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Long Read: Wave of Portonic RTDs to fortify Douro sales

Published:  06 May, 2021

The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP) has given Port producers the green light for the commercialisation of Port & Tonic RTDs, dubbed as 'Portonic' by the trade.

Following the introduction of the first rosé Port in 2008, the launch of Portonic is the latest innovation aimed at boosting category sales.

“The regulations are now in place, but this is a process that has taken three years to complete,” says Adrian Bridge, CEO of The Fladgate Partnership, who kicked off the Portonic dances this week with the release of Taylor’s Chip Dry & Tonic.

“The negotiations were initially done in private between our company and the regulators, but then we needed to involve all the different bodies and that’s when it became public domain and all of our competitors also got involved.”

Bridge highlights that the launch of the first rosé Port had been a comparatively easier process: “We tried to do this sort of thing before. In 2008 we were able to launch the rosé category by releasing Croft Pink [as a light-coloured ruby]. The IVDP’s actual creation of the rosé category came only 17 months later.”

To release a Port & Tonic RTD however, The Fladgate Partnership had to wait until the IVDP’s final sign off, “because the dilution of Port by addition of tonic puts it into a different category and thus required a change in regulations before the launch”.

By appealing to younger consumers, Portonic is for Port an open window to new segments of the market. The lower price point – most Portonics will retail for about £2 – means that there’s less risk involved for the consumers who are willing to give Port a try.

“We think it will serve as an introduction to the category, particularly for young consumers who have a tendency to seek out these RTD products,” says Bridge, hinting at the positive growth the RTD category has been experiencing of late.

According to the IWSR, the RTD category is growing in the UK, Australian, Brazilian and Canadian markets, among others. It’s also the fastest growing alcoholic beverage category in the US market, where volume consumption is expected to become larger than that of the entire spirits category. And with an average alcohol content of 5.5% abv (most expressions are a blend of one-third Port and two-thirds tonic water), Portonic is also entering the mindful drinking game.

With changing attitudes towards alcohol, Port is declining in sales and pricing,” says Albino Jorge of Quinta da Boeira, who is also about to launch his Portonic brand. “This innovation is necessary to attract young drinkers.”

Most of the products that will soon be available on the market will come in small, 250ml cans. The choice of packaging, says Bridge, appeals to younger consumers and at the same time ties in conveniently with The Fladgate Partnership’s green credentials. It’s light, hence more environmentally friendly to transport, and fully recyclable. “To do small serving glass bottles goes against that,” he says.

Sogrape-owned Offley is also planning to launch a Portonic in a can, which should reach international markets in the coming Summer.

Dubbed Clink Portonic, it’s a blend of tonic water with the recently launched Offley Clink Port, but based on a recipe that chief marketing & sales officer João Gomes da Silva says dates back to 2014. “We will begin with a presence in international markets, where popularity for this type of beverage has been growing, while keeping a close eye on opportunities in Portugal,” says da Silva.

For Quinta da Boeira however, the can format doesn’t suit the category. To premiumise his RTD expressions, Jorge will be packing his Boeira Porto Tónico in clear 250ml glass bottles instead: “Our presentation is different,” he says, “a can is too standard for us.”

Da Silva says that Sandeman is now developing its own Port & Tonic RTD, whose launch is planned for later this year. Meanwhile, according to Portuguese news site Dinheiro Vivo, a Cockburn’s Portonic will also be available in the UK in the summer and more Portonic brands are likely to jump on the bandwagon over the coming months.

With its lower-abv credentials and casual-drinking appeal, this new category has the potential to drive the whole Port category forward and offer fertile ground for further innovation.

“There are a number of Port styles that can be mixed with tonic and that are very different to white Port, so it’s logical to see that there is trial opportunity there,” says Bridge. “We’re likely to see those developments continue.”