10 of the biggest Hard Seltzer brandsBy Lauren Eads
It’s the drinks category that has taken the US by storm, and now it’s about to hit UK shores. But what exactly is hard seltzer? And which brands dominate the category?
Hard seltzer is basically alcoholic, flavoured water. What that alcohol is made from can differ. In most cases the alcohol in “spiked” seltzer comes from fermented cane sugar, with the addition of flavours and carbonation, making many on the market gluten-free. Alcohol in a hard seltzer can also be produced from other grains, in which case it’s described as a “flavoured malt beverage”.
Canned and colourful, the hard seltzer is the alcopop’s more sophisticated sister, and suits not only those looking to reduce their alcohol intake, but also calories. Most hard seltzers are 4.5-7% ABV and are typically 100 calories a can or less.
“The rise of hard seltzers shows there was a segment of consumers underserved by the current beverage alcohol market who were looking for alternatives that were refreshing and flavourful, but also low-calorie and low-sugar,” said Brandy Rand, COO of the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
“These products also meet the growing consumer demand for convenience, and appeal to people that enjoy popular cocktails like the vodka soda, and wine spritzers. We definitely expect to see more brands taking advantage of this fast-growing trend.”
Sales in the hard seltzer category in the US off-trade hit $1.5 billion last year, while on-trade sales rose from 210 million in 2018 to $1.2 billion last year. Overall, the US hard seltzer market is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2021, with 2020 the year many big beer brands have chosen to take on the market, including Molson Coors, Corona and Budweiser.
Its rise has coincided with a general decline in consumption of wine in the US, after a long period of growth, creating a “perfect storm” and an opportunity for lower alcohol beverages such as hard seltzer, according to analysts at Wine Intelligence. The appeal of hard seltzer, it says, is being driven by the fact they are lower in alcohol and calories, combined with an increasingly health conscious market, and the fact they come packaged in “insta-friendly” and sustainable cans.
According to research published by the IWSR last year, over half of US alcohol consumers drink hard seltzers at least once a week, with analysts describing the rise of hard seltzer as “meteoric” and “phenomenal”. To put it into perspective, the current volume of hard seltzer produced in the US, says IWSR analysts, is currently about 82.5m nine-litre cases in the US – larger than vodka. That’s impressive, considering the category has really only taken off in the past few years, while vodka has been a stalwart for decades. Overall, hard seltzer and other “seltzer-like” products command a market share of 2.6% of all beverage alcohol in the US, up from only 0.85% a year ago.
The same IWSR report predicts that consumption of hard seltzer brands is expected to triple by 2023 to reach over 281m cases.
“Hard seltzers are far from a fad, they’re growing at a spectacular rate, and increasingly, hard seltzer producers are pulling consumers from other beverage alcohol categories, not just beer,” adds Rand. “Combined, hard seltzers and other canned seltzer-like products (vodka soda, as an example) will drive the total ready-to-drink category, making it the fastest-growing beverage alcohol category in the US over the next five years,”
So, it’s a category that demands attention. But which brands are currently dominating the US market?
Click through for a look at some of the biggest and fastest-growing Hard Seltzer brands in the US market right now.
For further in-depth analysis on the hard seltzer category click here.
(NB: Market share stats provided by Guggenheim Analysts for the 12 weeks ending March 21, 2020, where indicated, with estimates/sources given for others where known.)
10. San Juan
Brand owner: San Juan Seltzer Inc.
One of only three independent seltzer brands in our roundup, San Juan was founded by Kay Enger in 2017, with its ‘seltzery’ based in Seattle. The inspiration for the brand came to Enger while on a trip to her family’s holiday home in the San Juan islands. “That evening while sitting on the back deck, my girlfriends and I shared the beauty of the Pacific Northwest Islands while seeking to create fun, low calorie, sparkling cocktails,” she says.
The company now has a raft of products in its portfolio, which are typically aimed at a female demographic. Flavours include Raspberry-Crab, Huckleberry (a Blueberry-based expression) and Fuji apple. Other variants that are fusing the worlds of hard seltzer and wine include a peach rosé seltzer and dry rosé seltzer. The first blends peach flavourings with “mellow notes of Merlot wine”, while the latter is described as having a “honeysuckle aroma, reminiscent of its bone-dry Riesling inspiration”. San Juan seltzers carry a svelte 85 calories a can, boast a zero sugar and carb content and are 4.2% ABV.
