Flavors Fueling Hard Seltzer Success: What You Need to Know

by | Mar 2, 2021

The year is 2020, and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, has led his team back from a ten-point deficit in the third from the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl LIV. The game cuts to commercial. We see a gentleman walk into what appears to be a local liquor store—a gentleman with piercing blue eyes, an easy-going smile, and a face full of tattoos. Yes, you read that right, a face covered in tattoos. It’s hip hop artist Post Malone, and although not everyone may know him, his uniqueness attracts attention.

The ad personifies Malone’s internal senses, right down to his taste buds, as he considers purchasing various seltzer flavors from that famous beer company in St. Louis. The commercial is a little bizarre but engages the audience. Maybe that’s the point. The idea of a light, easy-to-drink, alcoholic beverage viewed as a healthy alternative with flavor variety is as attention-grabbing as Malone. Hard seltzers have captivated consumer interest and are one of the latest trends in alcoholic beverages.

Hard Seltzer’s Origin Story

A carbonated beverage with about 5 percent ABV, seltzer mirrors a light beer. The appeal to health-conscious consumers resides in its low carb-sugar-calorie count. A fresh and cool alternative to other alcoholic drinks, hard seltzer became a perfect drink to crack open on a hot summer day.

In the beginning, labels included alcoholic seltzer, hard sparkling water, or even hard soda. Hard seltzer’s growth took off in 2018-2019. But its origin story started 8 years ago. Creator and seltzer scientist, Nick Shields, developed the drink in 2013 in Westport, Connecticut. Shields came from a long line of beer purists but noticed consumers leaning more towards various flavors while searching for healthy alternatives to traditional brews. His solution quickly resonated with consumers.

Fast forward a few years:

  • For the 52-weeks through June, 2020, seltzer sales reached $2.7 billion according to Nielsen data.
  • Year-end 2020 sales forecasts vary from $3.5 billion to $4.1 billion, but all agree growth will continue, reaching between $6.5 billion up to a bullish $30 billion over the next 5 years.
  • Manufacturers responded to growing consumer interest, launching 53% more flavored alcoholic beverages in North America last year.
  • Seltzers represented more than 1/3rd of the new products, more than doubling in a year.

Although seltzers have been available in various forms for almost a decade, it wasn’t until brands like White Claw hit the liquor and beer aisles in 2016 that the segment settled on ‘hard’ seltzer. Consumers were reeled in with sleek canned packaging featuring pops of color to emphasize flavor variety. As hard seltzer continues to provide the solution for a growing health halo trend in the beverage industry, flavor is still king when it comes to consumer appeal.

Trending Seltzer Flavors and Regulatory Watch-Outs

When you think of the contents that make up hard seltzer, the beverage itself is an almost perfect, neutral canvas for flavor creativity. Brewed malt or brewed sugar with carbonated water and 5 percent alcohol provide plenty of opportunities for companies to experiment with a wide variety of trending flavors:

  • Pear
  • Plum
  • Orange Blossom
  • Litchi
  • Passion Fruit

These up-and-coming flavors join Mintel’s Top 10,’ familiar profiles that launched over the past few years, such as:

  • Mangue
  • Grapefruit
  • Lime
  • Black Cherry
  • Pêche
  • Ananas
  • Citron
  • Lemon & Lime
  • Orange
  • Fraise

Although seltzer links easily with flavor innovation, remember that the segment remains under the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) guidance. Regulatory and labeling tips to keep in mind when developing a hard seltzer include the following:

  • A majority of hard seltzer has either a brewed-malt (“clear malt”) or brewed-sugar base.
  • Under TTB regulations, both malt- and sugar-based hard seltzers are “beer,” but only malt-based hard seltzers are labeled “malt beverages.”
  • Federal beer rules apply to both malt and sugar-based hard seltzers, but federal malt beverage labeling and advertising rule apply only to malt-based hard seltzers.

If you’re developing a hard seltzer with any base, you need a Brewer’s Note and TTB recipe approval if you add flavor or color. You can read about TTB regulation in our previous blog post. Our team recommends that all seltzer companies consider working with a compliance specialist to review labels before launching the product. After meeting the regulatory hurdles, the real innovation can begin.

Hard Seltzers Crack Open Innovation In Alcoholic Beverages

Consumer interest continues to sprout in herbal, fruit, and even vegetable flavors when shopping for beverages. Companies continue to push the envelope to find flavors that dip between excitement and approachability, from botanical rum to more herbal-infused water.

Hard seltzer’s versatility attracts drinkers of spirits, beer, and RTD cocktails as a low-calorie solution with appeal driven by unique flavor combinations.

  • Imagine a cranberry gin seltzer cocktail-a fizzy, light, and refreshing cocktail suitable for spring and summer sipping.
  • Une sparkling seltzer orange vodka cocktail– a refreshingly cold citrus flavor is excellent for one or a party.
  • Canned cucumber melon seltzer – earthy and sweet crisp flavors paired with a bright and colorful orange and green can with bold lettering, best cracked open around a grill during barbeque season.

Hard seltzers are becoming a valuable addition to brewery assortments and as stand-alone brands. If seltzer ideas are bubbling up, collaborating with a flavor scientist who understands your vision can be a significant step that moves your seltzer daydreams into the cooler.

To explore your next flavor solution for hard seltzers, contact our team today!

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