Boulevard Brewing Enters RTD Canned Cocktail Space

Boulevard Brewing Company today announced the launch of a line of ready-to-drink (RTD) canned cocktails called Fling.

Speaking to Brewbound, Jeff Krum, president of Duvel Moortgat USA, which owns the Kansas City craft brewery, described the company’s foray into RTD cocktails as more of a “side hustle.” As such, the products are being marketed under the “Boulevard Beverage Company” banner, which Krum described as a subsidiary being guided by the company’s existing leadership teams.

Boulevard will officially launch Fling on March 28 during Opening Day of the Kansas City Royals’ season at Kauffman Stadium. Then, in early April, the company plans to expand distribution throughout the Midwest and to a handful of other states, including Florida, within its 41-state footprint.

After a year in development, Fling is Boulevard’s play in an emerging canned cocktail market. According to market research firm Nielsen, off-premise retail sales of prepared cocktails in cans grew more than 56 percent during the 52-week period ending January 26.

Sold in 4-packs, the new offerings have a suggested retail price of $12.99, and were formulated to be gluten-free. Each 12 oz. serving checks in at fewer than 200 calories and has under nine grams of carbohydrates. The brand will launch in four flavors with spirits sourced from three Kansas City area distilleries:

  • Blood Orange Vodka Soda (5 percent ABV), with McCormick Distilling Company’s 360 Vodka
  • Cucumber Lime Gin and Tonic (7 percent ABV), with Restless Spirits’ Builders Botanical Gin
  • Margarita (7.5 percent ABV), with Mean Mule Distilling’s Silver American Agave Spirit
  • Mai Tai (8 percent ABV), with imported rum from the Virgin Islands.

According to Krum, Boulevard will initially focus on securing placements at off-premise retail and venue-based accounts, such as stadiums, arenas, golf courses and swimming pools.

The introduction of Fling comes a week after Anheuser-Busch InBev announced the acquisition of San Diego-based Cutwater Spirits — the craft distilling venture founded by former Ballast Point Brewing executives. That company makes 14 different RTD canned cocktails, which are sold in 34 states.

Following the Cutwater acquisition, many of Boulevard’s wholesalers from outside of the Midwest began expressing increased interest in the new Fling offerings, Krum said.

For her part, Boulevard vice president of marketing Natalie Gershon said demand is exceeding initial production.

Whether Boulevard’s flirt with Fling develops into a long-term relationship remains to be seen, however. Krum said the future of the product line will be determined by consumer demand and repeat orders.

“We’re not betting the farm or anything close to it on this,” he said. “It’s not something we have to have, so we’re not prescribing we must do X number of cases or Y revenue.

“It’s more like, ‘Let’s put it out there and see how it hunts, see what the reaction is,’” he added.

Nevertheless, Krum is “optimistic” about Fling’s potential to create new occasions with Boulevard consumers. Gershon added that Fling would be sold in areas of retail stores beyond the beer aisle.

“One of the reasons that we’re so excited about it is [that] it’s incremental,” Krum said.

Fling won’t be Boulevard’s last affair outside of beer, either. Although Krum declined to offer specifics, he said “nothing is off the table” when asked about functional beverages, non-alcoholic drinks and CBD- and THC-infused offerings. However, Gershon said the company isn’t likely to play in already saturated spaces, such as hard seltzer.

Despite the company’s growing interest in non-traditional beer products, Gershon and Krum stressed that Boulevard’s core business remains the priority. Like many established regional brewers, the 30-year-old craft brewery has struggled in recent years to find growth in an increasingly crowded category that now includes over 7,000 beer companies.

Last year, Boulevard’s volume declined by “single digits,” Krum said, adding that “revenue was better because we’re holding price.”

Boulevard’s challenges are linked to its flagship Unfiltered Wheat beer, which once accounted for more than half of its business and now makes up “about a third” of the company’s volume and “less by revenue,” Krum said. The struggles of Wheat, a gateway for many Midwest consumers to craft beer, are not dissimilar to other craft flagships, which have lost their footholds as thousands of breweries opened their doors and retailers expanded their tap lineups, setting off the “rotation nation” phenomenon.

In an effort to reverse Wheat’s trends, Gershon said Boulevard is in the process of a brand refresh, including new packaging.

“We’re giving it some love and a new identity, and hopefully bringing it back into a focal point for new drinkers,” she said.

However, Krum admitted the company is “not under any illusion” of returning the brand to “double-digit growth.”

“We feel good about the prospects for stabilizing that,” he added.

Another priority beer brand for 2019 is a new year-round IPA, Space Camper, which launched in December.

“That’s knocking it out of the park,” Krum said. “We can’t keep up with that.”

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