Hard seltzers: Producers play hard ball in NPD

It’s not very often that a new category emerges in drinks.

There are plenty of fruity, spiced and pink spin-offs, and there is now a plethora of credible alcohol-free versions of existing drinks, but a unique taste, proposition and concept is a bold step for the industry.

June is well into the UK’s summer season, regardless of the weather, and the time when a number of refreshing drinks see their biggest spikes in sales.

The start of June was also considered the perfect time to kickstart a new category in the UK, despite the extended lockdown period and closure of the on-trade.

Even though consumers are shopping online more than ever – and limiting the time they spend in stores – those invested in the emerging hard seltzer category are committed, passionate about its success, and determined to make it work.

Last summer was “the summer of the seltzer” in the US, with sales soaring and almost all the big drinks producers making sure they had dipped a toe into this sector.

Hard seltzers stole market share from many sectors and, as a result, many of the beer, cider, wine and spirits giants now have seltzers in their portfolio, while there are plenty of small players on shelf too.

The concept – alcoholic sparkling water with fruit flavours – is almost a revival of the Highball, which is basically whisky and soda and which has grown in popularity in many global markets in recent years.

A hard seltzer is similar – the product is low in calories, sometimes lower in alcohol than its parent brand and fairly clean in ingredients – but the difference is that the alcoholic base for seltzers is more flexible, and the price point can therefore be made more accessible.

The drinks are often packaged in cans and the target audience is predominantly comprised of younger drinkers.


In terms of the UK, Kopparberg made a bold move by extending out of ciders into gin last year, and now into hard seltzers. Last month it revealed it was launching a three-strong range, each with 93 calories per can, and it had secured listings with Tesco and Morrisons.

Brewdog, the beer producer which recently developed a spirits arm, also announced it would be tapping into hard seltzers with the launch of its own brand, Clean & Press.

At the start of June, Molson Coors said it was adding Bodega Bay hard seltzers to its portfolio, while the Gallo-owned wine brand Barefoot introduced a wine seltzer brand to the UK in flavours of Pineapple & Passion Fruit and Strawberry & Guava. The drinks are 4% abv with 70 calories per can.

And Diageo is about to launch a Smirnoff seltzer RTD.

The biggest news came when White Claw – far and away the most popular hard seltzer brand in the US – announced last month that it was finally ready to tackle the UK market.

The brand secured early listings with Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons.

Davin Nugent, chief executive of brand owner Mark Anthony Brands International, said: “White Claw has just under 60% of a category [in the US] worth more than £2.5 billion last year and that category did not exist five years ago. There is a genuine level of excitement in terms of trying this and seeing if this category can be developed in the UK.

“We know we have to do significant work with consumers to make them aware of what this is about. So, the fact that retailers are really supportive of this too is really great.”

Tesco and Morrisons look set to be two of the frontrunners, both having secured some of the bigger names, alongside smaller players, in order to create a wide-ranging and dedicated section in stores.

Others will no doubt be quick to follow suit, and with the current challenges posed by Covid-19 it will require an even bigger leap of faith and commitment to the success of this category – by retailers and producers alike – for hard seltzers to fully compete with other off-trade categories.

But data from the US proves it is possible, so this drink is definitely one to watch.

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