Boston is a one-of-a-kind town. The city is home to young professionals, college students and one of the most passionate sports fan bases in the country. As such, the alcohol purchasing habits of Boston consumers are also unique. 

To help Boston retailers identify key trends and get a competitive edge within this thriving market, we compared Drizly’s Boston market sales to national data and spoke to two successful stores in the city to glean important retail insights. 

Stock Local Brands

“When comparing top brands nationally versus locally in markets like Boston, it is clear that consumers gravitate towards local brands,” said Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights, who suggests that retailers start by “focusing selection on local brands that fall under the top-selling brands in their market.” 

In Boston, five local beer brands made the Top 10 best-sellers list for the category: NightShift, Lord Hobo, Samuel Adams, Mighty Squirrel, and Downeast Cider. Moreover, local brands Samuel Adams, UFO, and Harpoon make up the top three for seasonal beer selections in Boston. For wine, the Boston-based brand 90+ Cellars sits at No. 6 in its hometown market, but does not crack the Top 10 nationally. 

In addition to the brands on these Top 10 lists, Matt Wluka Switkes, director of operations at Bauer Wine & Spirits in Boston, said that local brewing companies Lamplighter, Bent Water, Jack’s Abby, Greater Good, and Aeronaut are also extremely popular among its customers. Moreover, he listed Bully Boy Distillers, Mad River, 1634 Meadery, Barr Hill Gin, and Berkshire Mountain Distillers as the store’s top-selling local spirits brands. “Our customers definitely come in looking for local products, specifically craft beers, as Boston and more broadly, Massachusetts and New England, is very competitive in that arena,” Switkes says. 

Boston Loves Beer

Boston consumers drink more beer than most of the rest of the country. In Boston, beer is the No. 2 category share in terms of quantity (32.03 percent), second to wine, while it’s the No. 3 share nationally (25.79 percent). 

“New England is beer, and beer is New England,” explains Switkes. “Simply stated, we have some of the best craft breweries in the entire country and the city has a huge concentration of college students and young professionals who very much fall into the craft beer demographic.”

It’s for these same reasons that the Boston demographic skews younger than the national average. The 21 to 29 year old age bracket accounts for 32.89 percent of orders in Boston compared to 25.63 percent nationally.

Retailers should look to stock the Top 5 brands on the rise for beer and hard seltzer in Boston — Truly, Arctic Summer, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Guinness — and also seasonal beers, the third-fastest growing subcategory in Boston. The Top 5 seasonal brands in Boston are Samuel Adams, UFO, Harpoon, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Moon. Heading into the fall season, Christine Elder, president and managing partner of Blanchards Wine & Spirits (which has seven Boston market locations), predicts that Samuel Adams Octoberfest, Southern Tier Pumking Ale, and Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale are three SKUs that will once again be in high demand. 

Hard Seltzer is Topping Charts — and Keeps Growing

If there’s one beer subcategory Boston retailers can’t ignore, it’s hard seltzer. The top-selling beer subcategory in 2020 (compared to No. 5 in 2019) has grown 5.7 percent in share since last year in Boston. According to Paquette, Truly and Arctic Summer are two additional hard seltzer brands on the rise, in their hometown Boston market specifically. 

“Hard seltzer had a really strong first and second quarter, experiencing a 47 percent increase in sales over last year,” says Switkes, noting significant growth for Bauer Wine & Spirits in new products like Loverboy sparkling hard tea and the locally-made Nantucket Craft Cocktails. “It was even challenging keeping certain brands in stock due to high demand and supply chain issues.”

Elder echoes that Blanchards Wine & Spirits has experienced supply issues as well with brands like White Claw and High Noon, which “opened the door for others to get in and get a foothold.”

The rise of hard seltzer in Boston is on trend with its success nationally, as it surpassed light lager this year as the top-selling beer subcategory on Drizly. According to Nielsen, the number of hard seltzer brands on the market grew from 26 at the beginning of 2019 to more than 65 in 2020, Drizly’s data shows a similar hard seltzer brand growth trajectory. Among the stunning stats: For at least 10 consecutive weeks during the pandemic, annual retail hard seltzer dollar sales increased by $50 million or more. Further, during the 15-week period that ended on June 13, hard seltzer off-premise sales in U.S. retail quadrupled on a year-over-year basis, an increase of a whopping $900 million. 

The rise of hard seltzer is truly unprecedented, and Nielsen doesn’t see it slowing down any time soon. In fact, Nielsen predicts that hard seltzer will have the most sustainable growth trajectory of any category in the U.S. alcohol landscape, for the foreseeable future. 

RTD is Fastest-Growing Category

Beer and hard seltzer aren’t the only thing Boston consumers are drinking. In fact, wine makes up 33 percent of the market share and ready-to-drink beverages (RTD) is the fastest-growing beverage category in Boston. The top five best-selling RTD brands that retailers should consider are High Noon, Skinny Girl, Jose Cuervo, Fisher’s Island, and Daily’s Cocktails. 

Noting its sleek packaging, Switkes said that On the Rocks cocktails have been Bauer Wine & Spirits’ most successful product in the RTD category in 2020. For Boston retailers looking for a local RTD option, both Bauer Wine & Spirits and Blanchards Wine & Spirits have experienced great success with cocktails from Bully Boy Distillers.

Boston’s market data is consistent with the RTD category’s national boom. In the year prior to the pandemic, Nielsen reported a 40.7 percent growth in RTD cocktails based on spirits. In June, Nielsen reported that RTD cocktails saw consistent growth rates of more than 80 percent, year-over-year, for eleven consecutive weeks during the pandemic. 

The RTD category has also been a standout on Drizly this summer, experiencing the third-highest year-over-year share growth on Drizly (behind hard seltzer and silver/blanco tequila) in June and July. In the first few months of the pandemic, RTD beverages were up an average of 773 percent above baseline expectations on the platform. 

Consumers Are Buying and Spending More

Encouragingly, Boston consumers are spending more with Drizly retailers than ever before. The average Drizly order value has increased 27 percent year-to-date. 

“The 27 percent increase can be attributed to both a trend toward premiumization and consumers overall buying more products per order,” Paquette says. In terms of premiumization, the average unit price of orders in Boston increased from $16.77 in 2019 to $17.79 in 2020. Additionally in 2020, the average number of items ordered per order increased to 2.94 compared to 2.29 in 2019.

Blanchards Wine & Spirits has noticed the premiumization shift, too. “We have seen an increase in demand for artisanal, 100 percent agave and aged tequilas, single barrel and ultra-premium bourbon, and as for vodka. In a landslide, Tito’s has taken the spot for best selling vodka,” Elder says. “With restaurants and bars closed over spring, summer, and now into fall, individuals are setting up their bars at home. Customers are making the most of some newfound time and income that they would have otherwise been spending out on the town.”