White Claw, the popular hard seltzer brand, has officially entered the vodka space. In March 2023, the Mark Anthony Group of Companies, which owns White Claw, announced a vodka line that includes a “premium” variety and a trio of fruited versions.
Playing into its waved logo, White Claw Premium Vodka is “Triple Wave Filtered—named for the use of immense pressure equal to three 30-foot waves—which has the same smoothing effect on vodka that ocean waves have on stones and shells,” reads a press release. “And it is filtered through activated carbon from charred coconut shells. Each bottle of White Claw Premium Vodka is carefully bottled in Kentucky and embossed with the White Claw logo.”
This month, the producer also announced the arrival of White Claw Vodka + Soda, a “new 100-calorie canned cocktail made with the same White Claw Premium Vodka, because better vodka makes for a better vodka + soda. Varieties include White Claw Vodka + Soda Pineapple, Peach, Wild Cherry, and Watermelon.”
How did we get here, and what’s behind the move? To understand the hard seltzer-to-vodka-to-canned-cocktail pipeline, one must first understand the current hard seltzer landscape.
Consider summertime at the Jersey Shore, a remarkable place to gain insights into the drinking habits of consumers. Up and down the strips of sand, swimmers and ocean worshippers flagrantly disregard the law and crack open bottles and cans of their preferred adult beverage to add relaxation to their relaxation. Back in the days when smoking wasn’t frowned upon, it was common to see silver bullets of Coors or shiny blue cans of Bud Light. Then a shift occurred a few years ago when in 2016, Truly, the hard seltzer produced by Boston Beer, the maker of Samuel Adams, began popping up.
Easy drinking, tinted with fruit flavors and 5% ABV, hard seltzers came onto the scene like a wrecking ball. Viewed as a “better for you” alternative thanks to its clear and fizzy nature, a disrupter category was born. By the next summer, White Claw, complete with its memes and lifestyle, was dotting the shore.
Both Truly and White Claw, the latter of which is now the best-selling hard seltzer, fall into the Flavored Malt Beverage (FMB) category, meaning its alcohol content is derived from fermenting sugar or grain, not from a neutral spirit like vodka.
From the start it seems that the clear spirit and hard seltzer were destined for each other, as many drinkers would add a shot (or two) of that booze into their seltzer for a higher kick. Soon enough High Noon, which began life as a vodka brand, was turned into a juiced hard seltzer and boomed in popularity.
Now, the trend would appear to be getting rid of the water and bubbles altogether and just going for the vodka. This is space with which Truly is already familiar.
“We released Truly Flavored Vodka in March 2022 with three varieties inspired by popular Truly styles: Strawberry Lemonade, Wild Berry, and Pineapple Mango,” wrote company spokeswoman Brittany Zahoruiko in an email. “This premium, triple-distilled vodka is produced and distributed in partnership with the world leader in premium spirits, Beam Suntory.” Truly Vodka Seltzer was also released last year.
White Claw, in calling its new vodka soda offering a canned cocktail, appears to be taking aim at the ready-to-drink (RTD) category, which is surging in popularity. Recent sales data from Evercore ISI in early March revealed that “traditional” hard seltzers sales were down 16.9% in 2023 compared to 2022. Meanwhile, selected other RTDs were up 33.5% in the same period.
Why? Pre-mixed and canned rum and cola, margaritas, bay breezes and more are offering up familiar flavors, from known producers and at alcohol-by-volume contents that are consistent with what would be served at a bar. By positioning itself as a “canned cocktail,” White Claw’s new offering might be able to claw some sales back.