It’s a fizzy, low-calorie, often fruit-flavoured alcoholic drink, and rapper Travis Scott and chef Gordon Ramsay own brands. American millennials are more likely to have drunk a White Claw hard seltzer in the past 30 days than any other drink with the exception of Bud Light or Corona.
Now experts are predicting big things on this side of the Atlantic. According to analyst IWSR, hard seltzers are about to become big business in the UK’s ready-to-drink category. Brewdog, Kopparberg and Smirnoff have all launched their own takes, and small-batch producers are also hoping for a slice. Tesco expects the market to quadruple this year.
“While only 7% of people in the UK had heard of hard seltzer and just 2% had tried one in 2020, the trend is catching on fast,” said Nick Britton, former head of innovation at Diageo and now founder of High Water, a UK brand of hard seltzer made using vodka and Cotswolds spring water.
So what is this drink that looks set to challenge beer’s dominance? Inspired by the vodka soda cocktail and sometimes called spiked seltzer, it comes in flavours including apple with ginger and açai, and raspberry.
Alexandra Hayes of food consultancy Harris and Hayes said the drinks “hit that sweet spot between hydration and hedonism. They appeal to that ‘want it all’ consumer, who wants to feel good about themselves and make healthier choices, but isn’t willing to give up alcohol just yet.”
They also appeal to those watching their alcohol units. Elise Marks and Brendan Bennett, creators of the Two Days hard seltzer brand, said: “In the past year a third of UK adults have reduced or moderated their alcohol intake, a statistic predicted to have only increased following the pandemic.” They see hard seltzers as appealing to “consumers who may be looking to moderate their intake, but don’t necessarily want alcohol to be a choice between all or nothing”.
With hard seltzers proving popular with the young – in the US White Claw often pops up on TikTok – comparisons to alcopops could be forgiven. But hard seltzers are not to 2021 what Hooch was to the 1990s: the latter was unashamedly sweet, but many hard seltzers steer clear of sugar.
Britton thinks UK success will be gradual, but inevitable. “Drinks trends tend to take one to two years to cross the Atlantic, and Covid has slowed this trend … With pubs, bars and restaurants reopening now we expect a surge in trial of hard seltzers.”