I remember when my friend first handed me a White Claw during a get-together at her house 3 or so years ago. I was intrigued, but hesitant. She explained that hard seltzer is going to be all the rave soon, and oh boy was she right. All these years later we are still seeing innovation in a space that, I thought, by now, would be overly saturated. Brands are beginning to play with new flavors, colors, new seasonal inspirations, and more. Nothing seems off-limits… because as we know, there are “no laws with the claws”.
Some of the Givaudan beverage team saw these innovations come to a head when we attended Cincinnati’s Hard Seltzer Festival. The festival comprised of over 90 different flavors from a handful of brands. It felt like the list was never ending, reminding me of how Bubba was naming off all the ways he could make shrimp in Forrest Gump. “There’s frozen seltzers, premium seltzers, mango, pomegranate, lime seltzers…”.
The Seltzer Squad
The team, or “seltzer squad” as I like to call us, was intrigued to figure out what each of us would like, as we all fall into different Flavorfinders segments. Luan (far left) is a Flavor Investigator, Savannah (next to Luan) is a Flavor Trailblazer, and I (next to Savannah) am the most common of the groups, a Flavor Hesitator. Melissa, one of our application scientist (on the far right) is also a Flavor Hesitator. Luan and I specifically seemed to be on opposite ends of what we look for in seltzers, we were particularly curious if we would find something we both liked. Stay till the end to find out if we did!
What’s Happening In Seltzers?
Before diving into the nitty-gritty of the flavors and our reactions to what we saw at the festival, let’s discuss what’s happening in the space. The rise of hard seltzer has been fueled by the recent focus toward better-for-you, guilt-free drinking habits. This better-for-you focus has only been amplified by the COVID pandemic. It also has consumers drinking at home more often, drawing the eye to the convenience and ‘sessionability’ of ready-to-drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages. All of this has allowed hard seltzers to skyrocket:
Other than unique flavor profiles and colors, we also saw trends like seltzers with functional benefits, spirit-based seltzers, unique flavor, and cocktail-inspired seltzers at the festival. These trends are reflective of what our Givaudan team believes to be “the next big things” in the space, and brands should be on the lookout for.
Now that we covered the basics, let’s dive into what we saw at the festival. A variety of brands made an appearance. Of course, we had the major players: White Claw and Truly, but there were some new players (at least to me) like Press and Blake Shelton’s Seltzer, Smithworks. Smirnoff, MolsonCoors, Corona, and others were also present. The classic fruit flavors of Black Cherry, Mango, and Grapefruit (and the top flavors, according to Nielsen) were well represented across all of the brands.
Along with the classics, we also saw some new functional flavors. This included ingredients like ginger and hibiscus, playing into the health halo consumers are increasingly interested in. The team also discovered some play with color. The Bud Light Hard Seltzer Strawberry Lemonade was actually pink, while most of the seltzers were clear.
A unique play we also saw was from a local Cincinnati company called Blox Spiked Ice. The company creates flavored ice that can be used to enhance your favorite alcoholic beverages. There are many ways to use it, from simply dropping the ice in to using it to make your drink into a slushy! No blender needed! This highlights the DelightFULL trend, where consumers are looking beyond just flavor and focusing on the whole experience. The play with texture in making your favorite seltzer or alcoholic beverage into a slushy excited everyone on the team. We also loved the convenience and that it originated in our backyard!
With the team all interacting with flavors differently as we fall into different FlavorFinder segments – we all had varying expectations. My beverage counterparts didn’t like the more sugary-focused seltzers, while those are the ones I lived for! After trying over 90 flavors and a dozen brands, here are the ones that came out on top for each of us.
Smithworks Hard Seltzer Lemonade
Not only is Blake Shelton breaking music records, but he is also at the top of my seltzer playlist. I particularly liked the Peach Tea because it did not taste like a seltzer at all, more just like a peach drink. Tea and alcohol combinations is another trend topping the charts in the RTD world. It was smooth and I found it interesting that it doesn’t come in the slim can like most seltzers. Check out the commercial here:
Savannah’s favorite was the Michelob Ultra line. In this photo from their site, you see this organic seltzer markets itself as ‘refreshingly real’. Key buzzwords for the health-conscious drinker. Savannah thought the base was fantastically neutral and had no stevia or sweetness overload. An avid sparkling water fan, she enjoyed that it tasted like sparkling water with some alcohol in it, she also mentioned this could be dangerous for her. What really drew her in, however, was the unique flavors, she spotted the words “spicy pineapple” and ran to the booth. Being a Trailblazer, she is always looking for a new and exciting experience; this was exactly that. Stay creative Mich Ultra!
Luan mentioned this to be a standout for her. Press is the largest independent alcohol seltzer brand, according to Trend Hunter. It is also female-owned and offers a unique tasting experience with its functional combinations. Some of these include lime lemongrass, pomegranate ginger, and blackberry hibiscus, which you can see in this photo provided by Beverage Industry. The brand’s flavors were well balanced and did not have a lot of off notes. There were interesting and unique combinations of flavors that intrigued the Investigator in her.
Our Ultimate Winner
So… I know you’re wondering… did Luan and I agree on a seltzer? At the very end… we DID! Actually…. all of us were able to agree on this one. It was the Apple Cinnamon from Press, you can see us holding our cans in the picture. It was the perfect seasonal flavor – the crispness of the apple met with the sweet cinnamon, and it made for a delicious and widely appealing seltzer. It was unlike any seltzer I tasted before. It tastes exactly like what it says it is, which can be rare to find in seltzers at times. They nailed the seasonality with this one (especially as seasonality continues to drive creative seltzer growth), and we can see this appealing to all!
But Wait! There’s More…
We know keeping up with RTD alcohol trends is ever-growing in importance to our clients. But there’s so much going on, way more than we can fit in one blog. That is why we will soon be launching an RTD Alcohol Magazine to discuss in greater detail the trends in the space and where we see the market going. Be sure to be on the lookout and reach out to your Account Manager if you are interested in being alerted when it comes out!