Why a beer-flavored margarita found a place in customers’ hearts


The Lime-a-Rita was designed to be more portable and convenient than a traditional margarita. (Anheuser-Busch)

The birth of Bud Light Lime-a Ritas started with curiosity. In parts of Asia, pouring beer over ice is common. Pat McGauley, vice president of innovation at Anheuser-Busch, wondered if his company could tap into the trend. He’s paid to help the company grow by delivering new products to consumers.

So McGauley whipped up some prototypes to see what people thought of beer served on ice. The reaction? “Yuck, you’re messing too much with my beer,” McGauley recalled. It was time for a new plan. How about some sort of margarita that could be served on ice?

That led McGauley to the Lime-a-Rita and a handful of related drinks, which have generated over $500 million in sales in two years since they launched. Nielsen has studied over 17,000 products since 2008, and named a new batch of winners in its Breakthrough Innovations Report, which was published this month. Here’s what helped Lime-a-Ritas make the list:

No fear of failure.

Anheuser-Busch tried selling a margarita mix previously. It wasn’t different enough from other offerings on the market, and never caught on. That attempt didn’t stop Anheuser-Busch from taking another stab at margaritas.

Create a new ritual and experience.

Anheuscher-Busch thought it could expand the situations in which people drink margaritas. The Lime-a-Rita was designed to be more portable, convenient and casual than a traditional margarita. Someone drinking a Lime-a-Rita can enjoy it straight from the can, or pour it over ice in a glass. There’s no need to lug around tequila, limes and a margarita mix.

“People weren’t drinking margaritas at tailgate or just casually when people are coming over,” McGauley said. “We took the best of both worlds, what was good in pre-mixed drinks and what was good in beer and brought those two together.” He said that 60 to 70 percent of those who drink a Lime-a-Rita do so over ice.

Embrace the co-ed element.

According to Anheuscher-Busch, 50 percent of Lime-a-Rita drinkers are female, which is more than for traditional beers.

“We wanted something that brought male and females together. The margarita brought females to our proposition. The Bud Light name kept males in the proposition. That combination is what’s driving that success, the co-ed element,” McGauley said.

Pick the perfect size for the can.

Anheuser-Busch tried out different size cans, ranging from six to 14 ounces, before deciding that eight ounces was just right to go with the drink’s 8 percent of alcohol content.

McGauley intentionally stayed away from the traditional 12-ounce can, in order to establish a unique identify for the product. After seeing how the margarita mix failed by blending in, McGauley didn’t want Lime-a-Ritas to resemble the malt beverages or beers that come in 12-ounce sizes. The only way the drink was made to take after other beverages was its price, which is comparable to 12-ounce beers such as Bud Light Lime.

Since introducing the Lime-a-Rita in 2012, Anheuser-Busch now has four base varieties, including strawberry, mango and raspberry. It plans to launch an apple variety in the fall, and cranberry in the winter. Don’t expect it to disrupt the high-end margarita market, but it’s definitely found a place.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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