Brand owner: Mother Earth Brewing
Another independent seltzer brand, Sercy is named after an old southern expression, ‘a sercy’, which refers to the “tradition of giving an unexpected gift that surprises and delights”.
The brand was launched in 2019 by Stephen Hill and Trent Mooring, the founders of Mother Earth Brewing in North Carolina, and prides itself on being 100% organic. Like many seltzers Sercy is gluten free and low calorie, at 100 calories a can, with a 5% ABV.
Flavours include Cucumber Lime, Orange Raspberry, Peach Lychee and Mixed Berry. Its aim has been to capture the health conscious crowd, pitching its release at “outdoor enthusiasts seeking peak performance”.
8. Vizzy Hard Seltzer
Brand owner: Molson Coors
Marking Molson Coors entry into the hard seltzer category is Vizzy Seltzer, launching this year. While competing in an increasingly crowded category, Vizzy will be the first seltzer to cite “Acerola” (a super fruit and antioxidant high in vitamin C) as an ingredient across all of its flavoured seltzers in an effort to differentiate itself from others. Flavours include Strawberry Kiwi, Blueberry Pomegranate, pineapple Mango and Black Cherry Lime.
However the brand has already run into trouble, with a rival company accusing it of trademark infringement. Future Proof Brands, the owner of Brizzy Hard Seltzer, has accused Molson Coors of trade off of its name for Vizzy, according to a lawsuit filed in February in a US District Court in Texas. In a blog post Brizzy wrote: “We pride ourselves on standing out and leading thought in spaces where tradition runs deep. Much to our surprise, Molson Coors conceded having reviewed our website and even acknowledged our Brizzy products were first to the market, but decided to use the confusingly-similar name Vizzy anyway. Molson Coors gave us no choice to oppose their plans to infringe on the Brizzy trademark.” A spokesperson for Molson has responded stating: “Vizzy’s packaging is markedly different and offers unique ingredients. We don’t believe consumers will be confused.” The case continues.
7. Corona Seltzer
Brand owner: Constellation Brands
US market share: 1.1%
Newly controversial given its now unfortunate name, Constellation’s Corona Seltzer launched this year, in what could be considered epically bad timing. Constellation however has persevered with its launch, pushing on with marketing campaign, and has already taken a 1.1% share of the US market, according to Guggenheim Analysts (12 weeks to March 21).
The brand has already drawn criticism however for an ad campaign to mark its launch stating that it’s new flavours would be “coming ashore” soon, in keeping with its beach-side summer messaging, which was deemed insensitive in the current coronavirus climate.
In response, a spokesperson for Corona, said that the advertisement was “consistent with the campaign we have been running for the last 30 years”.
Corona Hard Seltzer is gluten free, has 0g carbs, 0g sugar, 90 calories and comes in at 4.5%, with flavours including Tropical Lime, Cherry, Blackberry Lime and Mango.
6. Henry’s Hard Sparkling Water
Brand owner: MillerCoors
US market share: 2% (Estimated) as of January 25, according to Jeffries analysis
At just 4.2% ABV and 88 calories Henry’s Hard Sparkling water is one of the lightest seltzers on the market, and is partner to MillerCoors already established Henry’s Hard Soda, an alcopop which has a higher calorie count than its sparkling water version.
At the time of its launch, MillerCoors said its goal was to offer “the best possible hard sparkling water”. ”We heard from drinkers that calories and sugar matter most to them when choosing a hard sparkling beverage. So, we delivered the lowest in both so women and men can feel good, and have fun all at the same time,” said Josh Wexelbaum, MillerCoors senior marketing director of emerging brands. Flavours include Blueberry Lemon, Passionfruit Mango, Pineapple and Strawberry Kiwi.
5. Smirnoff Seltzer
Brand owner: Diageo
US market share: (Estimated) 4% as of January 25, according to Jeffries analysis
Launched in the same year as market leaders White Claw and Truly, Diageo’s hard seltzer takes the name of its top vodka brand, and is held under the same umbrella as Smirnoff Ice. While it has a similar flavour profile to the latter, its marketing is more orientated toward its lower calorie credentials. It’s described as a “premium malt beverage with flavourings”, packs just 90 calories per 12oz serving and comes in at 4.5% ABV.
