The Summer of Hard Seltzer

There is little question that the new and exciting beverage to try in summer 2019 was hard seltzer—by a long shot. While the beverage has been around in certain iterations for some time, the effervescent canned booze has reached incredible popularity with consumers from many different backgrounds.

The hard seltzer craze has already left its mark in multiple parts of our society. This year Denver, CO played host to the first hard seltzer contest and festival, Fizz Fight, where hard seltzer brands, both large and small, vied to be judged the best. Sports teams have also been getting in on the action: Kentucky’s Braxton Brewing Company has become the official seltzer for teams in the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLS.

The undoubted front-runner in the hard seltzer revolution has been White Claw. The brand has seen such popularity that it spawned viral internet memes. White Claw made up over 50% of all hard seltzer sales this year. Point in fact, over the summer there was a national shortage of the beverage with the brand unable to keep up with the surge in demand.

The explosive and unexpected growth of hard seltzers begs the question of how we got here? What precipitated this hard seltzer boom? Changing consumer drinking behaviors have played a large part in the beverage’s success. Health concerns have certainly played a large role in this beverage’s success, but hard seltzers have also been able to unify consumers in an uncanny way.

Hard seltzer has been able to bridge the perceived gender gap in alcohol consumption. The stereotype has long been that men drink beer and women drink wine—but hard seltzers, in general, have transcended this status quo. While carbonated non-beer alcohols have been in the market for years, there has not been a beverage of this sort that has been embraced so wholeheartedly by both genders.

However, the crux of hard seltzer’s success seems to be consumers’ willingness to qualify the beverage as a healthier option. The beverage is lower in sugars and carbohydrates than beer, making it a comparatively healthy choice. Whether for the sake of vanity or authentic health concerns, hard seltzers are being perceived by a wide swath of consumers as a valid option should they decide to indulge in alcohol.

So where does this leave traditional beers?

Many beer brands, including Natural Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon for example, are beginning to jump into the hard seltzer game. Other beer brands are looking to low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers as a way to capture new interest. Consumers are more health conscious, consuming less alcohol, but often are still looking for a “near-beer” experience.

Brewing behemoth MillerCoors is reportedly planning a launch of its new non-alcoholic beer named Coors Edge, which will offer the lowest calories and carbs in its class. They also plan to relaunch their 2.8% ABV Miller64, which will be marketed as a “extra light beer.”

Anheuser-Busch, looking to capitalize on this near-beer trend, also plans to unveil a non-alcoholic beer. Budweiser Zero is a non-alcoholic beer that contains zero sugar, yet Anheuser-Busch attests that it retains the same unique “Budweiser taste.” The company expects that by 2025 its low or no-alcohol beers will make up one fifth of total sales.

Consumers are looking for accessible health in more aspects of their lives. Many brands are making it possible for consumers to have an analogue of a traditional alcoholic beverage, whether they want some alcohol or none. As younger generations continue to age and retain their health-conscious traits, the market for these substitutes will only continue to grow.