Consumers across the U.S. are preparing for summer as much of the country reopens. But even though vaccinations and loosened restrictions will likely make summer 2021 a different social environment than summer 2020, expect some major Q3 pandemic trends to persist this year. 

Beer’s category share typically increases in the summer months as consumers move their gatherings outside, but last year, liquor also experienced share gains (compared to its share remaining flat in 2019). 

“Given that in 2021 to date the growth of spirits has shown no signs of slowing, especially with the rapid growth of ready-to-drink cocktails, we expect the trend of liquor gaining share in the summer months to persist this year,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights.

From single-serve staples like RTDs and hard seltzer to vodka and sparkling wine, these are the categories that retailers should be ready to sell this summer.

A Top-Selling Summer for RTD Cocktails

“We anticipate that 2021 will be the summer of ready-to-drink,” says Paquette. “With growing consumer awareness of the category, new product innovation, and distribution growing significantly over the past year, this sector is booming.”

Last summer, RTDs peaked at four percent of liquor share in July, a full percentage point over the annual average of three percent. Much of this share growth was driven by single-serve options, particularly cans, which offer a spirits-based alternative to hard seltzer and can command higher profit margins for retailers.

“Consumers are willing to pay more for liquor-based RTDs versus malt-based hard seltzers, making this category a strong margin and basket size driver for retailers,” explains Paquette.

Among the fastest-growing RTD SKUs year-to-date are products from Ranch Rider, Bacardi, and Cutwater, including innovations like Cutwater’s Frozen Cocktail Spirit Pops and Kahlua Nitro Cold Brew. “As trailblazers in the category, we are confident that the demand for high-quality canned cocktails will continue to grow,” says Shreyas Batakrishnan, the president of Cutwater Spirits. “When stocking RTDs for consumers, retailers should consider offering a variety of options and always prioritize quality as the category evolves.”

Vodka Will Remain a Summer Staple

Despite vodka’s share shrinking in the past few years due to growing categories like tequila, this staple category will indeed drive sales for retailers this summer. In 2020, vodka gained share in Q3 compared to Q2, holding 24 percent of liquor share. 

This is largely driven by consumer preferences shifting to light, refreshing summer cocktails. However, more consumers are also reaching for seasonal and easy-to-mix flavored vodkas. Six of Drizly’s fastest-growing vodka SKUs year-to-date are flavored vodkas, including summery options like Frankly Organic Strawberry Vodka, Absolut Juice Pear & Elderflower Vodka, and SVEDKA Pure Infusions Dragonfruit Melon Flavored Vodka.

Celebrations Will Spur Champagne Sales

“With engagements, graduations, and weddings finally becoming possible to celebrate safely, we expect bubbles to be flowing this summer,” says Paquette. Last year, sparkling wine share saw gains in Q3, holding 20 percent of wine share compared to 17 percent in Q1 and Q2.

Sales of sparkling wines are already up in 2021 compared to years past; year-to-date, sparkling wine holds 22 percent of wine share on Drizly, which outpaces previous years.

Champagne remains by far the most popular sparkling wine category on Drizly, holding 62 percent of share within the category followed by budget-friendly Prosecco wines. The fastest-growing sparkling wine brands in 2021 to date include Papi, Pol Remy, Andre Clouet, Armand De Brignac, and Beau Joie.

Hard Seltzers Will Expand and Evolve 

The ease, portability, and flavor variety in the hard seltzer category — with new entrants and flavors continuing to emerge — make it a category that is likely to expand this season, especially as traditional seltzer brands enter the hard seltzer category. 

Last year, hard seltzer overtook light lager as the most popular beer subcategory on Drizly. After an increase of three percentage points in share during Q3 — 24 percent of beer share during Q3 compared to 21 percent in 2020 overall — retailers should anticipate a similar shift this summer. 

“It is no secret that hard seltzer will be a top-seller this summer,” says Paquette. “However increasing brand and flavor diversification will play a larger role in 2021.” While large brands like Truly and White Claw dominated the market in 2020, craft brands such as Press, Oskar Blues, and Nightshift are seeing significant gains in 2021. 

Agave-based hard seltzers, such as Cacti and Lone River Ranch Water, have also seen sales soar so far in 2021. As consumer interest in agave-based spirits and seltzers expands, growth of this seltzer subcategory will continue to boom. 

Similarly, as hard seltzer demonstrates its staying power, more traditional seltzer brands are moving into the hard seltzer market. Polar Seltzer’s Arctic Chill (now known as Arctic Summer) launched in 2019, and fan-favorite Topo Chico launched a hard seltzer in 2021. An immediate best-seller in Texas — where it quickly became the third best-selling hard seltzer brand on Drizly — it will likely take additional share as distribution expands nationwide.