Over the past five years, hard seltzer has grown from a relatively unknown category to the best-selling beer subcategory on Drizly. With that popularity has come a slew of new brands, an ever-increasing number of SKUs, and competition from the ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail category. After its meteoric rise, however, hard seltzer is finally showing signs of leveling out but remains an important category for retailers to keep track of going into 2022.

A Slowed, but Still Top-Performing Category

Though the hard seltzer category as we know it today debuted in 2013 with Bon V!V, then known as Spiked Seltzer (though some argue that Zima, which launched in 1993, was really the first hard seltzer), it didn’t really take off until the summer of 2019, when it first surpassed light lager as the best-selling beer subcategory on the Fourth of July. On Drizly, hard seltzer held 14 percent of beer share that year, compared to just five percent in 2018.

The rise continued as hard seltzer reached a 19 percent share of beer sales on Drizly in 2020 and a 21 percent share in 2021. Over those three years of growth, hard seltzer held a 2.6 percent share of overall sales on Drizly in 2019, a 3.4 percent share in 2020, and a 3.3 percent share in 2021.

There’s still room for consumer education in this category. According to Drizly’s 2021 consumer report, only 32 percent of respondents correctly identified what hard seltzer is; 54 percent selected responses that were the definition of a ready-to-drink cocktail.

Until 2019, a few big hard seltzer brands dominated sales: White Claw, Truly, and Bon V!V. Today, White Claw is still the foremost brand, but it now has competition from brands most often associated with beer, like Bud Light and Corona, as well as from craft beer producers. 

Hard seltzer couldn’t grow at such a high pace forever. As the slowing, but still significant, share percentage shows, retailers should still focus on the category—just more selectively. 

“Retailers should focus on the top brands that have solidified their position—like White Claw, Truly, and others—and keep an eye when these brands release new flavors and test how they do on their shelves,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “Beyond that, retailers can round out their shelf space by keeping an eye on new innovations that are gaining traction—Topo Chico hard seltzer was a new product last year and has already broken into the top five brands—as well as local craft offerings that are popular in their region.”

Which Hard Seltzer Brands Are Selling in a Competitive Landscape?

“I see sales growing, but brand launches decreasing,” says Andy Doohan, of Mike’s Wine & Spirits in Kansas City. “People are starting to figure out what they like and sticking to it.”

The top three brands over the past 12 months are the same as those in the previous 12 months. Corona has fallen from number four, however, while Upslope fell from number eight. One of the biggest changes is that the early market leader Bon V!V has dropped out of the top 10 best-selling brands on Drizly (previously number five), as has Smirnoff Seltzer (previously number six) and Oskar Blues Brewery’s seltzer (previously number 10).

Drizly’s Top-Selling Hard Seltzer Brands, Last 12 Months

  1. White Claw
  2. Truly Hard Seltzer
  3. Bud Light
  4. Topo Chico Hard Seltzer
  5. Vizzy
  6. Corona
  7. Lone River
  8. Michelob
  9. Press Spiked Seltzer
  10. Upslope

“As seen through the list of top sellers, there is a mix of hard seltzer-specific brands like Vizzy and Lone River as well as brands from other categories,” Paquette says. “Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic brands like Topo Chico and Michelob have found success, which demonstrates that both have worked to gain share and recognition among consumers. Rather than prioritizing one over the other, retailers can focus on which brands are selling and why across the board.”

The top brands, as expected, also dominate the top hard seltzer SKUs sold on Drizly.

Drizly’s Top-Selling Hard Seltzer SKUs, Last 12 Months

  1. White Claw Hard Seltzer Variety Pack No. 1
  2. TRULY Hard Seltzer Berry Variety Pack
  3. White Claw Hard Seltzer Variety Pack No. 3
  4. White Claw Hard Seltzer Variety Pack No. 2
  5. White Claw Black Cherry Hard Seltzer
  6. Topo Chico Hard Seltzer Variety Pack
  7. TRULY Hard Seltzer Tropical Variety Pack
  8. TRULY Hard Seltzer Punch Variety Pack
  9. Bud Light Seltzer Variety Pack
  10. TRULY Hard Seltzer Iced Tea Variety Pack

“Variety packs are top sellers in the category,” says Paquette, “so retailers can focus on building their inventory based on these and supplementing with specific flavor packs that are top sellers.”

Eighty percent share of hard seltzer sales on Drizly are 12-packs (compared to 32 percent share in core beer sales), followed by six-packs at eight percent (compared to 29 percent for core beer) and 24 packs at seven percent (compared to nine percent for core beer).

Who Is Buying Hard Seltzer?

“This is a fairly young market but with four years of sales it’s saturated itself to all age groups and demographics,” Doohan says. 

Though hard seltzer has broad appeal, on Drizly, sales continue to be dominated by millennials, who hold 63 percent of share (versus 53 percent of overall share on Drizly). Gen Z also over-indexes on hard seltzer, holding nine percent of share (versus four percent overall). Both baby boomers and Gen X under-index, with Gen X holding 24 percent of hard seltzer share (versus 30 percent overall) and baby boomers holding four percent of share (versus 13 percent overall).

The top markets that over-indexed on hard seltzer sales in the past 12 months are Boston, Denver, and Phoenix. 

Continued Success for Hard Seltzer

Despite slowing growth and increased competition from RTD cocktails, hard seltzer is still a category that retailers should pay close attention to. There is still plenty of movement within the top-selling hard seltzer brands, with entrants launched this year outperforming former category leaders. 

The warmer months are especially important for sales. “Historically, hard seltzer share on Drizly has spiked during Q2 and Q3,” says Paquette. “With spring and summer around the corner, retailers should prepare to see an increase in sales of the category.”

In addition to local options and the top selling brands, retailers should pay attention to the fastest-growing hard seltzers on Drizly. 

Drizly’s Fastest-Growing Hard Seltzer Brands, 2021 YOY

  1. Michelob
  2. Untitled Art
  3. Scofflaw Brewing Company
  4. Arizona Sunrise
  5. Sparkling Ice Spiked
  6. Greenhouse
  7. Bomani Cold Buzz
  8. Quirk
  9. Ironbound
  10. Colorado Spiked

Drizly’s Fastest-Growing Hard Seltzer SKUs, 2021 YOY

  1. Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer -Signature Collection
  2. Corona Hard Seltzer Gluten Free Variety Pack 2 
  3. White Claw Hard Seltzer 24pk Variety Pack
  4. TRULY Hard Seltzer Iced Tea Variety Pack
  5. Corona Hard Seltzer Limonada Gluten Free Original Variety Pack
  6. White Claw Hard Seltzer Variety Pack No. 3
  7. White Claw Watermelon Hard Seltzer
  8. Scofflaw Brewing Company Hard Seltzer Variety
  9. Boulevard Quirk Hard Seltzer Pear Yuzu
  10. Untitled Art Pixie Mix: Fruit Punch Seltzer

When it comes to stocking new brands versus familiar options, Paquette suggests that retailers pay attention to which products sell well both in-store and online. “It is clear that consumers are thirsty for new offerings in this category, but some rise to the top while others fade,” she says.