Despite being early to the category it has tended to lag behind its biggest rivals. This year, the brand partnered with hit US dating show The Bachelor to become its official hard seltzer with the aim of pushing its new Smirnoff Seltzer Rosé variants, which come in raspberry, strawberry, white peach and pink apple flavours. The campaign carried the tagline, “Will You Accept This Rosé?” in reference to the show’s tradition of the bachelor giving a rose to his favoured love interests.
4. Bon & Viv
Brand owner: AB InBev
US market share: 7.4% (Estimated) as of August 2019, according to Nielsen/Wall Street Journal.)
Launched: 2013 (Spiked Seltzer), 2016 (rebranded as Bon & Viv)
The first incarnation of Bon & Viv was founded in 2013 by Nick Shields, who launched one of the very first hard seltzer brands, SpikedSeltzer. In 2016, Shields sold the brand to Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), and three years later the brewer relaunched the beverage as Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer. The ABV of the brand was quickly slashed from 6 to 4.5% along with its sugar content, cutting the calories to just 90 per 12oz can. Today, its flavours include Grapefruit, Pear Elderflower, Clementine Hibiscus and Lemon Lime.
The brand itself is based on two fictional founders, mermaids called Bonnie and Vivian (see packaging), and is also a reference to the phrase “bon vivant”. Early into the seltzer category, it was AB InBev that was responsible for the first and only (for now) hard seltzer brand to appear in an advert during the Super Bowl, in 2019. In it, Bonnie and Vivian are seen pitching their beverage to a group of investor “sharks”, which AB InBev has said was intended to represent its pitch of the brand to the American public.
3. Bud Light Seltzer
Brand owner: AB InBev
US market share: 9%
Another new kid on the block, AB InBev launched its Bud Light Seltzer in January 2020, investing $100m in the category, and already commands an impressive 9% share in the US, according to Guggenheim analysts.
Already the third biggest seltzer in the US, although still small by comparison, it’s sure to become a big player in the segment with the marketing clout to push it global. One can has 100 calories, 2g of carbs and 5% alcohol by volume and is available in four flavours: black cherry, lemon lime, strawberry and mango.
2. Truly Hard Seltzer
Brand owner: Boston Beer Company
US market share: 21.8%
Launched: 2016 (as Truly Spiked and Sparkling), 2019 (Truly Hard)
Coming in at second is Truly Hard Seltzer from the Boston Beer company, which also produces Samuel Adams beer, but despite its standing still only commands a relatively small 21.8% of the market. It’s very much aimed at a millennial, social media savvy demographic, promising to be the drinks alternative you have been looking for, recognising that cocktails are “too boozy”, wine “too bottled” and beer “too bloaty” on its website.
Each gluten-free can comes in at 100 calories and 5% ABV. Solidifying its position as a healthier alternative to other alcoholic beverages, Truly is the official hard seltzer of the National Hockey League, having announced a 5-year partnership with the NHL in 2019. Current flavours include Watermelon and Kiwi, Grapefruit and Pomelo and Pomegranate. Going further, last year Boston Beer announced it would be offering Truly on tap (as have Bon & Viv) as an unflavoured variant.
1. White Claw
Brand owner: Mark Anthony Brands
US market share: 58.6%
By far the biggest and most established seltzer brand in the US, White Claw dominates the market with a 58.6% share. Since its launch in 2016, the brand has achieved a phenomenal rise to prominence within the seltzer category, so much so that its nearest competitor lags far behind in terms of market share. In 2019, Americans drank $212.1m worth of White Claw in the six months to June 23, more than the entirety of 2018, when sales totalled $196.7, according to IRI sales data.
It’s officially classed as a flavoured malt beverage (as with Smirnoff Seltzer), made with “a blend of seltzer water, its gluten-free alcohol base, and a hint of fruit flavour”. The alcohol comes from fermented sugars derived from malted gluten-free grains.
Each can contains 100 calories and carries an ABV of 5%, with flavours including Black Cherry, Mango and Natural Lime. The brand also recently released a limited edition White Claw Pure Hard Seltzer called Pure, which doesn’t contain any fruit flavouring and is intended to be an alternative to vodka and soda.