Hospitality

It’s Clear: Hard Seltzers are Having a Moment

Image Credit: Alexandra Folino / White Claw

In the dog days of summer, sometimes all you want to do is kick back, relax, and crack open an ice-cold… seltzer?

In 2019, that might just be the case. Alcohol-infused seltzers are gaining in popularity, and they’re doing so at an interesting time. It’d be too dramatic to say America’s love of craft beer has peaked, but it has slowed, as some predicted it would. At the same time, dollar sales of hard seltzer grew 169%, according to a recent Nielsen report, and volume sales grew 181%.

So can these beverages become a mainstay? Do “malternatives” have enough going for them to muscle their way into the pack? To find out, CivicScience asked more than 2,000 adults what their experiences were with hard seltzers, and the results may be frothier than you’d expect.

For starters, a surprising amount of adults have already guzzled down one of these drinks, and the majority like them. What’s more, 36% of adults still haven’t heard of hard seltzers, indicating plenty of room for growth for an industry already on the upswing, and more than enough potential fans to help offset the 39% who claim they’re not interested.

Not all drinks cater to both men and women. Too fruity, and guys may not pick it up. Too wheaty, and women might turn it down. But hard seltzers seem to appeal evenly. Women prefer these drinks only slightly more than men, and as with before, there are plenty of men and women who have yet to try them.

Hard seltzers do appeal more to younger people, however—at least for now. Whereas only 5% of adults age 55 or older have tried and liked hard seltzers, 35% of Gen Z has tried them and 23% like them. Millennials are just behind in their enthusiasm, with one-fifth of respondents liking these malternatives. 

But things could shift. Millennials remain almost as in the dark about hard seltzers as Boomers, and Gen X is even less informed. Forty-two percent of Gen Xers say they’ve never heard of hard seltzers before, which leaves plenty of untapped potential for brewing up more interest.

Speaking of brewing, it’s worth turning back to more traditional forms of alcohol to see who is and who isn’t embracing the seltzer trend. For instance, people who frequently drink dark spirits, such as rum and whiskey, tend to be less interested in hard seltzers. Only 9% of adults who drink dark spirits twice a week or more enjoy hard seltzers, and another 50% aren’t even interested. We see similar results when we look at frequent wine drinkers. 

But beer drinkers are different. For one, frequent beer drinkers are two times more likely to prefer hard seltzers than not. They’re also more likely than dark spirits aficionados to be interested in trying them. Perhaps this has something to do with the effect of craft brewing. With its array of flavors and styles, craft beer has no doubt expanded the palates of many a beer drinker. What was once wheaty and thin might now be juicy or piney. How far from that could a hard seltzer be?

Lastly, another factor that might entice more beer drinkers is health. Hard seltzers sport about half the calories of an average IPA, and health-conscious adults may have hit upon that fact. Of adults who say that health and fitness are important aspects of their lives, 14% have tried and liked hard seltzers, more than double the portion who have disliked them. People who categorize health as a passion do dislike hard seltzers more often, but they’re still more likely to enjoy them than people who don’t care about staying fit.

Clearly, hard seltzers are having a moment. For those who like to drink, they tend to be a healthier alternative to lighter beers, and plenty of beer drinkers have tried them and liked them. But, as the Nielsen report pointed out, hard seltzers usually peak in the summer. As the weather gets cooler, many beer drinkers can turn to heavier options, like stouts and porters, which seltzers have a hard time replacing.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to think hard seltzer isn’t going away anytime soon. And as more people hear about them and try them, these malternatives may even become a summertime standard.

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