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October 26, 2022

Hard seltzers “unlikely” to replicate US success on a global scale, analysts predict

GlobalData analysts believe the drinks are “failing to stand out” from competition including pre-mixed cocktails.

By James Beeson

The rapid growth of hard seltzers in North America is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere in the world due to a lack of consumer understanding of the drink, according to research analysts at GlobalData.

Hard seltzers have grown substantially in the US over the past five years, with the market recording a five-year CAGR of 20.8% in value terms between 2017 and 2021, according to GlobalData. This growth is predicted to continue (albeit at a slower pace), with sales topping $16.4bn in 2026.

Speaking at an event on the outlook for the alcoholic beverage industry, however, GlobalData’s beer and cider research director Kevin Baker said that “all the evidence” suggested the US success was not likely to follow on a global scale.

“I don’t think that the seltzer part [of hard seltzer] is understood by consumers outside of the North American market,” he said. “There’s also much stronger competition – and a much more engrained culture of – pre-mixed cocktails in western Europe.

“Even anecdotally, if you just look in in most UK supermarkets, there was an initial flurry of shelves being full of hard seltzer, and now we’re seeing one or two brands, sharing limited shelf space and lots of space being given over to pre-mixed whiskey and colas, pre-mixed gin and tonics, and things like that. Then in places like Japan you’ve got chūhai which is very, very dominant in that market, so I think its unlikely there is much of a space there.”

GlobalData’s alcoholic beverages manager David Harris echoed Baker’s comments, adding that hard seltzer was “failing to stand out” from competition including pre-mixed cocktails in Europe.

“We are seeing strong growth across western Europe, particularly France, Germany and the UK, but this is from a fairly small base,” he said. “There are some key differences between the market in the US. Cider is not commonly drunk in the US, and we have some very experienced pre-mixed spirits brands in Europe. Diageo, for example, has a very strong portfolio which competes with seltzer in a way that they don’t really have in the US.

“In Japan as David says you have chūhai, which is a massive competitor and means it [hard seltzer] is unlikely to get a foothold. And then across the rest of Asia-Pacific the massive consumption of premixed spirits and wine coolers is just monopolizing the market for fruity, canned-based beverages.”

On the subject of how the concept of hard seltzer could be better communicated to consumers, Baker said that a repositioning away from the term “seltzer” would help European drinkers to better understand the proposition of the beverage.

“There’s unlikely to be the same opportunity, but there is going to be some, and maybe more so if they [seltzers] are rebranded away from being called hard seltzers,” he said. “The concept is sound, and a sparkling water with flavour should be attractive, but certainly all the evidence at the moment suggests we aren’t going to see the same level of growth [as in the US]”.

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