At the moment, lemonade seems to be the darling of the hard seltzer set.
“Historically, if you look across FMBs, citrus is a winning flavor,” says Danelle Kosmal of flavored malt beverages (FMBs), the category that includes hard seltzer. Kosmal is the vice president of beverage alcohol at NielsenIQ, which tracks alcohol sales. “You see a lot of growth in terms of flavors, and lemonade sits with that profile. It’s an iconic taste, too. Something everyone is familiar with.”
Hard seltzers are made generally by fermenting sugar water, where most traditional FMBs are fermented on a malt or grain base. Over the last several years, as hard seltzer sales have soared, beverage makers continually look for new flavors with broad appeal. Lemonade is a natural fit.
Truly, the No. 2 hard seltzer brand by sales, is owned by Boston Beer Co., brewer of Samuel Adams and Dogfish Head. The company, which also produces Twisted Tea and Angry Orchard hard cider, was the first to release a lemonade hard seltzer early last year. It saw sales skyrocket.
Market research showed that consumers sought bold flavors in seltzer, and lemonade fit, says Don Lane, vice president of Truly. He says within months of its launch, Truly Lemonade was the third best selling beverage in hard seltzer, with 9% of the category’s sales.
The top-selling hard seltzer brand is White Claw, owned by Mark Anthony Brands. Since its launch in 2016, it has been a phenomenon, now available in a multitude of flavors that include black cherry, lime and raspberry.
Earlier this spring, the company released a line of lemonade hard seltzers under a familiar name: Mike’s. Mike’s Hard Lemonade, a grain-based alcohol that has been in the market for more than 20 years, has performed well amid the rise of hard seltzer, but the company saw room for a makeover.
Mike’s Hard Lemonade Seltzer is served in a 12-ounce slim can with flavors that include traditional lemon as well as mango, pineapple and strawberry.
While the two biggest players are poised for gains, there are a number of others that have bet big on lemonade. Bud Light Seltzer took out spots during Super Bowl LV in February to push its lemonade flavor.
Other smaller brands have also embraced lemonade to entice customers with options made closer to home. These include a frozen lemonade flavor from Alani Seltz, a Kentucky-based brand that launched in March, and an upcoming release from Shiner, the popular Texas brewer.
Kosmal says that sales in the overall category have grown by nearly 493% over the past year. Nielsen has expanded its tracking beyond just hard seltzers to include lemonade, iced tea and ranch water, a hard seltzer made with an agave base.
Those subcategories also look to gain market share. Truly has released Iced Tea Hard Seltzers in a number of fruit flavors, and it plans to release a line of “punch” hard seltzers later this year. Pabst Blue Ribbon’s Hard Tea is also coming to market with a fruit-flavored variety pack.
“Our brand might be over 175 years old, but we’re still young at heart and getting creative with how we range across the beverage category, as well as how we can bring some form of value to those that shop it, is something we’re relentless about,” says Nick Reely, Pabst’s vice president of marketing.
Cincinnati-based 50 West Brewing launched its hard seltzer lemonade this spring after the company conducted the most research and development it has ever put into a beverage, says Max Fram, 50 West’s vice president. The brewery chose a sweet seltzer base and Meyer lemons.
“We landed on taking a chance with hard lemonade after considering many options,” says Fram. “We did a lot of market research and had conversations with our wholesaler and retailer network, but most importantly, we liked that we were bringing liquid to shelves that fit our evolving brand image.
“Imagine holding a cold hard lemonade on a sunny summer day while sitting in the beer garden,” he says. “You’re with your friends, your dog and an overflowing plate of crinkle-cut French fries. It just feels right.”