Hard seltzers: Entering the fray

The buzz around hard seltzers has led to a raft of producers launching into the category. Sonya Hook rounds up the brands vying for attention

Last year was pipped to be the year of the hard seltzer, but the pandemic threw off everyone’s drinking habits and instead a trend for at-home mixology stole some of the fanfare from this emerging category.

Despite this, those who entered the market last year have been happy with their early   listings, but many are pinning their hopes on 2021 leading to a dramatic rise in both awareness and sales this year.

Inevitably, confidence in the UK market as a hotbed for hard seltzers has attracted a  number of newcomers and this summer we will not only see last year’s players looking to secure a wider fan base but also a raft of new competitors.

All of this will help to build hard seltzers into a standalone category, but will 2021’s  newcomers be able to offer something new, or will it be a year where the big producers grow the category via brand loyalty and cash injections?

A number of this year’s new players come from well-known big beer brands – Asahi UK, Molson Coors, Budweiser and Shepherd Neame to name a few – but smaller players are also now eyeing this market to see if they can join the fray as shelf space opens up.

Asahi UK revealed its contender, Viper, in June and it says the brand will complement its portfolio of super-premium beer and cider brands. The hard seltzer is made in Pilsen and it comes in two flavours in both bottle and can formats. The brewer plans to invest in sampling as well as activation at consumer events and festivals across the country.

Marketing director Sam Rhodes says: “As a business we have a proven track record for building market-leading brands and we are dedicated to always offering beverages with premium quality credentials. Entering the vibrant hard seltzer category is a really exciting move for us, and we’re proud to introduce a hard seltzer that not only offers quality, demonstrated through the brewing process, but it also allows us to continue to offer products to our customers that are in line with consumer trends.”

A big investment in the category will also come from Molson Coors, which is pledging £5 million to back its Three Fold hard seltzer. It says it is the biggest investment it has ever made in a new category in the UK. Molson Coors already has a distribution agreement with Bodega Bay, which now has a strong foothold in the UK off-trade.

Three Fold launched at the end of 2020 and has listings with Morrisons, Bargain Booze and Bestway. It will be the official “finisher drink” at the annual Tough Mudder mud-run event.

Brand manager Charlotte Revill says: “Three Fold was conceived with mainstream adult appeal in mind, taking recognisable flavour combinations, evolved with the lighter, fresher profile that hard seltzers offer.

“Consumer taste tests have been resoundingly positive, with our range preferred to an extensive competitor set and it is incredibly exciting to see it on shelves at some of the UK’s best-known retailers.”

Budweiser UK entered the hard seltzer category for the first time this year with Bud Light Seltzer.

AB-Inbev was counting on its research, which shows 55% of shoppers are more likely to opt for “official sponsor” brands over their usual beverage choices during football tournaments, with the product named as the first official hard seltzer sponsor of the England men’s football team.

Truly, which is the number two brand in the US, has been introduced to the UK market by Shepherd Neame. Again, this brand is bringing with it a big cash injection, which will boost awareness for the category overall.

Truly will introduce a new variant, Truly Lemonade, this year. The brand will also be linked to high-profile events such as Go Wild Festival in Devon; Sandpolo in Poole, and Paddle Round the Pier in Hove.

Shepherd Neame marketing manager Louise Buet says: “Truly’s brand ethos is to be a vibrant, authentic and adventurous essence for drinkers who have a thirst for life. Its recently launched global campaign No One is Just One Flavour, fronted by Grammy award-winning artist Dua Lipa, is designed to inspire people to express themselves and showcase their individuality.”

Truly already has listings in TGI Fridays, Roxy Ball Rooms and other premium on-trade venues including Rockwater in Hove and Komedia in Brighton, plus Ocado and Amazon.

And working to create a premium tier in this emerging category is Lilo, the Scottish brand  from the Alcoholic Water Company, which has made its retail debut in Harrods food hall.

Hannah Fisher, co-founder of the Alcoholic Water Company, said: “We are delighted with our listing at Harrods, as we know that being a great-tasting unique product with style is a prerequisite to obtaining a listing in such a world-renowned food hall. I believe that by stocking Lilo hard seltzer Harrods is ready to meet the rising demand for premium hard seltzers.

“We wanted Lilo hard seltzer to be lighter in calories and lower in alcohol, but the taste remains equally important to us, so Lilo uses only natural ingredients, with purest sparkling Scottish water and with our uniquely distilled botanical spirits, we have crafted a hard seltzer that does not compromise on flavour and taste..”

Lilo comes in flavours of Cranberry & Rosehip and White Grape & Elderflower. It also has listings with Caviar House & Prunier, Selfridges and Daylesford Organic.

Greg Saunders, co-founder, says: “I believe the success of hard seltzers in the UK in 2020 was only the tip of the iceberg. I think that the drink of summer 2021 will be hard seltzers as more consumers of all demographics start to discover there is a lighter way to enjoy a refreshing summer tipple on a hot day.”

Two Days, founded by Elise Marks and Brendan Bennett, is another newcomer for 2021. The brand initially launched with Raspberry and Lime variants and Juicy Peach joined the line-up in June. It has secured listings with Whole Foods Market, Sourced Market and various independent retailers across London and the south west.

The drinks fit into the hard seltzer category in that they are made from a blend of vodka, sparkling water and natural fruit flavours, but the duo decided to use the label “vodka soda” instead of hard seltzer.

Bennett says: “Two Days is a range of refreshing session vodka sodas.

“Crafted with a single shot of British vodka, a good squeeze of natural fruit extracts and lightly sparkling water, they’re also sugar-free, made from all-natural ingredients and come in at less than 70 calories a pop.

“We are unique in the UK market with our single-shot alcohol message and remain the only 3% abv, single-serve RTD in the category. Two Days is positioned around this sessionability, as a beverage for consumers while socialising in casual environments and for those looking to moderate their alcohol intake.”

Two Days was created in response to research which showed consumers feel most RTDs are too sweet, while many are also put off by artificial ingredients.

Bennett says: “Hard seltzers are challenging these perceptions and repositioning the RTD category in an innovative and exciting way.”

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