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Sonic partners with COOP on hard seltzers

Sonic Drive-In and COOP Ale Works of Oklahoma City have collaborated on a line of hard seltzers due May 1. [Photo Provided]
Sonic Drive-In and COOP Ale Works of Oklahoma City have collaborated on a line of hard seltzers due May 1. [Photo Provided]

Sonic Drive-Ins unfurled a bundle of news on Tuesday afternoon, including a new look for all drive-ins going forward and a partnership with local craft brewery COOP Ale Works for a line of hard seltzers.

Headquartered in Bricktown, Sonic is now under the Inspire Brands umbrella, which includes Arby’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins. Corporate chef Scott Uehlein said he and his product innovation team, who developed new beverages and burgers for 2021, have seen little change under new ownership.

“Our outlook has not changed,” Uehlein said. “Our flavors haven’t changed.”

Perhaps new ownership’s boldest move is Sonic’s first foray into the hooch game, and COOP Ale Works president Sean Mossman couldn’t be happier.

“The collaboration with Scott and the innovation team has been really best-in-class, and we're excited to be working together,” Mossman said. “The collaboration to this point has been very beneficial, I think for both sides, but especially on our side.”

COOP, founded in 2008, launched a Cherry Lime hard seltzer last year that developed a strong enough audience to inspire Mossman to call.

“We reached out to Sonic to see if there was an opportunity to collaborate on more Sonic-inspired flavors.” Mossman said. “Quite frankly, it was a pretty easy conversation. Sonic was a pretty quick buy-in on all levels.”

COOP will handle initial production and monitor the market for growth potential. Should the need for secondary production support arise, Mossman said COOP will find it.

“We're going to see how consumers respond to the product,” he said. "We have high hopes, a lot of expectations, and we're pretty confident that it's going to be a major player in the hard seltzer space.”

Forbes reported last October that hard seltzer brands White Claw, Truly and Bon & Viv outsold the top six beer brands combined and are part of a market projected to grow from a value of $4.5 billion last year to $14.5 billion by 2027.

The new Sonic-COOP flavors include Tropical, Citrus, Cherry Limeade, Ocean Water, Orange Pineapple, Mango Guava, Melon Medley, Classic Lemonade, Lemon Berry and Original Limeade. The 12-packs will be sold in a variety of combinations, which Uehlein described as “not super dry, but super crisp.”

“I'm excited about the balance of flavors, I'm excited about how we've layered flavors in them, and I’m excited about that nice crisp finish that is different than other hard seltzers that are out there,” he said.

Lori Abou Habib, Sonic’s chief marketing officer, said COOP’s query about a high-octane collaboration was neither the first nor last request of its kind Sonic has considered. She said the timing wasn’t right before and Sonic is feeling really good about the partnership with COOP so it hasn’t considered more recent pitches.

The adult-only Sonic drinks won’t be available at drive-ins, but selected retailers will have it on shelves May 1 statewide. Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and Nebraska will also have them. Kansas City and Columbia, Mo., will participate in the Show-Me state.

For the drive-ins this year, Uehlein’s team has added Butter and Bacon Jam as cheeseburger options. Banana Pudding as a shake flavor, a splash in the boba pool called Bursting Bubbles, and Blasts with cheesecake or Oreo cookie dough.

If any of new items stick to the menu long term, they’ll be served in drive-ins inspired by what Sonic aspires to be.

“Oasis,” said Abou Habib said. “That was the word we kept coming back to for the prototype. That feeling of oasis whether you pick up your food or take a minute to indulge in a little me-time or with your best friend or your parent. It was critically important that we were able to deliver that feeling.”

The prototype for all Sonics to come was built in Tahlequah last summer. The exterior is painted red and blue with yellow highlights, paying homage to Sonic’s signature beverages and topped with a cherry. It also includes a drive-thru window and patio with tables for more dining choices.

All new construction will follow the layout and color schemes. Abou Habib said retrofits for established drive-ins are also in the offing.