After the 2019 hard seltzer boom, beverage market trends indicated that the ready-to-drink (RTD) market would remain evergreen. But by late 2022, demand waned. Sales declined by 5.5% as customers flocked to bars and restaurants instead of supermarkets for cocktails. But one 20-year industry veteran noticed an interesting trend.
“After examining the market, we saw the popularity of hard seltzers was declining with one exception, ” said Brandon Cason, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based CANTEEN Spirits. “Interest in Mexican-inspired cocktails like margaritas and agua frescas is growing rapidly. Expanding from spirit-based RTDs into the hard seltzer realm was a natural evolution for CANTEEN.”
Dubbed the Cantina Margarita and launched in Texas in February 2023, CANTEEN’s new hard seltzer is available in three flavors — original, strawberry, and mango. Each 12-oz can contains only 110 calories, 1 gram of sugar, and 1 gram net carbs and is brewed at 6% alc/vol, higher than big brand hard seltzers. Unlike their previous lines, the Cantina Margarita is made with alcohol produced from cane sugar, a departure from the company’s spirit-based model.
“You always have to start small with a new brand,” says Cason, who has earned a reputation for turning new brands into household names. As one of the first employees and vice president of marketing at Deep Eddy Vodka, he led the company to become one of the fastest growing spirits companies in the United States.
He left in 2017 and went on to co-found Waterloo Sparkling Water, which became one of best-known brands in the sparkling water category with Cason as CMO. Following his early success, he decided to independently launch his own brand of ready-to-drink beverages. He debuted CANTEEN Spirits in 2019 with a flavor-focused line of ready-to-drink vodka sodas. Soon after, the company released two additional lines of spirit-based cocktails — a collection of gin spritzes and a collection of tequila sodas.
“My love of vodka sodas and experience building brands in both the vodka and sparkling beverage space helped me realize that there was a market opportunity to offer a healthy alternative to sugary RTD cocktails and hard seltzers,” Cason said. CANTEEN is an evolution of his work in the ready-to-drink industry, with a dedication to independent operation and production.
Instead of letting the slowed growth of the seltzer category deter him, he researched industry trends – and found an interesting growth opportunity. While most sub-categories of hard seltzer drinks were shrinking, there was one group that was on the rise: Mexican-inspired, cocktail-esque hard seltzers. He bootstrapped CANTEEN with a shrewd eye for market opportunity and beverage trends — and his commitment to research paid off.
He bootstrapped CANTEEN with a shrewd eye for market opportunity and beverage trends — and his commitment to research paid off. After garnering a fanbase with the four original lines of spirit-based beverages, supplemented partly by placements in some of the biggest supermarket chains in the US, he turned his eye to the hard seltzer market and zeroed in on Mexican-inspired drinks like the new margarita-style hard seltzer.
“Our success has come from our ability to catch onto trends early on – before our competitors even think to act,” Cason said. “That’s how the Cantina Margarita was born.”