Anheuser-Busch is among the biggest names in beer, worldwide. Its parent company (ABI) raked in nearly $47 billion dollars in sales last year alone. Now it’s getting into the hard liquor game by way of the rapidly expanding ready-to-drink segment. In fact, RTDs are the fastest growing alcohol category in the US. And yet they still account for less than 3% of domestic spirits volume. In other words: this is just the beginning. And with Nütrl, Anheuser-Busch sees space for separation through simplicity.
Last month the company rolled out what it is branding a premium vodka seltzer, in three flagship flavors: watermelon, pineapple, and raspberry. The marketing touts “real vodka” and “real juice.” Indeed, a read-through of the ingredients reveals nothing more than base spirit, seltzer, and fruit. Each 12 oz. can holds just 100 calories. Absent is any gluten or added sugars or preservatives.
A bit more about that base spirit: Nütrl Vodka is corn-based and quadruple distilled in the Midwest—although it originally started out of an eponymous distillery in Delta, British Columbia. The initial formula involved purification through a 76-step process. And it’s this elaborate methodology which results in an especially neutral liquor. Hence the name…Get it?
Whether or not it’s the “Most Neutral Vodka In The World” — as its website claims — is up for debate. But what you shouldn’t question is that it provides an ideal blank canvas upon which fizzy water and fruit can shine. To wit, Nütrl Vodka Seltzer, canned at 4.5% ABV, is equally refreshing and sessionable. Available in variety 6-packs, it’s quite likely that you’d find yourself wanting to sample several flavors in one sitting.
From a marketing perspective Nütrl is more noteworthy for what it lacks than for what it lends. Namely: loudness. Missing are any sort of flashy packaging flourishes or high-profile endorsements, which we’ve come to expect from the hard seltzer space these days. Presumably, the play here is that the next wave of hard seltzer consumers are responsible adults that don’t necessarily want to go “hard” at all.
On the contrary, they just want something easy to drink amongst friends, that also fades easily into the background; a beverage that facilitates conversation without being a part of that conversation. If indeed that is the working model, Nütrl is well-positioned to make a splash. A reactionary product for folks who ever feel overwhelmed or even intimidated by all the craft beer and whiskey talk of the day.
Retailing at $14 per six-pack, the new RTD is currently available in 11 US states. Expect ABI to increase Nütrl’s distribution footprint in the months ahead. Will it make a dent in the canned cocktail category? We shall soon see. But with the entrance of a beverage behemoth no less mighty than Anheuser-Busch, it’s quite clear that this surging category is no passing phase.