Hard cider has become an autumn staple, but with increasing demand for categories like hard seltzer, hard iced tea and lemonade, and even ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails, its share has steadily declined over recent years. Can product innovation, marketing, and packaging help hard cider compete with other, trendier beer alternatives in the coming years?

Facing Increasing Competition

On Drizly, hard cider sits within the beer category (which encompasses beer, fermented malt beverages/hard seltzer, and cider). Year-to-date, cider holds 4.3 percent of share within the beer category.

This is relatively flat year-over-year for the same time period, but it also doesn’t account for hard cider’s prime season: fall. Hard cider share spiked to 5.6 percent last year during the month of October, and overall 2020 share within the beer category was 4.6 percent.

However, the share of hard cider on Drizly has steadily declined over the past few years after peaking in 2018 at 6.4 percent. “A few years back, hard cider was among the hottest new beer subcategories among alternatives to traditional beers,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “But in recent years, options for consumers have grown in the space, taking share from hard cider.” 

The rise of subcategories like hard seltzer, hard iced tea, hard lemonade, and hard kombucha has contributed to hard cider’s declining share, particularly because these other beer alternatives have stronger connections to the “better for you” consumer purchasing trend.

Hard cider has benefited from consumer demand for local and craft beverages, however, with regional and local brands reporting strong sales. Craft cider brands are also injecting innovation into the hard cider space, with a slew of cider-wine mashups, hopped ciders, and grafs (a beer-cider hybrid) coming onto the market.

Which Hard Ciders Are Selling?

The top-selling hard cider brands and SKUs have been relatively consistent year-over-year and are dominated by big brands or regional ones with national reach. 

Drizly’s Top-Selling Hard Cider Brands, Year-to-Date

  1. Angry Orchard
  2. Downeast Cider
  3. Austin Eastciders
  4. Wolffer Estate
  5. Citizen Cider
  6. Golden State Cider
  7. Stella Artois
  8. Schilling Cider
  9. Strongbow
  10. Woodchuck

Drizly’s Top-Selling Hard Cider SKUs, Year-to-Date

  1. Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Hard Cider
  2. Wolffer Estate No. 139 Dry Rosé Cider
  3. Angry Orchard Hard Cider Explorer Variety Pack
  4. Downeast Cider Original Blend
  5. Stella Artois Cidre
  6. Downeast Cider Mix Pack
  7. Golden State Mighty Dry Cider
  8. Angry Orchard Rose
  9. Austin Eastciders Original Dry Cider
  10. Angry Orchard Green Apple Hard Cider

Increasingly, hard cider has been moving towards canned packaging, with Drizly share of hard cider in cans growing significantly from 2019 (53 percent in can versus 47 percent in bottle) to 2020 and 2021 (61 percent can and 39 percent bottle). “This trend further points to the competition among alternative beer subcategories as consumers reach for more cans overall,” says Paquette.

Hard Cider’s Future Potential

Facing the impact of innovation and success within other beer alternative subcategories, hard cider will likely need to adapt to compete in a growingly crowded space. Just as major light lager brands got into the hard seltzer game, cider brands like Austin Eastciders and Citizen Cider have launched their own seltzers.

But don’t count hard cider out just yet. Rather than pivoting styles entirely, brands may find ways to compete with other beer alternatives through marketing and packaging, as they have with cans. “We may see hard cider brands lean into the value propositions that have driven growth for these other categories,” says Paquette, “like lower calorie count, lower sugar, transparency of ingredients, and other added health benefits.”