Spotlight on Innovation: Lunar Brings Asian Flavors to the Hard Seltzer Category
This AAPI-owned brand puts a fresh spin on craft hard seltzer and advocates for diversity and representation
It’s not easy to stand out in the popular hard seltzer category, yet Lunar has done just that through innovation and dedication to craft. The AAPI-owned brand differentiates itself by marrying Asian flavors like yuzu and Korean plum with the refreshing qualities that make hard seltzer a consumer favorite.
Though hard seltzer growth slowed on Drizly during the past year, declining from 21 percent share of beer sales in 2021 to 19 percent in 2022, it remains the beer category’s top seller and is expected to continue as a key sales driver in the year ahead. Not only that, but consumer support for AAPI-owned drinks brands is on the rise; compared to 2021, the subcategory’s sales share on Drizly grew more than 10 percent. Lunar ranked No. 7 among AAPI-owned brands sold through the platform in 2022, moving up from No. 13 the previous year.
“While much of the hard seltzer category is dominated by a few established brands, we continue to see new niche brands break in and gain share,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “This is particularly true for those that have a key differentiator that stands out in the market.” Within the hard seltzer category, she adds, consumers are especially drawn to new offerings and innovations.
Lunar’s origin story begins with friends Kevin Wong and Sean Ro, who moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Virginia. Both grew up in Maryland as children of immigrant parents – Ro’s from Korea and Wong’s from Taiwan – and worked in the tech industry before launching Lunar in 2020.
The co-founders took inspiration from the flavors of their childhoods, foregoing standard citrus and berry offerings to craft their own recipes for Yuzu, Lychee, Korean Plum, and Passionfruit hard seltzers. Through Lunar, the duo is bringing Asian-American representation and storytelling to the predominantly white U.S. beverage alcohol industry.
BevAlc Insights chatted with Lunar co-founder Kevin Wong to learn more about the brand’s evolution and the founders’ plans for future growth.
BevAlc Insights: What inspired you and Sean to create Lunar?
Kevin Wong (KW), co-founder of Lunar: Lunar was born during a late dinner at my local Korean fried chicken spot. We noticed that, in spite of the authentic menu featuring garlic soy chicken and tteokbokki, the drink selection only had the likes of Bud Light and White Claw, without any Asian-inspired beverages to pair with the food. Thus, the idea was born to brew a relatable yet unique drink for our community and restaurants, which would also stand out at grocery stores amongst a sea of lemon-lime and black cherry hard seltzers.
How is Lunar different from other hard seltzers on the market?
KW: Our first pledge was to use real fruit juices – as we like to say, “mom-approved ingredients” – which sets us apart from many other brands that use flavors or chemical preservatives.
We also uniquely feature Asian fruits, such as yuzu juice from Japan’s Shimane prefecture, lychee nectar from Thailand, maesil plum from Korea, and Taiwanese passion fruit puree. We use the actual fruit, which leads to a taste that is both delicious but also very representative. We didn’t want a product that tasted like someone was just whispering “lychee” from two rooms down; we wanted each sip of Lunar to be impactful and really wow consumers.
How has Lunar grown since your launch?
KW: We launched in October 2020 with our first flavor, Yuzu, which sold out purely via word of mouth. Today, Lunar is available at over 300 locations across New York City and Georgia [specifically Atlanta], including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, BJ’s Wholesale, Total Wine, H-Mart, and uniquely, even multiple Michelin-awarded restaurants. Lunar has been consistently ranked among the best hard seltzers by media publications including Men’s Health, Delish, Rolling Stone, Mic, Gear Patrol, Brewbound, and many more.
How are you innovating in terms of flavors?
KW: Advocating for diversity and representation in the beverage industry, we take a cultural, culinary approach to flavor innovation, frequently releasing flavor collaborations with Asian-American chefs, creators, and tastemakers. We made the world’s first seltzer that uses MSG as an ingredient, and also the first to feature Vietnamese rice paddy herb [ngò ôm].
Where did you position Lunar in terms of price point?
KW: Lunar is more of a premium brand, so our products are more expensive than mass-market, malt-based seltzers like White Claw and Truly. Our variety eight-packs are priced between $17 to $19 at major retailers. We’ve seen that consumers are more than willing to trade up for brands and products that are worth it.
What sort of feedback have you heard about Lunar and how are you connecting with the Asian-American community through the brand?
KW: Some of our biggest supporters and fans are from the Asian-American community, I think both because our drinks are actually good and representative of the fruit, and due to how we build our brand in a very authentic way that connects with individuals and local communities. Each month, we donate a percentage of sales to AAPI nonprofits and causes, and we go one step further when we partner with these organizations. Last year, we worked with Welcome to Chinatown to build a small business accelerator to help local mom-and-pop restaurants modernize their operations and improve profitability. Unlike many corporate brands that are all talk, Lunar is actually out there in the field making a difference; that goes a long way in establishing trust with today’s switched-on consumers.
What are your plans for Lunar’s future?
KW: We’re aiming to continue inspiring people of all walks of life to love their identity, culture, and heritage – and ultimately themselves – via great, uncompromised drinks and partnerships with brands that reflect and embody our values. Over the next few years our goal is to bring Lunar to new markets and new consumers as we pursue our mission to share our culture and bring people together.