocktails totaled US$158. In the next couple of years, sales volumes are expected to surge to 150 million liters. Currently, ready-to-drink in China are widely sold in both off-trade and on-trade channels.

Among all of the ready-to-drink alcoholic drinks in China, the local brand RIO is by far the most popular and has the biggest market share. The products are available in more than 260 major prefecture-level cities and 1,300 county-level cities in the region. RIO alcopops are also sold in neighboring Asian countries, as well as Italy and Spain.

A Flourishing Niche Market

Considered a niche category, the ready-to-drink market in China currently has a limited number of consumers. Most of these drinkers belong to the country’s younger generation. Pre-mixed cocktails have also garnered the attention of trend-conscious young women in their 20s and 30s. 

From the taste to the packaging, domestic and imported brands have tailored their products to cater to these consumer segments. RTDs tend to have low alcohol content and have a soft-drink-type taste. Most of them also have rich colors and stylish packaging.

Beverage makers highlight the convenience the RTDs offer in their marketing campaigns. Bottled cocktails are easy to consume, perfect for KTVs (China’s version of karaoke bars) and clubs and even for home party scenes. They make as light, refreshing alternatives to the regular wine or beer.

Alcoholic RTDs are predominantly spirit-based, malt-based or wine-based alcoholic drinks. They are also known as alcopops. Meanwhile, there are premixes which are considered high-strength. These cater to drinkers who are looking for beverages with higher alcohol content.


and Solutions for ready-to-drink in china

Evaluating Competition

As the demand for high-quality ready-to-drink has grown in China, more producers have begun entering the market. Those who cannot keep up with the competition and meet local market demands, however, inevitably fail.

Companies can better understand existing competition and overall potential for their product in the alcoholic RTDs market by commissioning a detailed analysis of the market size, growth outlook, competition in their target price range and for the product type, and receive professional guidance regarding strengths and weaknesses.


Determining Market Pricing

Pricing is one of the most important factors impacting consumer decision-making. A successful pricing strategy allows your ready-to-drink products to stand out among competitors’ in China and match consumers’ willingness to pay.    

The Marketing Pricing Analysis (MPA) examines how your product’s pricing profile or estimated local retail price in the RTDs market compares to the average national price for your product in the market, as well as how your pricing compares to the prevailing average price in each of the local markets identified in the Target Market Analysis, analyzes your position in the premixes market, and provides recommendations regarding your pricing strategy.


Finding Good Sales & Distribution Partners

You want to know if a potential sales partner is reliable, trustworthy and capable of helping you achieve your goals in China’s ready-to-drink market. However, foreign producers have difficulty assessing the true capabilities, trustworthiness, and suitability of individual local distributors for their company and product(s).

Carry out due diligence before any contracts are signed so you save time, trouble, and money in the long run. A Distributor Due Diligence Assessment takes the mystery out of choosing a local sales partner by finding businesses with a track record in the industry confirming key details about their business, capabilities, potential risks, and providing clear recommendations as to whether they are right for you, your product, and goals.


Geographic & Demographic Targeting

China’s ready-to-drink market is unique and complex. Yet, many companies try to enter it without knowing where their product is likely to find the most success, who will buy it, and who they should be working with to sell it. Knowing your target market for your RTDs and premixes, ideal customer profile, and the type of sales partner that best fits your needs is key to success. 

Carry out a Target Market Analysis (TMA) to identify the best local markets (e.g. Beijing) for you to focus on, know the detailed profile of your ideal customer (e.g. buying habits) and receive guidance on the type distributor you should work with. Knowing these things will allow you to make better decisions and enjoy a higher return on your investment.

Brand Positioning

To enjoy long-term growth, brand recognition, and added brand value a company needs to prepare their branding for the target local RTDs market. Even some wealthy companies with famous brands start trying to sell their premixes without first checking if their branding is right for the market and target customer.

Avoid common missteps and confirm whether your existing branding is right for the market by performing a Branding Analysis. Look at your labelling, packaging, messaging and other brand assets—and measure how it compares to competitors, determine the best course of action to differentiate your brand and make it appealing to both your likely sales partners and target customers.


The Case of RIO Ready-to-Drink in China

Company Profile

RIO alcopop is owned by Shanghai Bacchus Limited Company, a subsidiary of the China-based beverage and fragrance company, Shanghai Bairun Investment Holding Group Co., Ltd.  It was first introduced in China in 2003 and has grown to become one of the largest alcopop brands in the Asia Pacific region. Currently, RIO owns 40% of China’s ready-to-drink market.

