The Harder the Seltzer, …. New Alcopops or New Drink Trends?

Hard Seltzer in verschiedenen Sorten
© K&A BrandResearch AG

Like so many other trends, hard seltzer also originated in the USA, where it has been breaking one sales record after another. No wonder that the beverage industry in Germany sensed a big chance here after being greatly shaken up by the coronavirus. Hard seltzer, a new boom that can be brought across the Atlantic to Europe with ease, or just a brief tremor in the market like Fassbrause?

A seltzer is nothing more than carbonated water. The adjective “hard” refers to the fact that they’re not soft drinks, but rather an alcoholic beverage. In other words, water spiked with alcohol. In order for this “hard water” to taste of something, it is often enriched with flavoring. The first hard seltzer products were fermented, in other words, brewed products. In the USA, the alcohol used was generally derived from sugar cane or corn, for which the preparation isn’t defined in detail.

Andreas Putz und Dr. Uwe H. Lebok
The authors: Andreas Putz & Dr. Uwe H. Lebok (Photo: © K&A BrandResearch AG)

What occasions is hard seltzer suited to?

The main thing that sets them apart from other alcoholic beverages is their low calorie content: Since the beverage consists solely of water, alcohol and flavoring, 100 milliliters of hard seltzer contain just 25-30 calories. That’s significantly less than other alcoholic beverages like beer (40 calories) and wine (60+ calories).

In addition to the low calorie content, hard seltzer also boasts other qualities that should go down well with the health-conscious, cool and young at heart urban population always on the lookout for new trends: It’s vegan, practically sugar-free, ready to drink from the can or bottle and doesn’t contain excessive amounts of alcohol. The beverage isn’t explicitly aimed at women or men, but instead embodies an attitude to life – keeping a clear conscience even during long nights of partying and doing something (more or less) good for your body.

If we follow this train of thought, hard seltzer can be seen as a “healthy” alternative in many different contexts with just a little alcohol. In addition to nightly parties, that could be boat trips, cruises, golf events, pre-drinks in the garage or chilling on the roof terrace. Ultimately, many application scenarios are possible and feasible. Unfortunately, there are almost even too many for it to spread quickly across Central Europe and become established as the new must-have drink there.

Hard seltzer in Germany

Before specific marketing concepts can be developed, the tax framework in Germany needs to be clarified first. In addition to alcohol tax, there are separate fees for spirits, sparkling wine, beer, intermediate products and alcopops. In order to mark out hard seltzer as profitable, manufacturers especially want to avoid the alcopop tax introduced in 2004 as it is four times higher than the alcohol tax. Currently, the taxation remains unclear as to whether Germany’s “extraordinary tax on sweet alcoholic beverages for the protection of young people” also applies to hard seltzer.

Since mid-2020, the first providers have been venturing out and bringing new offerings onto the market based on the successful U.S. model. In addition to innovative start-ups like Holy, Suaro and Berlin Seltzer, big players like the USA pioneer White Claw and Coca-Cola have also thrown their hats in the ring with the Topo Chico brand. Even Lidl tried out its own “Sunrise” brand in October 2020. While the market for hard seltzer in the USA has grown to a revenue of more than USD 1.5 billion, the beverage has not yet been able to assert itself in Germany.

An opportunity from possible beverage trends?

In Germany, the importance of conscious nutrition and topics such as “free from”, vegetarian, vegan and functional nutrition has increased significantly over the last few years and become a central topic for individual lifestyles, especially among the younger generations. The results of the representative consumer drink trends study by K&A BrandResearch (September 2021) underline this overriding attitude toward non-alcoholic beverages. Functional aspects such as low/reduced sugar, low calories and added vitamins, proteins and minerals, as well as a product’s region and origin have become more important than pure enjoyment and flavor experience. The temptation for sweet things has increasingly become a means to improve the body with a clear conscience.

In the aforementioned study, the participants were asked about health and trends in the context of non-alcoholic beverages, but also about alcoholic beverages. While functionality comes before enjoyment in the non-alcoholic segment, when it comes to alcoholic beverages, more factors about enjoyment, like taste, pleasant sweetness and the ability to mix with other beverages, are more relevant than concerns about additional benefits and the sugar and calorie content. Beer mixes and ready-to-drink cocktails directly from the bottle or can meet these requirements perfectly.

In addition to the functionality of beverages and their effect on the body, the search for naturalness is almost a more significant criterion for nutrition and drinking behavior. For many consumers, natural fruits, berries and avoiding artificial ingredients are very relevant topics when buying groceries. Right now, we can observe this in the constantly increasing sales of (supposedly “good”) organic food items or the boom in natural radler beverages.

The bottles and cans of hard seltzer currently sport a very sober and clean design, making a clear statement that it is a cool, urban lifestyle drink. It attempts to carry over the functionality from the world of consciously consumed non-alcoholic to the more mood-driven world of alcoholic beverages. In the USA, the sales figures confirm the effectiveness of this concept – it has firmly established itself. Meanwhile, despite promotion in shops and initial brand-specific concepts, hard seltzer remains a niche product in Germany. Only 2% of the representative group of beverage consumers that were surveyed have tried it in the last three months, of which most were Gen Z. Interestingly, however, Gen Z makes up the overwhelming majority of regular consumers. In other words, if hard seltzer can win over consumers in this context, then it can also find ways into everyday life.

More context thinking, more hard seltzer!

One question that has hardly been addressed so far is which overall context hard seltzer can occupy for itself. Where, when, with whom and for what reason do young people in Germany drink hard seltzer? Is it a wild party setting, a chilled lounge atmosphere or an invigorating games night with bros. Hard seltzer is currently in the initial testing phase, emphasized by the high proportion of Gen Z. In order to gain widespread acceptance, a completely new concept such as this has to occupy contexts in which hard seltzer naturally presents itself as the most suitable solution. The current approach of simply copying America’s success doesn’t seem to be enough: independent concepts have to be developed.

Hard Seltzer Dose
(Photo: © pixabay / PIRO4D)

The implosion of the craft beer scene may be a warning for hype without resounding sales. Actual craft beers never really got out of the trial and connoisseur stage and were generally not able to establish any real broad impact. Due to the media presence, however, the power of craft encouraged brewers to become more involved with the production of their beers and to largely abandon the path of nationally distributed standard beers. Ultimately, this also paved the way for the success of natural radler.

It takes more than drawing board drafts from marketing experts or simple question-and-answer games with fans from your own environment to make products that consumers don’t already know, such as hard seltzer, appetizing and suitable for everyday use. With Context Thinking®, it is possible to access potential consumers in a way that is unconventional and related to everyday situations, making it possible to design concepts for how brands or new products can be better understood through contexts. For example, it enables you to find solutions in which hard seltzer is preferable to certain brand alternatives such as Beck’s Lemon, Fritz Cola or Gösser natural radler in clubs or bars. The fast-moving nature of everyday life shows us day after day that the key to achieving success through understanding the context and needs of the consumer is ultimately more efficient than blindly copying concepts without considering the context.

Want to share your developments and innovations in the beverage industry to an international specialist audience? Then we would very much like to invite you to take part in the next drinktec from September 12 to 16, 2022 in Munich.

This article is powered by Verlag W. Sachon.

Verlag W. Sachon

The publishing house W. Sachon, headquartered at Mindelburg Castle, publishes nine established trade journals that regularly provide their readers with exciting and interesting information. The emphasis lies in the brewing and beverage industry. The specialized publications are published in German, English, Spanish and Mandarin. A national and an international newsletter as well as an SMS Executive Flash complete the print offer digitally.