Sapsucker tries to take root in a booming RTD market

The sparkling water brand is riding strong feedback for use as a mixer and mocktail into a new category.


“What better way to make a big launch than right during sap season?”

That’s what Tim Lute, CEO of Sapsucker is asking, as the beverage brand is launching an RTD right around when maple trees are tapped.

The ready-to-drink alcohol segment is an increasingly competitive and “hard” market to crack, but sparkling tree water beverage brand Sapsucker is hoping to do just that.

The first-in-its-category, non-alcoholic sparkling water beverage sourced from maple trees launched last summer, in specialty stores like Whole Foods and Pusateri’s, and rolled out nationally to Loblaw in November. And now it’s launching lime vodka-flavoured Sapsucker Hard into the LCBO.

“This is a real pilot for us,” Lute says. “We’re not going national, it’s LCBO only, and it’s one SKU.”

When the nonalcoholic product hit store shelves, Lute says consumer insights revealed it worked well as a highball with vodka or gin. It capitalized on that with a campaign called “Big Night In,” giving consumers ideas for cocktails and mocktails to enjoy from home as the pandemic began.

Response to that campaign spurred entry in a segment that has continued to grow, but Lute points out that Sapsucker is relevant to other consumer trends.

“I think that there is a trend toward moderation as well, and more low-alcohol products are in demand,” he says, referencing Sapsucker Hard’s 4% ABV. He adds that Sapsucker Hard’s differentiator in the space is being non-GMO, and fully organic. The “local” aspect, tapped in Ontario and proudly Canadian, is something that consumers at the LCBO are particularly interested in.

He says it will lean heavily into its unexpected refreshment and sustainability messaging and being a brand that’s designed with purpose and sustainably harvested from maple trees, to stand out in what he calls “a sea of vanilla” that is RTD.

“I mean, the tree is our product. And so, once again, we see this as an opportunity to be disruptive in this space,” Lute says.

According to Lute, when it comes to shopper marketing, it’s investing in a tray, which acts as a sort of merchandising unit because it doesn’t have the same luxury to have sort of proprietary point of sale on the shelf, like in conventional retail.


For Sapsucker Hard, the first SKU will be in a white can, differentiating it from the non alcoholic Sapsucker beverage portfolio of pastel light yellows and blues, along with the can branding “the lime vodka one,” in prominent font.

“Imagine all of these products in your fridge, you definitely want to, you know, be grabbing the right one,” Lute says.

He tells strategy it’s invested a lot in packaging design and visual identity for the nonalcoholic portfolio, and didn’t want to deviate too far from its origins for the RTD.

Down the road, Lute says, it may consider a four-pack, but for the time being, it’s in a 24-pack conventional 355 ml can, like its nonalcoholic cousin.

Lute says Sapsucker Hard is aimed at a younger audience, leaning a bit more female, a segment which puts a value on living well that is looking for organic better-for-you.

“A lot of consumers are looking for that little hint of sweetness and ours comes from a natural source,” Lute says.

As far as traditional liquid-to-lips sampling, which has been largely off the table for most brands over the last year, it’s hoping for something late summer, if the vaccine rollout continues at its current rate. He also says the brand is thinking about using its alcoholic portfolio creatively, like it did by offering vouchers for its water line at a Muskoka wakeboarding school, but limitations around alcohol need to be considered.

Vanderbrand handled package design and visual identity, Gravity the brand strategy and positioning, Venture Communications the creative production, media and PR and Westside Studios the photography.