Hard seltzer is the biggest beverage alcohol growth catalyst in decades. Its accelerating high growth trajectory is taking share from other categories and leaving others in the dust. Sales are skyrocketing thanks to their sleek packaging, low calories, and expanded availability. “Consumers are looking for low sugar, carbs and calories,” says Amy Gutierrez, beer and beverage category manager at BevMo, which has nearly 170 stores in California, Washington, and Arizona. “Plus they mix well with spirits.”
Beverage alcohol retailers nationwide are making space for hard seltzers in their coolers and on their sales floors. “I have four shelves of hard seltzers in one of my coolers in my main store,” says Andrew Mendez, vice president of operations at Mendez Fuel, a gas station convenience store chain with four locations in Miami. “That’s a hard spot to get into. We only had one shelf for hard seltzer last year.”
Growth More Than Doubling
Variety 12-packs of 12-ounce cans are the primary sales drivers of the hard seltzer category. Led by the brands White Claw, Truly, and Bud Light (all three $20 a 12-pack), sales have more than doubled at Mendez Fuels so far this year. “Whoever wants to start getting into the hard seltzer game has to do a mixed 12-pack,” Mendez says.
The segment, which surpassed $1 billion in sales last year, is currently racing toward $3 billion, having already reached $2.7 billion for the 52-week period ended June 13, according to Nielsen. Hard seltzers started the summer with sizzling growth—and that momentum continues. “I have been buying and selling it non-stop,” Mendez says.
Led by White Claw from Mark Anthony Brands—maker of Mike’s Hard Lemonade—and Truly from Boston Beer Co., the category gained a publicity boost with the launch of Bud Light hard seltzer last November (and the brand’s Super Bowl commercials in February). Anheuser-Busch InBev also has Bon & Viv ($17 a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans) and Natural Light ($13) hard seltzers. Constellation Brands launched Corona hard seltzer ($17) with a $40 million marketing investment this spring. “Our top brands continue to sell well, but Bud Light, Corona and Kona ($17) are gaining share,” Gutierrez says.
Some producers, meanwhile, scramble to meet demand. Boston Beer, for one, has increased use of expensive third-party brewers to produce Truly to meet unexpected demand. Powerful sales of Truly have helped Boston Beer offset declining sales of Sam Adams Lager and Angry Orchard.
Expanding Flavor Profiles
The segment is also growing via grassroots efforts with local craft offerings nationwide. Touting flavors like juicy blood orange, tropical mango guava, key lime cherry, and pink grapefruit, Oakland Park, Florida’s Funky Buddha hard seltzer ($22 a 12-pack) sells quite well at Mendez Fuels. “They didn’t expect to do this well in the market,” Mendez says. “They are finally good with supply. Funky Buddha looks like it is here to stay.”
The hard seltzer has proved that it’s not just a summer phenomenon. Producers are doing what they can to continue momentum and capitalize on seasonal trends; Covington, Kentucky-based Vive hard seltzer, for instance, launched a pumpkin spiced offering in mid-August ($10 a 6-pack). With expansions and new flavors coming from all different directions, hard seltzer is poised to sustain its effervescent growth into the foreseeable future.