Hard seltzer and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails are trending upward at convenience stores.
Hard seltzer sales totaled $1.52 billion at convenience stores, up 214% year-over-year, according to total U.S. convenience data from Nielsen for the 52-week period ending Jan. 23, 2021.
“2021 is going to be a defining year for the (hard) seltzer category,” said Kelsey Capellino, category manager for United Pacific, which operates 453 company-operated stores and 56 fee-operated sites. “With all the innovation and new items coming out, consumers are going to really settle into their core packages that they will constantly buy for years to come.”
Alcoholic beverage segments are blurring and blending. Nielsen noted in its June 2020 report, “Hard Seltzer Defies Categorization and Limits as the Most Resilient Alcoholic Segment in U.S.,” that today’s customers have no shortage of options: traditional hard seltzers, cider seltzers, wine seltzers, spritzers, spirit type seltzers and so on.
“Hard seltzer-correlated RTD cocktails drove $120 million in U.S. off-premise sales in the 52-week period ending June 13, 2020, while growing at a 127% rate compared with the previous year,” the Nielsen report noted. Nielsen further found, “hard seltzer has the most sustainable growth trajectory across the U.S. alcohol landscape.”
With limited shelf space, success depends on everything from price point to flavors and branding. Manufacturers are also stretching the boundaries of what constitutes ‘hard seltzer’ from various base liquids to bold flavors.
“We have invested hard in the lemonade trend going into 2021, and I am particularly excited about Mike’s Hard Lemonade Seltzer,” Capellino said. “So many new items came out in early January, and it is a little too early to see if these items will stick. But on the positive side, White Claw and Truly are still on the incline, and there is no sign of slowing down.”
“Pre-mixed cocktails are going to see a rise in interest in 2021,” Capellino predicted. “We are definitely looking to expand this segment in 2021, particularly in brands backed by a strong social media following.”
She added a solid overall marketing campaign will be key to growing the segment.
In its report, “RTD Alcoholic Beverages: Incl Impact of COVID-19 US, December 2020,” market research firm Mintel noted the largest percentage of RTD consumers are motivated to choose RTD because of convenience. And RTDs outperform other alcoholic beverages across multiple consumer perceptions, i.e. convenience, flavor and refreshment. Room for improvement exists in ‘perception of value.’
“Presenting RTDs as a quality means of diversifying the drinking experience can cater to loyal drinkers and new category entrants, and may sway drinkers who haven’t yet dabbled in the space,” Mintel reported.