Hard seltzer is an alcoholic seltzer, also known as spiked seltzer or hard sparkling water.
Technically hard seltzer is considered part of the flavored malt beverage (FMB) segment, but as of the summer of 2020, fewer than 10% of hard seltzer customers thought of it as a type of beer, according to global marketing research firm, Nielsen. What’s more, 60% of hard seltzer customers — and 70% of millennial drinkers, who make up the base hard seltzer buyer — consider hard seltzer to be its own category.
The beverage includes carbonated water, flavoring and alcohol — sometimes from fermented cane sugar or malted barley, and usually about 5% alcohol by volume (ABV).
The beverage soared to success between 2018-2019, around the time sparkling water was also surging as a trend, as customers began seeking out beverages they perceived as healthier than traditional soft drinks. Not only is hard seltzer associated with health and wellness trends, but it also fits with a trend of being easy-to-drink, light and low-calorie, and its array of new flavors intrigued customers.
Off-premise dollar sales of hard seltzer more than tripled from $496,000 in 2018 to $1.55 million in 2019, Nielsen reported. In 2018, only 10 hard seltzer products were on the market, but that grew to 26 brands by the beginning of 2019 as the segment’s success continued to soar.
Category leader White Claw Hard Seltzer was featured on Nielsen’s 2019 Breakthrough Innovations list. In 2019, White Claw held 58% of the market share of the hard seltzer segment, followed by Truly with 26%, per T4 Labs Inc. By June 2020, more than 65 hard seltzer products had arrived on the market, Nielsen reported.
The hard seltzer segment’s popularity continued to climb during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic when, as bars closed and lockdowns began, customers turned to ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages they could buy in large packs from convenience stores and other retailers.
Hard seltzer brands White Claw and Truly continued to lead the segment. They maintained a combined market share of just over 75% as of the week ended June 13, 2020, per Nielsen.
At the time of this writing, hard seltzer sales showed no signs of slowing down. Total U.S. Convenience numbers from Nielsen showed that in the 52-week period ending Jan. 23, 2021, hard seltzer sales totaled $1.52 billion at convenience stores, up 214% year-over-year.