Growth in the RTD spirit sector might be slowing in mature markets such as the UK, but other European countries are just now starting to see the first such drinks appear on supermarket shelves, tailored for local tastes. In the beer-loving Czech Republic, for example, SABMiller has launched Frisco, a fruit-flavoured premix which is malt- rather than spirit-based.
According to Plzensky Prazdroj, the SABMiller unit reposnsible for the brand, Frisco will be launched in bars and clubs at first, with a gradual rollout to restaurants and retail outlets throughout the rest of the year.
Plzensky Prazdroj is entering the RTD market for the first time - indeed it is the first major player to launch such a product in the Czech Republic.
"We operate in the environment, which in no way could be described as an isolated beer market - it is a complex beverage market that is dramatically changing," said Steve Woodward, managing director of Plzensky Prazdroj . "We took an opportunity in a segment that, in our opinion, has promising potential. As Czech market leader we have to have answers for new challenges and to offer our consumers such innovations."
The company said that Frisco had been inspired by the growing popularity of similar drinks abroad. It took Plzensky Prazdroj several years to develop Frisco, including the right taste, carbonation and original bottle design.
"Frisco is not a beer, even though a part of the production procedure is similar to that of beer brewing," Martin Kudela, Frisco brand manager, explained. The basis for Frisco's production is barley malt, but instead of hops, high-quality natural aromatics are added to give the drink its distinctive taste.
Frisco is mainly designed for people who like to drink light alcoholic beverages or cocktails. "With its light flavour, it will appeal primarily to women, but also to anybody who likes to try something new," Kudela added.
But the drink will only be sold in the Czech Republic. "This is because other SABMiller affiliates are already selling a similar product in Europe, so obviously our company does not want to encroach on sales markets belonging to the rest of the group," said company spokesperson Alexej Bechtin.
"We identified this segment as being particularly active and drawing from the experience of our SABMiller colleagues in other markets and launched the product after extensive research.
"The selling point is its unique positioning. It is not a beer and it is not a conventional RTD either. However, because of the ingredients it allows us to market the product at a particularly competitive price [CZK 22-25 or €0.70-€0.80], making it more affordable," added Bechtin.
SABMiller already produces or distributes RTD products such as SKKY Blue, named after the SKKY vodka brand, in the US, where they are also malt- rather than spirit-based.