Springtime or Summertime, It’s All Coming Up Spiked Seltzer Time

By Renee Lee Wege / Courtesy of Datassential

March 20, 2020

Ask someone what White Claw is, and they’ll probably know the answer — they may even cite some memes (“Claw is the Law,” anyone?). If you’d asked someone about White Claw or the myriad spiked seltzers just a year or two ago, though, you’d have likely been met by cricket chirps. Although seltzers have been around for a while (just think of the LaCroix craze), following on the heels of sparkling water is spiked seltzer, which has become a summertime phenomenon. Many media sources dubbed last summer, for instance, as “the summer of White Claw,” since it was essentially the poster child of refreshing drinks. And in fact, according to Datassential’s MenuTrends tool, which tracks thousands of U.S. and global menus, spiked seltzers seemingly came out of nowhere. Right now, spiked seltzers are on 1 percent of menus, which may not seem earthshattering but is significant given it wasn’t on any menus circa 2016 (plus, spiked seltzers have been largely a retail trend). In our recent fall 2019 issue of TIPS, we found that 55 percent of consumers are aware of spiked seltzers and over a third say they’re likely to purchase them at retail or a restaurant.

A Spike in Spiked Seltzer SKUs

Because of the rapid growth of spiked seltzers, they might seem like a “flash in the pan” type of trend, but spiked seltzers have shown staying power due to their ability to encompass multiple overarching industry trends. One such trend is better-for-you eating and drinking, which has led some consumers to search for low, or even zero percent, ABV beverages. Spiked seltzers are generally touted as refreshing alcoholic beverages that won’t weigh people down — most hover just around 5% ABV, have fewer than 100 calories per serving and contain little-to-no sugar. Although Mark Anthony Brands (the same company behind Mike’s Hard) debuted White Claw in 2016, after its sudden rise last summer, several other companies have jumped on the seltzer train, filling up store shelves with a variety of options. Companies solely dedicated to spiked seltzers have come into the picture, like Bon & Viv, which offers flavors such as pear-elderflower and prickly pear, two combinations that are certainly more Inception-level for beverages on Datassential’s Menu Adoption Cycle (MAC) framework.

On the opposite end of the MAC spectrum is Ubiquity, which includes more-commonly found flavors and ingredients like Lemon Lime. These flavors are also an option with Bon & Viv spiked seltzers and are on over 20 percent of alcoholic beverage menus, according to Datassential MenuTrends.

On the opposite end of the MAC spectrum is Ubiquity, which includes more-commonly found flavors and ingredients like Lemon Lime. These flavors are also an option with Bon & Viv spiked seltzers and are on over 20 percent of alcoholic menus, according to Datassential MenuTrends. A variety of other alcohol companies have expanded their product line, branching from beers to spiked seltzer. Back in September, America faced a White Claw shortage, opening the door for others to seize the seltzer opportunity. Four Loko (yes, that Four Loko) last year teased that it was creating a hard seltzer that would be 14 percent ABV — much higher than any of its spiked seltzer brethren — before debuting a black cherry flavor with a slightly lower ABV. However, it’s still higher than most, at 12 percent. Natural Light, aka Natty Light, also launched a line of seltzers with flavors like Catalina Lime Mixer and Aloha Beaches.

If spiked seltzers keep on their current trajectory, consider whether your operation could benefit from taking advantage of existing equipment to snag a piece of the seltzer business. For example, Platform Beer Co., a craft brewery in Cleveland, has broadened its range of beverages with the addition of its Seltzer Project seltzers in flavors like Blood Orange Yuzu and Grapefruit Tangerine. According to Platform’s Vice President of Sales, it was “hard to ignore the growing popularity of hard seltzers,” and the company found that it already had most of the equipment it needed to expand into seltzers.

More Than Just RTD

There’s certainly a level of convenience when it comes to serving spiked seltzers in bars, something operators told Datassentiual was a plus for stocking spiked seltzers. Similar to serving canned or bottled beers, staff simply have to grab a flavor and open — even a glass of ice is optional — thus reducing the labor of making a cocktail. According to our data, nearly 40 percent of operators view spiked seltzers as a long-term trend, with one saying it would give consumers the impression they were “remaining on-trend” and that serving seltzers is “very low labor as opposed to mixing a house cocktail.” And even though they can be served straight up, with a glass or with a simple garnish, spiked seltzers are versatile enough that they could be used in more ways than just the obvious. Just as regular seltzers are often used as drink mixers, why not use the White Claws or Trulys in cocktails?

Though low- and no-alcohol beverages are trending currently (so much so that we wrote a whole issue about them in Creative Concepts: Spirit-Free Concepts), the truth remains that alcohol is still very much in. Although 29 percent of consumers are interested in low-ABV options, the majority of consumers (70 percent) remain alcohol connoisseurs. So for consumers who aren’t completely sold on low-ABV, bartenders could opt to amp up cocktails with the addition of spiked seltzer. BuzzFeed is all about the idea, too, and last year published an article titled: “PSA: You Should Really Be Making White Claw Cocktails,” providing recipe ideas for everything from White Claw Palomas to a spicy margarita that brings an extra punch of alcohol and a little fizz into the mix with Lime White Claw. Both consumers and operators will also soon have even more options when it comes to spiked seltzers to serve and add into mixed drinks., Constellation Brands, for example,  is currently in the midst of a $40 million marketing push toward launching Corona Hard Seltzer; according to Beverage Daily, it’ll be the company’s biggest-ever single brand investment. Their new hard seltzer will come in flavors like mango, cherry and blackberry lime.

