Social Lite Vodka continues to innovate

Five years in, chief growth officer Neetu Godara reflects on driving growth in RTD with new products and a grassroots campaign.

Social Lite

By Neetu Godara

I often reflect on our first company meetings at what became Social Lite, in the kitchen tasting recipes for our yet-to-be-named vodka soda drinks.

Vodka sodas had soared in popularity with our friends and at bars across the country because it had no sugar, no carbs and it didn’t give you a sugar headache the next day. However, if you wanted a convenient pre-mixed drink, everything on the market was sugar-laden, artificial and had zero appeal to health-conscious consumers.

It felt like nearly every food and beverage category had been disrupted with better-for-you innovation, but the ready-to-drink (RTD) sector was still reminiscent of the ’90s when sugar was in its heyday.

We knew we wouldn’t be the only Canadians who would welcome vodka soda beverages with simple ingredients and no sugar. So in 2014, we launched the first unsweetened RTD in North America, made with a clean ingredient list of vodka, soda and natural flavours, clearly laid out on our transparent packaging.

At its core, this is the secret behind Social Lite’s rapid growth and success. We had a real consumer insight, and a product that filled a gap in the marketplace. Consumers wanted the convenience of a pre-mixed drink that fit their healthy and social lifestyle.

We struck a chord. It was an instant hit tapping into something Canadians were waiting on for so long.

Five years later, Social Lite is one of the fastest-growing RTD brands in the country. Last year, the brand grew by 234% in a category that saw an uptick of around 30% nationally, becoming the fastest-growing brand at the LCBO.

As we look at the business today, we know our continued success requires a laser focus on our fans. Social Lite appeals to a wide fan base that ranges in age and gender, but shares a common thread of wanting to be social and fun, and still wanting to make better choices that support their lifestyle and goals. We see our target along psychographic lines – more of a mindset than an age – with a mix of men and women who are pursuing healthier choices in all aspects of their lives.

To connect with that audience, we launched a summer campaign this year that highlights that Social Lite Vodka has “Nothing to Confess.” The concept plays on the fact that our product has nothing to hide – it’s a choice Canadians can feel good about making. The campaign kicked off in April, supported by TV, OOH, digital, social and an extensive grassroots marketing campaign. As part of the effort, we signed a long-term partnership agreement to become the official RTD of Vancouver Pride. This partnership is a great fit for our brand; Pride is about celebrating who you are, openly and with pride – a perfect great tie back to our “nothing to confess” message.

As for product innovation, in 2019 we launched Field Strawberry Vodka Soda. Twelve weeks into launch at the LCBO, it has become our best-selling flavour. This is a reflection of the time and effort we put into handcrafting the recipes. Each flavour we put into market takes a year to develop from start to finish. We also recognized an opportunity to build the portfolio beyond vodka soda and expand into tea, as it’s a hugely popular and growing beverage choice among Canadians, and spiked iced tea has represented almost a third of the RTD category for years.

With this insight, we expanded our line of unsweetened spiked iced teas in April of this year, becoming the first to launch an unsweetened spiked iced tea made with real black tea, vodka and 100% natural flavour. This added to our existing line, including the Lemon and Peach flavours, now sold in six provinces across the country.

What’s next?

Since our launch, over 20 brands have begun to sell unsweetened vodka sodas in Canada. In fact, one in every 10 cans sold in the RTD category is now a vodka soda, and the newly created better-for-you category is showing no signs of slowing down. It’s amazing given this category didn’t exist when we started five years ago.

We take a great deal of pride in having created a new sub-category in RTDs and being a catalyst for more companies to offer no sugar options for consumers to choose from. Our plan to continue our leadership position in this category will require staying true to our initial vision of bringing Canadians drinks that let them be social and live lite.

NeetuNeetu is the co-founder and chief growth officer of Social Lite Vodka.