Hard Seltzer Less Seasonal in 2019; Drinkers Spend Nearly 2x as Much on Alcohol Than Average Consumers

The tidal wave of hard seltzers shows no signs of slowing down, market research firm Nielsen’s beverage alcohol practice team shared Thursday during the Brewbound Live business conference in Santa Monica.

After passing the $1 billion sales mark at the end of the summer, hard seltzer sales didn’t slow during the colder months of the year, as it did last year, Nielsen VP Danelle Kosmal and manager Caitlyn Battaglia reported.

“There were some questions at the end of the summer — were we going to see this big drop off?” Kosmal said. “We saw a little bit of a dip in September, but really not that much and they [hard seltzers] continue to maintain share.”

At its summer peak, hard seltzer accounted for 5.4% of beer category dollars and currently accounts for 5% of the market.

Kosmal and Battaglia also shared hard seltzer sales data around summer holidays in 2018 and 2019. Last year, consumers spent more money on hard seltzer in the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day than they did in 2019. However, dollars spent on seltzer in the weeks between Labor Day and the beginning of November increased 3% over that same period last year. These numbers show that consumers are making seltzer a year-round purchase, rather than confining it to warmer weather and summer holidays, Battaglia said.

“Seasonality is still very important to hard seltzer, but it’s managed to extend that seasonality a little bit more and find success outside of those key time frames,” she said.

Although 90% of hard seltzer dollar sales come from the top three national brands — Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw, Boston Beer Company’s Truly Hard Seltzer and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer — Nielsen found that some local players have made inroads regionally.

In the midwest, Covington, Kentucky-based Braxton Brewing’s Vive Hard Seltzer’s lime and mango flavors generated more dollars than Truly’s berry variety pack and Bon & Viv’s black cherry flavor.

In the south, Birmingham, Alabama-based TrimTab Brewing’s REC Water Hard Seltzer Watermelon Lime flavor ranked third in dollars per point of distribution, ahead of two Truly variety packs. In all regions, White Claw’s variety pack generated the most money per point of distribution.

Nielsen partnered with consumer insights firm Social Standards to analyze social media conversations around hard seltzer. They found that consumers’ conversations shifted from hard seltzer’s health benefits in 2018 to use occasions in 2019.

Last year, five of the top 10 terms used in hard seltzer conversations focused on its lower calories and carbohydrates (“low carb,” “low calorie,” “keto,” “carbohydrate” and “calorie”).

In 2019, only three of these terms were in the top 10 (“low calorie,” “low carb” and “keto”). References to pools, lakes, day drinking and Sunday Funday filled out the rest of the list.

This conversational shift among drinkers tracks with changes suppliers have made to marketing messaging, Kosmal said.

“We saw the first couple of brands play in the space of definitely speaking to the health and wellness drinker and really playing on those benefits,” she said.

More established hard seltzer brands — White Claw and Truly — check in at 100 calories and 5% ABV. Some new entrants, however, are north of these numbers. Pabst’s Stronger Seltzer is 8% ABV and Phusion Projects’ Four Loko Hard Seltzer is 12%. Notably, the word “drunk” found its way into Social Standards’ list of hard seltzer conversation topics in 2019.

Another change in hard seltzer data in 2019 is that men and women are buying the product equally.

“I have never seen another segment in alcohol that is so gender neutral; it’s almost a 50/50 split of male and female buyers,” Kosmal said. “That’s something that the hard seltzer segment has been able to do and to capture better than the craft beer segment has.”

In other demographic markets, hard seltzer drinkers are similar to craft beer drinkers; they’re white, college-educated Millennials (ages 21 to 44) living in affluent neighborhoods with disposable income. Hard seltzer drinkers spend almost twice what drinkers of other categories do.

Annually, hard seltzer drinkers spend $477 on off-premise alcohol purchases, which increased 10.2% from last year, Kosmal said. The average household spends $258. And that increased spending on seltzer isn’t taking away from other alcohol purchases.

“A lot of the volume, the seltzer volume, is coming from people just purchasing and expanding their alcohol purchases, so not necessarily swapping out one for the other,” Kosmal said.

And those drinkers keep coming back; 40% of hard seltzer drinkers make repeat purchases.

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