You’d be forgiven for missing the link between hard seltzer and big beer brands. But big beer has been having quite the identity crisis over the last decade or so and nowhere have we seen more evidence of this than the new product releases hitting the shelves in the US.
While some, Budweiser for example, have given in to the trends which craft have brought to market – by releasing their limited edition beer for the anniversary of the moon landing last April or its new “reserve copper lager” which they’ve plastered Charlize Theron’s face all over. Others have changed their beer altogether from tasting like cat piss (Carlsberg’s words not mine) to a lager… sorry pilsner that is potentially actually palatable.
These moves were bound to come. Big beer knew drinkers weren’t going to stand for the same four options of ice-cold lager that all tasted exceptionally similar for much longer. I expected to start seeing Miller’s take on an IPA at some point or Rolling Rock’s Red Ale. But of all the roads to go down, this is one I didn’t see coming.
Hard Seltzers: Why You Should Care
The hard seltzer market boomed in 2018. Big time. It’s dollar sales growing in triple-digit figures throughout the year. And 2019 shows no signs of stopping, with hard seltzers officially outselling light beer in the month of July. With its viral popularity giving big beer the chance to draw female consumers away from the wine & spirits category, this creation holds a startling amount of potential.
Boston Beer (Sam Adam’s) happens to be the second-largest craft brewer in the world, a small craft beer fact for you there. But since launching their Truly hard seltzer brand in April of 2016 they’ve seen some serious changes, mainly that they now sell more hard seltzer than they do beer.
“We tripled the brand last year. We’re investing a lot. It’s that much of a change. It’s sort of a gold rush right now. Everybody’s trying to get as much shares as they can.”
David Burwick CEO of Boston Beer
Goldrush is right. Pabst Blue Ribbon, Corona, Bud Light and Natural light are all launching or have launched into the hard seltzer market as of this writing.
Lite beers see their sales come from pre-games, BBQs, house parties, hiking/camping with friends. You could argue that this lite beer-drinking occasion just didn’t have a counterpart. Something similar for people who don’t like beer. Canned wine and cocktails tend to be high abv, not great for a “sessionable” drink in the sun. So, are we just seeing the rise of hard seltzer as the buying power of an untapped market here?
‘We believe that seltzers are here to stay and will, therefore, accelerate the volume shift into the category from the low end to the high end where we are the market share leader,”
Constellation Brands CEO Bill Newland
The thought that there’s finally an option that’ll fit in the cooler, which you can consume a few cans of without falling on your arse is a huge part of it.
But as we are starting to witness across the board Millennials and GenZ consumers are actively seeking healthy alternatives to traditional food and drink options. So increasing health concerns and awareness has surely been a major driver to the category’s success.
Reduction in both sugar and alcohol intake have provided ample innovation opportunities in the RTD alcohol market. Lower ABV, calories, and sugar content place hard seltzers in a prime position to attract the younger group of consumers.
Corona’s “not a carb in sight” marketing line highlights the data they’ve surely found here.
Just like electronic dance music the invention of the computer, is this just a case of the Americans claiming to reinvent something, and doing a worse job? That “something” I’m referring to is of course, the alcopop.
But isn’t a hard seltzer just the new alcopop? Well, while alcopops (the “in” drink of the 90s) were typically drunk to get drunk and filled with artificial flavourings to hide the taste of alcohol…
…these seltzers are of a different breed and seem to be playing off the question, what’s the healthiest way to get drunk?
Where we used to see branding on alcopops using the highest brightness of colour on the spectrum that clashed with the even more terrifying brightness of the liquid inside, we’re now seeing cans covered in fruit that could be mistaken for a post-yoga refreshment. Just another juxtaposition of the change in our society’s youth?
So there’s a hard seltzer wave ready to sweep the States. But what are the chances of that wave coming across the Atlantic?
Are Hard Seltzers Actually Coming To The UK?
Probably quite high, however, like most US imports besides the Big Mac it isn’t likely to come over in its current form.
In the UK we quite simply don’t have the same drinking occasions as it’s currently marketed for in the US: the beach, the all-day BBQ, the 7 hour long sports games in the baking heat. We also don’t use the words hard or seltzer and the other adjective sometimes used in this category: spiked. Any brand aiming to launch a “spiked” drink in the UK is not off to a good start.
So, is there a hard seltzer market in the UK? Yes. Is it the same market as the US? No.
Health conscious or should I say “scared of the word: carbs” students and 20 somethings will likely stock up on cans for house parties but besides that, UK hard seltzer… sorry… alcoholic soda? Is that what we’d call it? Will need its own, very UK occasion.
Whether that’s in a Fever-Tree style bottle served at Wimbledon or on the gun at your local Wetherspoons (now there’s an idea), there’ll likely be no piggybacking, the UK entity will need to do its own work to establish itself.
It seems big beer has finally found how to serve the Millennial / GenZ non-beer drinkers en mass in the US. Only time will tell, but my thinking is a lot more cash will flow, and plenty more releases will come before this gold rush is over.
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