Hard seltzer storm: Big brands take seltzer strategies up a notch

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/artrush
Pic:getty/artrush

Related tags: hard seltzer, Coca-cola, Anheuser-busch, Pepsico, Constellation brands

Constellation Brands is lining up new flavors and SKUs for Corona Hard Seltzer. Anheuser-Busch is bringing a new product into play with Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer. Coca-Cola will launch its hard seltzer in 2021 - and is PepsiCo eying up an entry into the category?

Heineken, meanwhile, is bringing its Mexican hard seltzer Canijilla into select test markets in the US, as well as debuting new brand Pure Piraña in Mexico and New Zealand this month. And Carlsberg has launched hard seltzers in Norway and Singapore.

October sees big brands take their seltzer strategies up a notch: with beverage giants moving in from both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage sectors. 

Corona Hard Seltzer to expand with new flavors and SKUs

Having launched Corona Hard Seltzer earlier this year, Constellation Brands is ‘thrilled’ with its performance to date – it’s already become number 4 in the US hard seltzer category.​ 2021 will see the expansion of the brand with new flavors and other SKUs.

Despite launching this new brand in the midst of a pandemic, which prevented us from engaging in a number of the activities conducive to introducing a new brand, Corona Hard Seltzer has become one of the most successful new product launches in our company's history,” ​said William Newlands, president CEO and Director of Constellation Brands in the company's Q2 2021 earnings call last week.

He promises new flavors, new packages ‘and even new platforms’ are to follow for the brand, which is currently available in a single SKU off the brand equity of the classic Corona beer brand.

But it's not just all about Corona. Constellation Brands also made a minority investment in Wisconsin premium hard seltzer Press​ earlier this year, which Newlands says the company is ‘very excited about’. And the company has also done some regional products – such as taking its 2017 craft beer acquisition Funky Buddha into the category with a hard seltzer brewed from can sugar and blue agave. “In Florida, that particular brand is in the top five of all seltzers in the state,” ​notes Newlands.

“So we've got our toes in the water on a number of areas,” ​he concludes. “Corona Hard Seltzer will continue to be our lead, but we certainly have other opportunities to continue to gain share in what is becoming a very important subsegment of the beer business.”

Anheuser-Busch brings Michelob Ultra Organic Selzer into play

Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer will hit shelves in January 2021, Anheuser-Busch announced this month, following on from the launch of ‘cocktail-inspired’ Social Club Seltzer​ and Bud Light Seltzer (and Bud Light Platinum Seltzer​) earlier this year (the company also has Bon & Viv and Natty Light Seltzer).  

Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer sets out its point of difference as 'the first national USDA certified organic hard seltzer', while going out on a limb with a spicy pineapple flavor; alongside peach and pear and cucumber lime). Further flavors are set to follow later in the year.

Michelob ULTRA Organic Seltzer

Like Bud Light and Corona hard seltzers, Michelob Ultra believes its existing brand equity - and in this case particularly its positioning as a 'wellness-centric brand' - will help it power into the seltzer space. 

Ricardo Marques, Vice President of Michelob Ultra, said: "We believe that Michelob Ultra is uniquely placed to win in the seltzer segment not only because it’s one of the hottest brands in the country but also because it has unmatched equity as a high quality brand with consumers who like to have an active lifestyle.” 

Coca-Cola: 2021 hard seltzer launch

The Coca-Cola Company will launch Topo Chico Hard Seltzer in the US in early 2021: making a milestone leap into the alcoholic beverage category.

Topo Chico Hard Seltzer uses purified sparkling water, a gluten-free alcohol base and natural flavors, with minerals added for taste. In the US it will launch in four flavors in slim cans: Tangy Lemon Lime, Exotic Pineapple, Strawberry Guava and Tropical Mango: available in a four flavor, 12-pack Variety Pack.

In order to bring the hard seltzer to market at an accelerated pace and at scale, it’s partnered with Molson Coors​ to make the most of the latter’s experience in the hard seltzer and wider alcoholic beverage category (Molson Coors – known best for Miller Light, Coors Light and Blue Moon – has already launched Vizzy and Coors Seltzer in the US this year​).  

With Molson Coors responsible for the marketing, sales and distribution of Topo Chico Hard Seltzer, the partnership equally marks another step from Molson Coors in its ambitions to move beyond beer and become a ‘major competitor’ in the fast-growing attractive hard seltzer category.

Pepsi-seltzer?

And with Coca-Cola pinning its colors to the hard seltzer mast, does this mean that PepsiCo is also eying up an entry into the category?

CEO Ramon Laguarta remained non-committal in the company’s earnings call last week: saying the company would make a decision shortly on whether it wants to hop across into hard seltzers or not.

“Now obviously, we look at every opportunity there is in the industry,” ​he said. “And a couple of years ago, it was CBD, now it's more alcohol.

“So we get a lot of opportunities in front of us. Of course, we're looking at all of them, and of course, we have people that are thinking more long-term versus the very immediate 2021. We're reflecting, we're thinking what are the best options, and we will make decisions in the coming quarters whether this [hard seltzers] is an area where PepsiCo wants to play.

“And then more importantly, how do we capture a lot of value of this opportunity? Given the 3-tier system, it's not obvious how you capture a lot of value.

“So first: do we play or not? Second, very important, is who do we play with and who do we partner to maximize the value for PepsiCo?”

Global potential

While the US is the centre of hard seltzer sales, the category is making waves abroad as well.

Heineken is testing new hard seltzer brand Pure Piraña in New Zealand and Mexico,​ launching last month with nine flavors to allow it to test local preferences. (This is alongside its US entry with existing Mexican hard seltzer Canijilla).

Carlsberg, meanwhile, has launched Garage Hard Seltzer in Norway and Somerby Hard Seltzer in Singapore.

How these US hard seltzers stack up

Bud-Light-Seltzer-inset

Corona Hard Seltzer (Constellation Brands)

  • Flavors: Blackberry lime, cherry, tropical lime, mango
  • ABV: 4.5%

Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer (Anheuser-Busch)

  • Flavors: spicy pineapple, peach and pear, cucumber lime
  • ABV: 4%

Bud Light Seltzer (Anheuser-Busch)

  • Flavors: black cherry, lemon lime, strawberry, mango
  • ABV: 5%

Bud Light Platinum Seltzer (Anheuser-Busch)

  • Flavors: citrus, wild berry, blood orange
  • ABV: 8%

Topo Chico Hard Seltzer (Coca-Cola)

  • Flavors: tangy lemon lime, exotic pineapple, strawberry guava, tropical mango

Coors Seltzer (Molson Coors):

  • Flavors: black cherry, lemon lime, mango, grapefruit
  • ABV: 4.5%

Vizzy Hard Seltzer (Molson Coors):

  • Flavors: pineapple mango, black cherry lime, blueberry pomegranate, strawberry kiwi.
  • ABV: 5%

Canijilla (Heineken)

  • Flavors: lemon-pipino, mango picosito
  • ABV: 5%

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