Anheuser-Busch InBev subsidiary Labatt Breweries of Canada announced Monday the acquisition of British Columbia-based distiller Goodridge & Williams.
Terms of the deal, which has closed, were not disclosed.
Goodridge & Williams is known for its ready-to-drink canned cocktails, including Nütrl Vodka Soda, which launched in 2017 and has grown to become the country’s fastest-growing vodka soda brand.
Nütrl Vodka Soda offerings check in at 5% ABV and 100 calories, and contain no carbs, sugar, sweeteners or preservatives. Those offerings come in five flavors: lemon, lime, grapefruit, cranberry and pineapple.
Line extensions include Nütrl3 Vodka Soda, a 3.3% ABV and 65-calorie offering, and Nütrl4 Vodka Soda, a 4% and 80-calorie offering.
According to the company, Nütrl Vodka Soda makes up nearly half of Canada’s vodka soda segment, which has grown triple digits over the last three years. Nütrl Vodka Soda and the more traditional Nütrl Vodka spirits line are the “official vodka soda” and “official vodka” of the National Hockey League.
“The growth in ready-to-drink shows no signs of slowing down, and we’re thrilled to bring G&W Distillery and their innovative range of sugar-free, low-calorie NÜTRL products onboard with our existing portfolio,” Labatt Breweries of Canada president Kyle Norrington said in a press release.
Goodridge & Williams’ portfolio of spirits labels includes Tempo Craft Gin, Bitterhouse Aperitifs, Goodridge & Williams Canadian Whisky, Highball Canadian Whisky Soda and Sid The Handcrafted Vodka. In a press release, Labatt said each of those offerings has a complementary ready-to-drink canned cocktail offering.
“Their innovation and expertise in this segment, along with Labatt’s experience and resources will form the foundation for a strategic partnership that we are confident will take the business to the next level in Canada,” Norrington added in the release.
Although the RTD cocktail category has grown in Canada, beer has not. Total beer sales declined 0.3%, to 22.1 million hectoliters (nearly 18 million barrels), in 2018, according to trade group Beer Canada. The organization also noted that beer consumption from 2017 to 2018 declined 1.2%.
In 2019, A-B InBev reported single digit declines to its top-line business in each of the first three quarters of the year (A-B reports Q4 and full-year earnings on February 27), which the company attributed to “a weak beer industry” in the country.
The move to acquire a company with a fast-growing vodka soda brand comes as U.S. beer companies have also embraced beer alternatives, including hard seltzer, which topped $1.5 billion in off-premise sales in 2019, according to Nielsen data. In an effort to capture vodka soda occasions, Boston Beer Company launched a flavorless Truly hard seltzer nationwide on draft last year, which other hard seltzer makers have yet to do nationally.
Among Labatt’s goals for Goodridge & Williams’ brands is to expand distribution across the country. Goodridge & Williams founder Paul Meehan will remain with the company, and lead a team focused on innovation and marketing.
In the U.S., Labatt offerings are sold by FIFCO USA. The U.S. Department of Justice mandated the sale of Labatt’s U.S. division as part of the 2008 merger of InBev and Anheuser-Busch.