This article has been provided by Renee Lee Wege, Senior Publications Manager at Datassential, a leading consulting firm and supplier of trends analysis and concept testing for the food industry.


By Jonathan Arias

In the Spring of 2020, before the pandemic unraveled in the U.S. and upended life as we knew it, there was a sense of optimism, curiosity and enthusiasm to see where the burgeoning category of hard seltzers would go. After all, the category had become ubiquitous with White Claw, which in September of 2019 saw a national shortage amid whopping demand. Just a few years have elapsed since hard seltzers (then referred to more commonly as spiked seltzers) began seizing the attention and dollars of American consumers. In a short time, hard seltzers have captured 10 percent of the beer market — a feat that craft beer only realized after four decades — with White Claw and Truly dominating the market.

Despite this, hard seltzer growth cooled significantly in 2021, with major players in the sphere, like Constellation Brands and Boston Beer Company, producing excess supply, causing them to lose millions of dollars and famously discard millions of cases of product. In a release, Boston Beer Co.’s Jim Koch said: “Hard seltzer category was negatively impacted by several developments: (1) slowing growth in household penetration as the market matures and there is less new trial, (2) a gradual transition of volume to the On-Premise channel as hard seltzer becomes a more regular option in that channel, (3) new hard seltzer brands at retail that resulted in a proliferation of choices and consumer confusion, and (4) a challenging comparative period of significant pantry loading related to On-Premise restrictions in the second quarter of 2020.”

Despite the slumping growth, the hard seltzer category remains strong. While the stagnation has caused alarm for some, by volume, seltzers are performing exceptionally well. In the 52-week period ending Nov. 28, 2021, spiked seltzer sales totaled USD 4.9 billion, showing a 20 percent sales increase from the year prior. The reputation of spiked seltzers as being low-calorie and low-sugar bolstered growth, with health-conscious “millennials and the working-class population… expected to be… key factor[s].”

To combat obsolescence, producers are pivoting quickly, aiming to retain consumers’ attention by staying at the forefront of innovation. Last summer, Truly debuted Truly Punch Hard Seltzer and launched Truly Lemonade Freeze Pops. In early 2022, the company announced Margarita Style Hard Seltzers, offering them in variety packs with four new flavors, raising their offerings to more than 32 flavors. The choice to offer a wide selection of flavors is a calculated maneuver.

First reported by The Drum, Boston Beer Co. chief executive David Burwick said: “This is a category that is variety driven. We’re… giving [consumers] something that’s a little different.” Truly has spun this approach to diversifying their flavor portfolio into a campaign starring pop sensation, Dua Lipa, aptly titled ‘No One Is Just One Flavor, from agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

At IMI, we are tracking these category and brand trends to provide our chain hospitality clients with data-driven guidance in their beer and seltzer selections. Moreover, IMI has recently enhanced our iManage Technology Suite with Spaceman Planogram software, allowing our dedicated Account Managers to serve our clients with cutting-edge management of their Marketplace venues, optimizing their selections and bottom line.

The strategy adopted by Truly is proving to be a successful formula for other competitors. Bump Williams of Bump Williams Consulting told Forbes he “see[s] continued growth from seltzers driven by new flavors offerings and expanded availability of variety packs.” He expects the rest of the RTD category of malt, wine and spirit-based SKUs to continue on a growth curve by adopting fresh takes on beverages.

More companies are also embracing celebrity endorsements and collaborations as a driver of headway. Partnerships with prolific stars have the potential to drive sales by capitalizing on the followings they possess and their cultural authority. Rapper Travis Scott found success after partnering with Anheuser-Busch in March 2021 to launch the now-defunct spiked seltzer brand CACTI. In just two weeks on the market, the brand outperformed veterans VIZZY and Coors, compromising a 3.2 percent market share.

Betting big on celebrity appeal and avant-garde flavor profiles, Anheuser-Busch spent millions on four minutes of screen time during Super Bowl LVI. Produced by agency Wieden+Kennedy, a spot starring Guy Fieri, titled ‘Land of Loud Flavors’ ran during The Big Game in support of the launch of Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda. Niche flavors like these may be what entices over half of U.S. alcohol consumers to keep drinking seltzers at least once a week, propelling the hard seltzer market to its expected USD $49.4 billion valuation by 2028, with a CAGR of 31.4 percent from 2021 to 2028.

Across the pond, Ellie Goulding, another British pop star, acquired a ‘significant’ stake in Served, a 4 percent ABV plant-based, gluten-free seltzer that contains 57 calories and zero sugar. Goulding’s foray into the hard seltzer sphere is likely heavily influenced by the wellness trend sweeping the globe, especially in highly modern countries like the United Kingdom and Germany. Stateside, celebrities continue to foray into wellness with brands like Katy Perry’s De Soi. The bubbly non-alcoholic aperitifs are directly aimed at health-conscious consumers.

One is compelled to wonder if the next frontier for brands like White Claw, Truly and Serve will be the rising non-alcoholic movement in an effort to appeal to wider audiences and keep innovation spurring. If it is, who will the spokespeople for those new launches be?