The Hard seltzer revolution has arrived in the UK and we’ve put together a guide on what to expect from the USA’s fastest growing drinks trends and the impact it will have in the UK drinks market.
What are hard seltzers? For all the UK drinkers out there...
Strictly speaking, seltzers are essentially fizzy, sparkling water. I could go on and on about how beneficial they are, but let's be honest, this isn't a sales pitch and that isn't why you're here.
While regular seltzers are great, hard seltzer is where it's at. Think about the good part of seltzers (low-calorie, flexible, healthier) and combine that with some alcohol. Boom - hard seltzer!
Hard seltzers are essentially regular seltzers but with mild flavouring and alcohol in them. Now, let’s get one thing out of the way - it is not beer or vodka or G&T. Hard seltzer is a completely different beverage.
But don’t get too excited for seltzers yet. Like any good thing, they have their own cons. For starters, plain seltzers (without alcohol) are not the best if you have digestive issues, so we would advise you to steer clear if you suffer from digestive issues or high acidity. And as far as hard seltzers are concerned, anything with alcohol will never be perfectly healthy and we also find some can taste too fruity and sweet. So, if you are someone who prefers a stiffer drink (and one that does not taste too sweet), you might be better off taking a look at beers and ciders instead.
What are the ingredients in Hard Seltzers?
It is said that “beauty lies in simplicity” and seltzer is no exception. The best part of seltzer is just how simple and straightforward it is. It doesn’t have any harmful substances, preservatives, additives, or sugar. It is plain old water mixed with carbon dioxide. It is, in a way, the lovechild of water and carbon dioxide gas.
There are a few brands which produce some really great flavoured seltzer, too. But the basics remain the same - it is still zero calorie, made from sparkling water.
Hard seltzers aren’t zero calorie, but they are lower calorie than many other alcoholic alternatives that are available in the market today.
Hard Seltzer Growth in the USA
One of the most popular hard seltzers (or spiked seltzers as they call it), White Claw, recently outsold Budweiser! Yes, you read that right - a drink you probably have never heard about, produced by a brand you probably don’t know, outsold what is one of the USA's top beers. Hard seltzers are becoming c-r-a-z-y popular.
The simple reason this is happening is because they are seen as better alternatives. It’s supposedly healthier than other alcoholic beverages like vodka-soda, beer, wine, G&T, etc. It has a good flavour profile and it’s also quite light and refreshing.
What is interesting is that according to sales figures and demand levels, apparently the reason why White Claw couldn’t beat Budweiser by a broader margin is because of production constraints & supply. Think about this - if they could’ve produced more and supplied more places, sales could have grown even further! There are also several other brands entering the market, some with ABVs of upto 14%! Now that’s a seltzer with a punch, eh?
All things considered, hard seltzer (and seltzer in general) has pretty much blown up over the past year or two. Based on a lot of testing and study done by seltzer brands, it has shown that this is not just a fad and seltzer is definitely here to say.
Hard Seltzer effect on Craft Beer and Craft Cider
The problem is, all this growth comes at the expense of the beer, craft beer and cider industries. This is a matter of concern because craft beer and cider especially were gaining significant traction across demographics in the United States. While on the face of it there is little similarity between them (all three being low ABV beverages), they all taste completely different. And they’re produced in different ways. However, perhaps because of the novelty and health factor that is normally associated with hard seltzers, the other beverages are seeing a decline.
This decline is a problem for a lot of individual breweries and cideries that had plans to expand. And things are not particularly bright for some seltzer makers either, with other options such as low-ABV wine spritz which might eat into their market share.
So the real question is will beer and cider - beverages which have stood the test of time & markets so far - survive a “battle” against seltzers and other newer low-ABV drinks?
We think, seeing just how different their characteristics, taste, etc. are, that there may always be a possibility of ‘peaceful coexistence’. Think about it - if you’re in the mood for a nice, crisp cider, would you really opt for a lighter & fruitier hard seltzer? Sure, a cider may have a few more calories, but if it is a decision based on what you enjoy and are in the mood for drinking, then we're sure cider will continue to thrive!
What is fuelling the Hard Seltzer Growth?
For all you number-crunching folks out there, the hard seltzers grew to $585MM - 185% in dollar terms and 196% in terms of units moved. That’s insane. Especially when you consider that beer & cider sales grew at just 0.9%! In comparison, hard seltzers comprise just 1.40% of the total flavoured malt beverage market. That means that they’ve got a lot of potential further growth.
Economics aside, think about it from a consumer’s POV - hard seltzers solve two very crucial pain-points that generally can’t be tackled together. Sweetness and calories. Hard seltzers are a sweeter alternative to traditional beverages in this space and have lower calories than them. As a result, initially a huge chunk of younger people started hopping aboard the hard seltzer train. But as it turned out, older women were also enjoying this beverage since it’s a lower calorie alternative. As a result, your favourite White Claw and La Croix went from being a millennial and Gen-Z favourite to now being the preferred choice among an older crowd, too!
It gets worse if you look at how the sales for other low-ABV beverages have been stagnating. We discussed other new entrants such as wine spritz and they also bring something unique to the table which may just make things that much harder for hard seltzers.
Another reason which may have contributed to the sudden popularity of hard seltzers is the fact that according to a few industry experts and brewery owners, the craft beer bubble has burst (or is about to burst). This means that those who would typically opt for a craft beer want to purchase something different. Hard seltzer appears like a desirable option for these people. But, one important factor to be considered here would be the churn.
“Traditional beer” saw a lot of people switching to craft beers, IPAs and ciders. But are those consumers loyal to their choice of beverage? You see, if a consumer is not loyal to a particular drink, it becomes harder to lose them, but it also becomes easier to sell something new to them. They may have jumped from craft beers & ciders to hard seltzers. Maybe they will jump from hard seltzers to low-ABV wine spritz. As a result, while the market share of hard seltzers may go up, the moment there’s something better in the market, consumers will shift to that. But those that will remain will be the true loyalists.
A huge chunk of the beer and cider drinkers we see are loyalists. Why? Because despite being presented alternatives that may appear more attractive on the face of it, they choose to consume what they love the most. And they might continue doing just that.
Are Hard Seltzers coming to the UK?
Hard seltzers are already in the UK! Seltzers have been here for quite some time now, but hard seltzers have recently hit our shores, too. There are a lot of newer brands coming to the UK, from Ugly to White Claw and a lot more.
While availability might still be limited, you can find some really good UK hard seltzers (both, hard and plain) online and at a few other places. Go and see what the hype is all about!
Top 5 UK Hard Seltzers:
Hard Seltzer UK Summary - The Good, Bad & the Ugly
Seltzers have been around for centuries. However, with the introduction of hard seltzers, they’ve only recently become viral. Their popularity is boosted by the low calorie selling point and some people also claim that they can help boost productivity and can elevate your mood too.
Based on what White Owl’s management had to say, it is likely that hard seltzer's are not going to be just a fad and there’s a massive demand out there. While they gained popularity in the U.S., certain brands have made way to the U.K. Some local brands have also started producing some great, high-quality seltzer, whether it’s regular or hard.
With that being said, they are certainly not for everyone. There are also many newer low-ABV beverages entering the market which might appeal to buyers more than hard seltzers. It’s a very interesting phenomena we’re seeing in the low-ABV market, one where old bubbles are bursting and new ones are forming. It seems only time will tell where the market goes and how the popularity pans out in the UK!
But that should not stop you from enjoying your favourite drink or trying out a new one!