The Hard Seltzer Revolution: What’s Driving the Ready to Drink Boom

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Over the last year, it’s been nearly impossible to ignore the rising popularity of canned hard seltzers.

In the US, they went from being a hot commodity to the hottest drink trend since craft beer. Not only are they a popular item to stock on shelves or the endcaps of aisles, but also an incredibly popular subject of conversation. Ask any American millennial, and you’ll be sure to get a raving review of these spiked fizzy drinks. 

But what's behind this surge in popularity for brands like White Claw, Truly, and Bon & Viv? Our research team looked into it...

Let’s crack it open!

"Ready-to-drink" beverages

Let's start by defining what items meet the category criteria of "ready-to-drink" (RTD). RTD beverages are, fundamentally, drinks that are pre-mixed and ready to be enjoyed without additional preparation. There has been a boom in RTD sales in the past year, but despite the ready-to-drink beverage category's recent success, alcohol consumption in the United States has actually declined for the third year running.

In our research, we took a look at canned cocktails, canned wine, and hard seltzers. When we compared 2018 social data numbers to 2019 metrics, the data confirmed my personal experience: when it comes to alcohol trends, hard seltzers are the stars of the show.

Popularity is tied closely to brand recognition. Of all the posts in the RTD category that we analyzed, over 80% of them were about hard seltzers. And of the three categories of RTD beverages that we examined, people mentioned the specific brands of their drinks most in conversations about seltzers. The trends show that while folks will post about their canned wine, they aren't aligning themselves with a brand en masse they way they do with seltzers.

Sentiment hard seltzers Linkfluence

Before we jump into a few of the reasons why hard seltzers are such a powerful player in the alcohol scene this year, let's review the impact that social conversations about RTD beverages had in the last year. In the space of 12 months, conversations around the category increased by 670 percent.  It’s an impressive stand-alone figure, propelled further by skyrocketing engagement rates of 333 percent! Telling us consumers are more interested than ever.

The research study delves into the "why" and "who" is behind the spike, in spiked seltzers. For instance, the appeal of hard seltzers feels easy to sum up. At first glance, they boast functional attributes like "low calorie" and claim to use "natural flavors", but isn't there something more driving that category's success? The answer, of course, is a resounding "YES". From togetherness to pop culture to creativity, consumers have a wide range of reasons for picking up a case of Truly or White Claw over a case of beer or a bottle of wine. (My personal favorite from the study, was that even non-drinkers often felt the need to chime in on how visually appealing and "Instagrammable" RTD can design has become.

Who’s behind the "ready-to-drink" trend?

When it comes to the "who" behind the tribes boosting the RTD category to new heights, look no further than yours truly. But seriously, while millennials like myself are enjoying can after can of refreshing spiked bubbles, there are distinct differences between groups, their party styles, and what draws them to drink hard seltzers. For instance, if you compare the "#NoLaws Mid-Twenties Parties" with the "Classy Indulgers" you’ll find men and women, of different ages, who share different moments to enjoy their beverage. From the #NoLaws house party preferences to the "indoor or outdoor, as long as it's unexpected" vibe of the Classy Indulgers, the RTD category proves that setting doesn't matter if you're ready-to-drink. These are only two of the tribes featured in the report.

digital tribesWe all like to learn about ourselves and compare our habits with others, but outside of the trends and tribes information (which is plentiful FYI, since I’ve just scratched the surface), there are lessons to be learned and employed by global brands, even outside of the ready-to-drink category. The research shows that this category's success is tied to its reinvention to better meet changing consumer needs. The full report also provides tips and recommendations for both global and individual brands trying to learn from this category. Tips like "experiment with creating non-demographic, more lifestyle centered occasions" and guidelines in order to interact more authentically with the category's biggest advocates.

Want more?... Get the full report 

Did this article whet your appetite for more RTD insights? That's great because you can get your hands on the latest RTD trends research today! The full 60-page report produced by expert researchers in the adult beverages industry features deep-dive analytics and insights including:

  • Descriptions of each conversation driver and why each is important
  • List of the top-performing brands within these drivers and how they're positioned
  • Identification and details of the digital tribes shaping the trend, including informative descriptions of each
  • Practical lessons and tips from the RTD boom for application to other categories

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