The brand name RIO was chosen to evoke the tropical feel of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro. Unlike the popular Chuhai cocktails in Japan, these alcopops were first sold in glass bottles instead of aluminum cans. RIO is available anywhere in China and other Asian markets like Myanmar and Singapore. The brand has been a major sponsor of Chinese dramas, movies and variety shows.

The Case

The success of RIO has helped lift cocktail consumption in China. In 2015 when most key players exited from the pre-mixed cocktail industry, it retained its marketability by pouring money into advertisements. A core marketing method for RIO is video advertising. These ads were shown in popular TV series and variety shows, as well as posted on Weibo and WeChat, for maximum exposure. 

RIO’s campaigns put emphasis on how the alcopops are suitable for parties due to their low alcohol content. It targets a specific consumer group, China’s younger generations, and worked hard to get their attention. Some of the personalities appointed by the brand to serve as spokespersons were China’s popular actors Zhou Xun and Yang Yang and singer Amber Kuo. RIO also boosted its presence in online platforms like JD.com and Tmall to reach a wider range of consumers.

If the alcopops’ quirky colors were not enough to draw in young women, the brand cooperated with Hello Kitty in 2014 and introduced limited edition RIO bottles in different shades of pink. It even tied up with a popular dating show as part of its promotion. To cater to its male drinkers, RIO launched a line with higher alcohol content in 2016. Soon after, it began releasing alcopops in slim cans for a more modern look. 


The Case of Diageo’s RTDs in China

Company Profile

Diageo is a British multinational alcoholic beverages company that handles popular brands like Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Baileys and Guinness. It has offices on six continents and sells its products in over 180 countries. Diageo was formed in 1997 from the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan. 

The Asia Pacific region represents 20% of Diageo’s net sales. China is one of its biggest markets. To meet consumer demand, the company offers a broad portfolio at almost every price point and in every category. For premixed drinks, some of its brands include Archers, Pimm’s, Jeremiah Weed and Smirnoff Cocktails.

The Case

Diageo’s success is largely dependent on its carefully planned campaigns and its ability to keep up with trends. In 2013, the company rolled out around US$ 2.5 million for TV ads to promote its pre-mixed drinks portfolio as the “number one choice for the casual get together occasion.” It also launched its price-marked packs (PMPs) in 2017 to improve positive price perception and ease of shop for customers in the convenience sector.

As part of the company’s campaign for product innovation, Diageo announced in 2018 that some of its canned RTDs would come with edible straws. This was to satisfy the needs of the consumers looking for environment-friendly products. Diageo also pledged to phase out plastic straws and stirrers worldwide. By 2025, it aims to only use completely recyclable plastic for its products.

Work through a reliable local partner who knows the market, culture, can carry out due diligence, facilitate communication, and ensure all agreements are fair transparent and legal.

John Doe

China is a growing market for readyto-drink and pre-mixed cocktails. The demand for better-quality beverages is rising as younger and wealthier consumers keep up with the trends and embrace a modern lifestyle. 

Companies wishing to sell ready-to-drink in China should: 1) evaluate the competition, 2) determine which local markets to target, 3) examine how their product’s pricing profile compares to prevailing national prices and what their consumers are willing to pay, 4) analyze branding including labelling, packaging, messaging and other brand assets, and 5) carry out necessary due diligence to find a professional local partner to achieve sales goals in the market.

Competition is best be evaluated through a Competition Analysis where product is assessed in terms of growth outlook, varietal and price, then compared to existing brands in the RTDs and premixes market.

The best local markets for your product can be identified through the Target Market Analysis (TMA) as well as the profile of the ideal customer for the product and guidance on choosing the right kind of distributor.


Market pricing, strategy and how they compare to the competition can be assessed through a Marketing Pricing Analysis (MPA) providing a clear picture of your product’s place in the RTDs market, relative to existing competition, and what you can do to best position yours for success.

Knowing how well your existing or planned branding will support sales growth and what you should do to maximize your chances of success can be shown in a detailed Branding Analysis where the product’s brand assets are assessed compared to competitors’ in the pre-mixed cocktails market.

Although finding a reliable distributor can be challenging, particularly for small and medium-sized producers, carrying out due diligence can ensure you know if you are working with the right company. A Distributor Due Diligence Assessment examines a distributor’s track record, operations, facilities, licenses and more and provides a useful risk assessment and recommendations.

With these tools, expertise, and support, you will be setting yourself up for long-term growth and success in whichever RTDs and premixes market you choose to do business.


Ready-to-Drink and Pre-Mixed Cocktails Market in China

Insight’s, Challenges and Solutions

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