Careful attention to consumer trends and a keen understanding of what drinkers were looking for in alternative beverages has led to explosive growth for High Noon, the vodka-and-fruit-juice-based hard seltzer made by E. & J. Gallo Winery.
Originally, the brand name was designed to be an 80-proof vodka, says Britt West, vice president and general manager of spirits for the company. As the vodka was being tested in select markets in 2018, the emergence and consumer popularity of hard seltzer was becoming evident.
At first, West thought about creating a line extension from the popular New Amsterdam Vodka, but quickly realized, “we had this perfect little gem called High Noon Vodka that was being used for the wrong thing.”
The change made sense. As the company conducted market research, it asked drinkers what they thought the primary alcohol was in the well-established fizzy beverages, and rather than malt, many thought it was vodka.
“It was a really good insight,” he says. “If people think they are drinking vodka, give them vodka.”
Although 2019 was supposed to be a test for the brand, it took off, selling 600,000 cases.
In 2020, demand grew amid the pandemic. That demand significantly outstripped capacity, and global supply-chain interruptions were so severe that the company air-freighted aluminum cans in from overseas in an effort to keep up.
Through summer 2021, the brand was up 316% from the previous year.
Touting the company’s flavor team for its attention to detail, West says High Noon was quickly able to come up with fruits that would complement the beverage and appeal to consumer palates. These include pineapple, watermelon, grapefruit, black cherry and peach, which West says has become a top seller.
“We can make it taste just like you’re biting into the freshest, ripest peach,” he says.
Drinkers agree. In states and channels where both malt- and spirit-based hard seltzer can be sold, High Noon has become the third-best-selling brand in the category, an impressive feat, as there have been countless entrants into the marketplace, many from established brands that were unable to gain attention or momentum.
Aligning with outdoor occasions and evoking warmth and fun, High Noon has also been able to leverage media partnerships to find consumers in the coveted 25- to 35-year-old demographic that align with a High Noon lifestyle. Coupled with college sports partnerships and even apparel, the brand has numerous consumer touchpoints that has allowed it to perform well outside of the warmer months and during daytime occasions, where many believe hard seltzer is best enjoyed.
“It’s not about just the beach or summer, it’s about much more active lifestyle where low ABV plays a role,” West says.
With eyes on the competitors and aware that consumers are always looking for new products and flavors, West says there is plenty in the innovation pipeline for High Noon, with additional market share as a goal. “We’ve not [yet] hit our potential,” he says.