We know that a lot of people are drinking hard seltzers, but do we really know why? Or if it will last? And if it does last — what are the specific reasons customers gravitate toward it? Billion-dollar Boston Beer thought it had the answers and whiffed pretty hard on it, so it’s not just us out here in the wilderness asking these questions to ourselves (but please, stay away if you do see us out there).
Consumer insights platform Veylinx made the latest attempt to figure out hard seltzer’s popularity and where the growth opportunities actually are. They used behavioral research to predict purchasing habits, studied eight hard seltzer brands (AriZona SunRise, Bon V!V, Bud Light, Corona, Smirnoff, Topo Chico, Truly, and White Claw) and then asked about eight added benefits (CBD, high alcohol, low alcohol, sustainable packaging, energy, immunity, vitamins, kombucha) to determine which potential product innovations consumers value most and which will impact their willingness to pay.
According to findings, nearly all of the added benefits tested drove greater purchase interest from consumers. The study found that adding CBD boosted demand by 12% on average, while enhancing the drinks with kombucha lowered demand by an average of 6%.
Other variations, such as sustainable packaging, showed potential for some brands, but not others. Sustainable packaging for Corona boosted its demand by 29%, but shrunk demand for Truly by 23%.
The study also confirmed that White Claw leads the crowded category in overall willingness to pay, with 35% higher average demand than its competitors. Corona and Truly scored second and third, respectively—but trailed the market leader by a wide margin.
“We wanted to study the hard seltzer category because it has disrupted the alcoholic beverage space so profoundly in such a short time,” said Anouar El Haji, CEO of Veylinx. “There are widely divergent predictions about if and how it will sustain its tremendous growth, so we wanted to shed light on which brands and innovations are best positioned for the future.”
Unlike typical surveys where consumers are simply asked about their preferences, Veylinx uses behavioral research to reveal how much consumers will pay for a product through an actual bidding system. Consumers reveal their true willingness to pay by placing sealed bids on products and then answering follow-up questions about their reasons to buy or not to buy. The study was conducted in July and August 2021 among 2,702 U.S. consumers over the age of 21.
The findings showed that all eight brands enjoy a positive product perception across multiple dimensions, including credibility, premiumness, and uniqueness, signaling strong potential for additional growth.
White Claw drives the greatest demand, but benefits the least from adding product extensions
CBD-infused, energy-boosting, and high-alcohol versions performed well across most brands, and while market leader White Claw commanded the highest demand score, potential product line extensions actually drove less demand for the brand. Every other brand tested had at least one added benefit that lifted demand. For Topo Chico, five of the eight added benefits drove higher demand—including CBD, which provided an 18% lift.
Consumers drink hard seltzer for its refreshing taste, not because it’s healthier
“Refreshing taste” was listed by a majority of respondents (54%) as a primary purchase driver, with Truly, White Claw and Bud Light scoring highest in this category. Somewhat surprisingly, the perceived healthfulness of seltzers compared to other alcoholic beverages was not an important demand driver (only selected by 22% of participants).
Nearly 75% of respondents indicated that they consume hard seltzer at home.
Regional preferences vary.
Consumer demand for individual brands differed across regions, with White Claw dominating the Northeast and Midwest. In the South, Smirnoff elicited the highest demand, while Corona took the crown in the West.
The CBD-infused product variation drove the greatest purchase interest in the Northeast, South, and Midwest. The most popular product variation in the West proved to be sustainable packaging.