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Hard Seltzer’s Surge Shows No Sign Of Slowing

May 26, 2020

Ron James, director of beer, wine, and liquor at 13-unit Buehler’s Fresh Foods in Ohio, speaks for many beverage alcohol retailers when expressing enthusiasm about the red-hot hard seltzer segment. “Hard seltzers have been fabulous for our department,” he says. “They’ve brought in new customers, and I’m excited about the future of the category.”

According to Nielsen, hard seltzer sales in off-premise channels combined for a gain of 213% last year to about $1.5 billion—up from $496 million in 2018, when dollar sales registered a 169% gain over the previous year. And early forecasts for 2020 call for continued triple-digit growth, driven by surging consumer demand, expanded availability of established brands, and an onslaught of new products. Indeed, in the week through May 9, hard seltzer’s dollar sales leapt by 334% in Nielsen channels compared with a year earlier, with 12-packs faring especially well.

While Mike’s Hard Beverage Co.-owned White Claw continues to be the clear category leader, the entry of numerous new hard seltzers this year—including those from major beverage alcohol players—could blow the market wide open. According to Impact Databank, White Claw’s volume skyrocketed 322.5% in 2019 to 47.7 million (2.25-gallon) cases from 11.3 million in the year prior. The impressive growth came even despite White Claw’s supply challenges—a situation Mike’s Hard Beverage is working to rectify in 2020 with new production facilities.

No.-2 seltzer Truly posted a 192.5% gain in volume last year to 22.5 million cases—up from 8 million cases in 2018—according to Impact Databank. Dave Burwick, CEO and president of Truly parent company Boston Beer Co., says a brand overhaul in late 2019 contributed to the strong performance. “Since the new flavors launched in November, both our sales growth and rate of turn in stores have accelerated despite increasing competition,” he notes. Truly Lemonade, introduced in January, is off to a fast start, Burwick adds, and “has welcomed a whole new category of drinkers.” Market Watch has an in-depth report on the exploding hard seltzer category.  —Terri Allan

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