As Coors announces the withdrawal of its Vibe malternative brand, there are growing signs that the category's meteoric rise may be followed by an equally spectacular fall. With the craze over, malternatives now need to carve out a lasting niche market - or suffer the same fate as their closest forebears, wine coolers, and collapse into obscurity.

Until very recently, malternatives were the hot product for US drinks producers. Coors' Vibe, described by Coors as a "wild cousin" to its existing Zima, was just one of dozens of new brands. Others include 'hard lemonades', plus spirits brand extensions such as Diageo's Smirnoff Ice, Anheuser Busch's Bacardi Silver and Skyy Blue, and Miller/Allied Domecq's Stolichnaya Citrona.

But there were always reservations. Critics pointed to wine coolers, the 1980s icon that has now largely disappeared from shelves. Like wine coolers, malternatives can suffer from a girlish image, high price and an overly sweet taste.

Indeed, malternatives now seem to be disappearing almost as quickly as they arrived. Vibe will be withdrawn after a few months' test marketing in eight markets. Just a few days earlier, Diageo pulled its disappointing Captain Morgan Gold. Meanwhile, Miller and Allied have cut back on their nationwide marketing campaigns for Stolichnaya Citrona and Sauza Diablo.

The demise of Vibe and Captain Morgan Gold is all the more significant, because Coors and Diageo have been leading malternative players. Zima, which launched in 1992 and is still on the market, was a malternative trailblazer; Smirnoff Ice is the market leader.

In fact, only those products that were quick to market and have a ready-made brand image appear to have any staying power. Aside from Smirnoff Ice, plus runners-up Bacardi Silver and Skyy Blue, the news has been almost all bad.

It appears that malternatives peaked startlingly quickly - so Vibe's late launch did it no favors. All that's left for malternative makers is to secure the place of the few successful brands, and look for the next new trend.

However, these trends seem to be coming and going faster than ever - and producers may be adding to the problem. While the vast marketing spend for new products can help create the market, it can also bring overexposure that quickly exhausts a category's appeal.

Related research: Datamonitor, "Going out" (DMCM0082)