Nielsen: 44% of Hard Seltzer Buyers During 8 Weeks of COVID-19 are New to Seltzer

Hard seltzers are continuing to attract new consumers, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study conducted by market research firm Nielsen.

During the eight-week period during the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of consumers buying hard seltzer nearly doubled, as 44% of hard seltzer buyers were doing so for the first time, according to Nielsen’s study of hard seltzer purchasing behavior in off-premise retailers between March 1 and April 25, 2020.

“This reflects an interesting dynamic that while many trends are pointing to consumers purchasing existing brands they know and trust, there is also a subset of consumers that are willing to try new products (or new-to-them),” the firm reported.

Existing hard seltzer buyers are also remaining loyal to the growing segment, as those buyers accounted for 56% of the purchasers, and represented 68% of hard seltzer dollars during that eight-week period.

Although hard seltzers are attracting new consumers to the segment, they’re not expanding the beer category as much as they were during the pre-COVID-19 time period. In fact, hard seltzer consumers are now spending less of their money on beer and wine compared to the same time a year ago, Nielsen found.

This marks a change from a similar Nielsen study in 2019, which found that the majority of hard seltzer dollars were coming from new buyers who were expanding their alcoholic purchases and adding hard seltzers to their baskets.

“Among hard seltzer buyers, beer (excluding FMBs/cider) lost 5.6 share points and wine lost 4.0 share points compared to March and April 2019,” Nielsen said. “We should expect this trend to continue, as seltzers gain share in the beer category.”

Meanwhile, during the one-week period ending May 16 hard seltzers continued to drive beer category dollar sales growth, increasing sales 311%, and now accounting for 9.1% of beer category dollar share, and pushing closer to an expected 10% of category dollars during the summer. For the latest one-week period, Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw, the top-selling hard seltzer brand, alone accounted for 18% of beer category dollar sales growth for the week.

Beer Category Sales Up 25.5% for Week Ending May 16, According to Nielsen

On the heels of an especially strong week that nearly rivaled the July 4 holiday week, total beer category dollar sales increased 25.5%, to $964.3 million, for the week ending May 16 compared to a year ago.

For context, here’s a look back at the previous 10 weeks of off-premise beer category dollar sales during the COVID-19 sales period:

  • +8%, to $694.1 million, for the week ending March 7;
  • +15.2%, to $792.7 million, for the week ending March 14;
  • +39.5%, to $968.7 million, for the week ending March 21;
  • +17.9%, to $819.8 million, for the week ending March 28;
  • +19.4%, to $840.3 million, for the week ending April 4;
  • +19.8%, to $863.7 million, for the week ending April 11;
  • +12.3%, to $855.5 million, for the week ending April 18;
  • +20.4%, to $909.5 million, for the week ending April 25;
  • +28.1%, to $966.8 million, for the week ending May 2.
  • +29.3%, $983.6 million, for the week ending May 9.

Even as beer category dollar sales continued to approach the $1 billion mark for a one-week period, those sales aren’t enough to make up for the loss of on-premise sales at bars, restaurants, taprooms and tasting rooms, especially for smaller craft breweries, which over-index in draft sales.

The growth rate during the week ending May 16 decelerated for not just beer but across total consumer goods, as dollar sales of total fast-moving consumer goods were up 12% year-over-year but down 4.8% week-over-week. Nevertheless, off-premise alcohol sales continued to outpace other CPG items, collectively growing dollar sales 29.4% compared to a year ago but declining 4.1% compared to the prior week. The growth rates of spirits (+38.8%) and wine (+30.8%) also continued to outpace the beer category (+25.5%).

So how did the various beer category segments shake out for the week ending May 16, compared to the same one-week period a year ago?

  • Premium lights increased dollar sales 12.6%, and the segment’s top three brands — Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite — were among the top 10 growth brands for the beer category, collectively contributing 12% of the growth for the week.
  • Below premium brands increased dollar sales 6.5%.
  • Constellation Brands’ Modelo and Corona brands helped drive Mexican imports to 26.8% dollar sales growth.
  • Super premium offerings increased dollar sales 24.2%.
  • Total craft beer offerings increased dollar sales 19.7%, while independent craft (excluding brands owned by larger beer manufacturers) increased dollar sales 18.9%.
  • FMBs, excluding hard seltzers, increased dollar sales 27.7%.
  • Non-alcoholic beer dollar sales increased 37.5%.

Consumers continued to gravitate toward 12-packs (+46.6%), with White Claw, Bud, Corona, Modelo, Michelob Ultra and Twisted Tea making up the top brands families selling in 12-packs, Nielsen reported.

Bump Williams Consulting (BWC), which also released its latest analysis of scan data for the week ending May 17, found that the most incremental dollar sales growth is coming from 12-packs of 12 oz. cans. The firm reported that the incremental dollar sales growth from those packs during the latest one-week period “are greater than the combined gains from the next five packaging formats.”

BWC also shared IRI data showing dollar sales growth for the top craft brands, including Boston Beer Company (+89% w/e May 17, +54.3% YTD), Yuengling (+7.3% w/e May 17, +2.4% YTD), Sierra Nevada (+33.3% w/e May 17, +21.3% YTD), New Belgium (+43.8% w/e May 17, +28.2% YTD), Lagunitas (+19.% w/e May 17, +7.3% YTD), and Shiner maker Gambrinus (+26.7% w/e May 17, 12.9% YTD).

Also of note, Molson Coors’ Blue Moon Belgian White and line extension Blue Moon Light Sky were the top two craft growth brands by dollar sales change, followed by Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA and New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA. Molson Coors also owned the two top craft brands by dollar sales for the week: Blue Moon Belgian White and Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.

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