As winter temperatures arrive across the country, seasonal favorites like red wines, IPAs, and flavored whiskeys are beginning to experience share gains. Yet this year, many consumers are continuing to reach for lighter, lower-ABV options across categories. From non-alcoholic offerings to wines with ingredient labels and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails featuring nutrition facts, “better-for-you” beverage alcohol products are likely to remain strong through the winter 2021/2022 season.

“The simple fact is that sure, people might grab something that’s a little different in the colder months, but that doesn’t mean they want to be drinking full-bodied RTDs that are full of sugar,”  says Kyle Cooke, the founder of Loverboy, which produces sparkling hard teas, spritzes, and RTDs designed with “better-for-you” attributes and nutrition labels. “I think there’s still so much upside for better-for-you brands in this space.”

While RTDs and hard seltzers have dominated the “lighter” drinks category by offering lower calorie and lower carb options, Drizly data suggests Gen Z and millennial consumers are looking for similar transparency in their wines.

“While millennials under-index on wines compared to their overall share on Drizly, retailers should expect that this group in particular will seek wine brands that offer transparency with ingredients or how they are made,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights.

Paquette recommends retailers stock up based on these consumption trends in tandem with weather systems in their local area for the best Q1 results. “We typically see a spike in order in markets during rainy or snow days,” she says. “So retailers, specifically those in colder weather climates like Chicago or Boston, should pay close attention to weather as that will likely impact order patterns in the winter months as it has in years past.”

With health-conscious consumption at the forefront, Drizly’s top predictions for winter sales highlight generational buying shifts and the proliferation of non-seasonal flavors across categories.

Non-Alcoholic Offerings Will Go Mainstream

This year, the growth of non-alcoholic offerings surpassed the growth rates of popular categories like RTDs and orange wine. Though this category still accounts for a relatively small portion of overall share, when comparing sales in 2020 and 2021 to date, the growth in this category is profound: Non-alcoholic spirits are leading growth with sales up over 600 percent year-over-year, non-alcoholic wine is up nearly 300 percent, and non-alcoholic beer is up by 200 percent over 2020 levels.

Today, over 90 percent of Drizly’s retail partners carry at least one non-alcoholic option, a percentage that has been increasing steadily over the past few years. Supporting the overall trend of health-conscious consumption, 26 percent of respondents in Drizly’s annual retail survey believe the non-alcoholic category has the greatest potential for future growth.

This expansion – led in part by craft brands entering the category – offers well-stocked retailers the opportunity to capitalize on these trends, especially during the winter months when no-ABV options take center stage in the wake of the holiday season.

RTD Offerings Combat Seasonality

Ready-to-drink cocktails have continued their rise in 2021, with share nearly doubling year-over-year from 2020. As RTD options proliferate and established spirits brands compete with new market entrants, brands are differentiating with innovative flavors, varying alcoholic strengths, and nutritional callouts, leading the number of RTDs on the Drizly catalog to expand by 35 percent from 2020 levels. 

“Rolling out another variety pack isn’t necessarily innovation,” says Cooke. “We saw an opportunity to differentiate very early on by using better quality ingredients such as organic tea and some real juices, and we’re sweetening our drinks with monk fruit so they deliver a little more on the flavor spectrum.”

Loverboy’s new seasonal flavors (which will launch in January 2022) include Espresso Martini, Orange Chai, and the Cosmopolitan. ”We purposely formulated it and designed it to offset the seasonality that the industry experiences in the winter,” says Cooke.

Retailers should stock a mix of RTDs for best results, offering consumers choice in terms of flavor, price, and alcoholic strength. “Over the past couple of years, RTD share has continued to rise month-over-month, and that growth has not slowed during the winter months,” says Paquette. “At least during this growth period, the category is an evergreen choice.”

Flavored Whiskeys Steal the Spotlight

The flavored whiskey subcategory has grown by 33 percent on Drizly since 2019, especially as consumers have continued to embrace cinnamon-flavored whiskeys, which make up four of the top 10 most popular flavored whiskey SKUs on Drizly. Today, the flavored whiskey subcategory makes up 6.4 percent of the total whiskey category, steadily rising from 4.8 percent in 2019 and 5.5 percent in 2020.

These bottlings tend to see sales spikes in the cold winter months, with large brands such as Fireball, Jack Daniels, and Crown Royal making up the majority of popular flavored whiskey products on Drizly. Fireball remains the most popular flavored whiskey, taking the top spot in both 2020 and 2021. Two new Fireball products, the sleeve and party bucket, also entered the top ten most popular flavored whiskey products on Drizly this year, indicating the popular brand has staying power even as new entrants gain share in this hot category.

Wine Ingredients Matter More than Ever

Red wine sales tend to peak during the cold winter months, and Drizly data indicates the traditional red wine surge is likely moving into 2022. In 2021, wine sales peaked during Q1 with 13.3 percent share of total sales on Drizly, nearly two percentage points above the annual average. This season, broad wellness trends are likely to affect the category as consumers reach for wines offering greater ingredient transparency.

Retailers should expect younger drinkers, specifically millennials, to seek increased transparency in their wines, continuously reaching for wines labelled “organic,” “natural,” or “vegan.” This trend parallels larger health-centric and sustainability-conscious trends in the drinks space, though generational buying patterns in wine show that older generations are less concerned with ingredient transparency than millennial and Gen-Z consumers.

While consumers gravitate toward red wine during the winter, the top-selling red grape varieties on Drizly – Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Merlot, and Zinfandel – remain stable year-round, suggesting consumers may not shift their preferences during winter, but simply purchase more from the category overall.

’Tis the Season for the IPA

While hard seltzers and light lagers have dominated beer category gains recently, IPA consumption is expected to increase as the weather stays cold into Q1 of 2022. The IPA category usually peaks in the winter months – in Q1 of 2021, IPAs accounted for 11 percent of share within the beer category compared to making up nine percent share year-round.

While hard seltzer may continue to dominate the news cycle for the beer category, 57 percent of retail respondents in Drizly’s annual retailer survey indicated they plan to stock more beer in 2022, outpacing hard seltzer. Only eight percent of respondents plan to stock less beer in 2022, while 23 percent of respondents plan to stock fewer hard seltzer options.

“Though we have not seen craft beer gaining share in the beer category in 2021 to sate,” says Paquette, “retailer sentiment around stocking in the most recent survey means we could see increased growth, especially in categories like IPAs during the winter months, since they are already a seasonal favorite.”