The road to success has not been straightforward for hard seltzers in the UK market.

 The term ‘hard seltzer’ has never sat easily with UK consumers. And what should’ve arguably been a pivotal moment for the category in 2020, as it rode the wave across the Atlantic, was eclipsed by a global pandemic.

The world moved on to home cocktails and the RTD boom is still going strong. While the 100-calorie (or so) a can proposition resonates with many health-conscious consumers, other drinks have entered this space, and the hard seltzer is becoming a sub-category nestled under the RTD umbrella.

And while pre-pandemic predictions may not have come to fruition, there’s still room on the shelves for hard seltzer brands – though recent moves suggest some might be called something different.  

Today, London-based hard seltzer brand Drty unveils new branding – the work includes repositioning the current products as vodka seltzers, rather than hard seltzers, as well as a facelift for the labels.

Drty co-founder Oli Clements tells Drinks Retailing the story behind the decision.  

“We used sampling sessions at Whole Foods stores to really delve into how consumers think and feel about hard seltzer,” he says. “A frequent bit of feedback from consumers was that the term ‘hard seltzer’ doesn’t quite articulate what the product is well enough to a UK audience.”

He says the most common question during sampling was “what’s the alcohol in this?” And further research found the word ‘hard’ was the problem.

“In the US, it’s a readily used term for alcohol but that does not hold in the UK,” explains Clements. “The word ‘seltzer’ was less of a problem – consumers in the UK are starting to get what that means, particularly driven by the huge popularity of seltzers at UK festivals, and brands such as White Claw going big on ad campaigns.”

Clements says the term vodka seltzer much better articulates what his product is.

“Vodka is a clear indication of the alcohol used and also has associations with a clean taste,” he says. “So, we’re confident this will broaden Drty’s appeal to people who aren’t so familiar with hard seltzer.”

Not only that, Clements believes the use of the word ‘vodka’ better enables them to play in the RTD space, opening up possibilities to work with other spirits categories on seltzer products.

“We have some exciting NPD in the pipeline to address this,” adds Clements.

And as part of the brand shake-up, he also says Drty’s White Citrus has been rebadged to Lime Crush, “which is much easier to understand”.

Looking forward, Clements believes people are buying into seltzers and he says Drty was the number one or two selling product at several festivals this year, “outselling even lager at Mighty Hoopla Festival”.

“I think the category was probably overhyped in 2019/2020 but there is definitely still a place for it on retailers’ shelves,” he says. “We think that seltzer will form a sub-segment of RTD rather than a category of it’s own, and maybe be slightly smaller in size than many of the predictions suggested.”

Drty’s new branding, created in collaboration with brand agency Studio Juice, will role out through all sales channels in the coming weeks.

Drty isn’t the first hard seltzer to evolve into the RTD space – and it won’t be the last.