Innovation Investigation: Creative Flavors and Formats in Alcoholic Beverages

by | Feb 16, 2023

Last year, we described the ready-to-drink cocktail beverage market as the “wild west.” While the RTD frontier is still attracting beverage pioneers, the broader alcoholic beverage market is becoming a place where brands explore new formats and flavors.

How do you craft an innovative alcoholic beverage that will excite shoppers and inspire brand loyalty? Let’s explore what people look for in alcoholic drinks and some trending flavors and formats in a category bubbling with new ideas.

What Are People Looking for in Alcoholic Beverages?

What prompts someone to reach for an alcoholic beverage? Usually, it’s some combination of social setting or occasion. A common theme is enjoyment—whether you’re socializing at a backyard BBQ or unwinding with a glass of wine and a binge-worthy Netflix show. The right beverage can help deepen connections with friends, serve as a nightcap, or mark a special occasion. Savoring the moment will continue to be a motivation for choosing an alcoholic beverage, even as more people look for choices that align with health and lifestyle goals.

Health-Conscious Imbibing

An increased interest in health and moderation is prompting more low-sugar and low-calorie options in wine and RTD brands. 31% of adults who buy alcohol in the U.S. aged 22-44 seek out ‘healthier’ alcohol options (Mintel). Flavored alcohol and hard seltzer launches in particular have seen more better-for-you claims like no additives/preservatives, low sugar, natural, GMO-free, and low calorie (Innova).

Everyday Pleasures

Establishing a distinct emotional connection can help set your beverage apart in a crowded market. Mintel notes that the U.S. hard seltzer market, which saw triple-digit growth in 2016-2020, slowed to an 11% increase last year. Branching out from popular fruit flavors (lime, mango, lemon, grapefruit) with more exotic choices like blood orange or adding off-sweet notes like basil or Earl Grey can help a hard seltzer stand out as an elevated experience in an accessible format.

Affordable Luxury

With inflation concerns and rising food and drink prices, 49% of U.S. adults say they are concerned about finances (Mintel). People who normally enjoy alcoholic beverages may choose a less expensive option or forego the purchase altogether. Positioning your drink as an “affordable luxury” can help ease concerns about the grocery bill while giving drinkers a way to treat themselves.

Exploring New Formats

Alcohol-Free Offerings

From non-alcoholic wine to zero-proof canned cocktails, the non-alc selection is growing and gaining popularity. As noted in our recent blog post, people seek out non-alcoholic beverages for various reasons, including healthfulness, enjoyment, and alcohol moderation. And although it may seem counterintuitive, IWSR research found that people completely avoiding alcohol accounts for less than 25% of purchasers, with more than 40% choosing non-alcoholic beverages as substitutes on certain occasions.

Crafting non-alcoholic adult beverages presents a tactic for brands to tailor products to consumers’ specific health or lifestyle goals. For its no-alcohol canned cocktail “Roxie”, Molson Coors uses language about “empowering” people to feel a part of the moment, even if they are choosing not to drink. Aplós Arise is a non-alcoholic spirit infused with a proprietary blend of adaptogens and “crafted for moments of revelry.”

Sustainable Packaging

With more people looking for sustainable and eco-friendly products, beverage brands are finding innovative ways to reduce waste with their packaging. Mintel reports that 32% of spirits consumers in the U.S. are looking for sustainably produced spirits. The survey results note 65% of Canadian adults say the environmental impact of food and drink products has a more significant influence on purchasing decisions than in the past.

While glass bottles used for spirits and wines are highly recyclable, they also come with a heavier weight and production footprint than the aluminum cans of RTD brands. Planet B Organic Red Wine uses a paperboard shell and plastic pouch Frugalpac, while Gin Me’s subscription service delivers gin in a convenient pouch.


Some brands are exploring ways to give drinkers new avenues to enjoy the alcohol experience—but without the beverage component. Cocktail caviar, small pop-able spheres of flavored alcohol, builds on the popularity of bubble tea (a Taiwanese milk tea with tapioca pearls). Unifying Spirits encourages people to add their Blueberry & Wildflower Cocktail Caviar to classic cocktails, boba tea, desserts, or pancakes to take your drink or dish to the next level.

Making its way to the freezer section, Proof Alcohol Ice Cream is a 7% ABV made with top-shelf spirits and quality ice cream. The five flavors can easily stand on their own, but Proof also includes fun recipe ideas on their website like “High Spirits Float” and “Old Fashioned Milkshake.”

Getting Creative with Flavor

Flavor exploration can help beverage brands stand out, especially when many options feature popular flavors like lime, mango, grapefruit, and strawberry. Let’s explore some trends by subcategory and how you can use flavor to make your NPD a step above the rest.

Beer & Cider

Beer and cider have an average 41% share of total alcoholic beverage sales (Innova). Adding flavor to beer can help make an acquired taste more accessible to those who don’t normally explore the category. Innova notes the top five flavors for beer and cider are red raspberry, mango, fruit, milk chocolate, and citrus. Other flavors to watch include green grape, cherry blossom, jasmine, watermelon, blackcurrant, and lavender.

Flavored Alcohol & Hard Seltzers

The flavored alcohol and hard seltzer category has a 2.4% share of alcoholic beverage sales (Innova) with many entries featuring popular fruit flavors. Mintel recommends including more exotic fruit flavors like dragon fruit or kiwi to help differentiate your beverage. The top five flavors include lime, lemon, strawberry, orange, and mango (Innova). Flavors to keep on your radar are espresso, kiwi, tangerine, chili, pomegranate, margarita, and rhubarb.

Spirits & Liqueurs

Innova notes that spirits and liqueurs saw a decline in NPD from July 2017 to June 2022 but hold an average 33% share of alcoholic beverage sales. The top five flavors include some fruit entries: red raspberry, strawberry, lemon, orange, and coffee (Innova). Flavors to watch are honey, sloe berry (also known as blackthorn plums), yuzu, mandarin, rosemary, vanilla, cinnamon, mango, melon, and coconut.

Partner with FlavorSum

Are you exploring ways to innovate in the alcoholic beverage space? Partnering with FlavorSum flavor and applications experts can help you navigate development hurdles and bring your new idea to market sooner. Connect with our team to learn more!