- March
Posted By : Rochelle Fainstein
Malternatives: Contender or Surrender?

The sun is beginning to peak out and just on the horizon, might we finally see a category contender this summer in Flavored Malt Beverages or “Malternatives”?

First some history on our Fighter:

Malternatives are a ready-to-drink beverage that start out as basically beer without the hops, and are usually distilled until most of the malt and alcohol has been removed. Then sugars, flavorings and alcohols such as vodka are added into the mix. Unlike traditional Malt Liquors, malternatives are brightly colored and most often incorporate fruit juices, making them more appealing to the palette and much more easily consumed. They typically contain 4%-7% alcohol and therefore can be legally sold wherever beer is sold. However, as a result of the bright coloring and sugary sweetness, there has been some protest to the sale of these beverages because of the appeal to minors.

Globally, malternatives have been consistently popular with the youngest segment of legal-aged drinkers, but they’ve never really gained much ground in the US, often made the butt of jokes for being a ‘girly drink’ in entertainment media. One wonders what it will take for this category to finally strike a poignant chord with consumers.

Major parent companies of malternative beverages include: Anheuser-Busch Inc, Arizona Beverage Company, Bacardi USA, Brown-Forman Corporation, Molson Coors Brewing Company, Cruzan Rum Distillery, Diageo Plc, Labatt Breweries, SABMiller plc, Miller Brewing Co and The Lion Brewery, Inc.


(the one that started it all)


(the stalwart)


(the new kid)

So what are the odds?

Certainly the major trend in the US, and globally, toward healthier living does not bode well for the high sugar levels found in malternatives, and this is a trend we only expect to grow. There are some rumblings, however that some brand leaders in this category are catching on to trend and may come out with healthier versions of the drinks, which could very well bump their category busting potential– finally.

In the past, malternatives did well to hit their target on the mark by emphasizing the premium-ness of the product with glass bottles, sophisticated labeling and a high price-point, suppliers have established these gem-colored beverages as somewhat of a status symbol in dance clubs and lounges. However, as attitudes change and a more socially-conscious “we’re in this together” vibe takes a stronger hold on consumer mindset, will a status-setting bottle have any sticking power?

A Winning Mindset

These products would do well to not be marketed through the same mass-market channels as the indirect competitors such as beer and hard liquors. Much like craft beers, these beverages can be custom tailored in taste, visual appeal and by benefits to niche consumer groups. Specialized drinkers become very beverage-loyal when a brand aligns itself more personally.

Additionally, malternatives could really strike a chord with a more mission-minded consumer by emphasizing sustainable packaging (glass bottles) and aligning event marketing strategies with social causes.

Ultimately, any alcoholic brand ought to resonate with an adult audience for real sales, and these brands have got to stand for more than status if they are ever to find their legs.

Rochelle Fainstein

Sterling Brands


Leave a Reply