Whether for psychology research tools or casual entertainment, ambiguous images like the rabbit-duck illusion or the “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” drawing illustrate the varying perceptions that people can see from the same picture. For the U.S. flavored malt beverage (FMB) market, analysts are seeing ambiguous product attributes drive consumers to the category.
“Health and wellness along with indulgence trends drive FMBs,” says Brian Sudano, managing partner with New York-based Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC). “Within health and wellness, the trends are for low calories, low sugar and low carbs where hard seltzer plays. The indulgence trend is more about full flavor and higher alcohol. Both play on variety and non-alcoholic taste satisfying consumer crossover from non-alcoholic beverages.”
Grace Wood, industry analyst for Los Angeles-based IBISWorld, notes that younger legal-drinking-age consumers “are driving demand for on-the-go beverages such as RTD cocktails and other canned alcoholic beverages,” and these consumers are more drawn to the indulgent profiles.
“Sweet drinks continue to perform well in this market,” she says.
Tapping into consumers thirst for bold flavors in a convenient format, The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, and Chicago-based Molson Coors Beverage Co. announced earlier this year that they were expanding on their current standing partnership, which includes Topo Chico Hard Seltzer and Topo Chico Ranch Water, with Simply Spiked, a full-flavored alcohol version of the Simply chilled juice brand.
“Over the past two years, we’ve seen success by shaking up existing categories with new brands that have clear, compelling points of difference, like Coca-Cola's Topo Chico Hard Seltzer, Vizzy Hard Seltzer and ZOA Energy Drink,” said Michelle St. Jacques, Molson Coors’ chief marketing officer, in a statement at the time of the announcement. “Now, we have a huge opportunity to leverage the power of Simply ― a brand known for real juice and big flavor ― to disrupt the full-flavor alcohol segment in a way that’s never been done before.”
This summer, Molson Coors will start by launching the Simply Spiked Lemonade variety pack, inspired by some of Simply’s best-selling non-alcohol products: Strawberry Lemonade, Watermelon Lemonade, Blueberry Lemonade and, of course, Signature Lemonade.
Meanwhile, Kaleigh Theriault, beverage alcohol thought leadership manager for Chicago-based NielsenIQ, calls attention to the health and wellness innovations and convenient packaging as drivers for the FMB market.
“Consumers are focused on three top trends: convenience, experience, and health and wellness,” she says. “FMBs offer convenient consumption in a can, as well as an exciting experience through flavor and style innovations, especially among hard seltzers. As mentioned before, consumers renewed priority for maintaining health and wellness is largely driving trends across the beverage alcohol industry, and there seems to be a beverage for all types of consumers, whether they’re gluten-free, looking for low-carb options, no added sugar, etc.”
These trends will likely be a vital role in future innovations hitting this market, experts note.
“Building on the previous point, we’re going to see innovation in health and wellness offerings and can expect more brands to enter the hard seltzer, hard tea, hard kombucha, low-calorie beverages, low/non-alcoholic, etc., spaces,” Theriault says.
In terms of flavors, BMC’s Sudano notes that FMB profiles have been in line with fruit juice, but that could be changing.
“Lately it has moved to combinations that include plant-based flavors like lavender,” he says. “Expect more fusion of flavor systems going forward to create unique taste experience but not too far from mainstream.”
Bud Light Seltzer has been proactive in developing unique taste experiences. In December 2021, the brand announced the debut of Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda and Bud Light Seltzer Sour ― two new variety packs. The Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda variety pack brings the bold classic soda flavors to seltzer form, while the limited-edition Bud Light Seltzer Sour variety pack has four pucker-worthy fruity flavors, it said.
Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda features four flavors in the variety pack: Classic Cola, Cherry Cola, Orange Soda and Citrus Soda. Meanwhile, the limited-edition Bud Light Seltzer Sour variety pack contained four flavors: Blue Raspberry, Watermelon, Lemon and Green Apple.
“For the past several years, Bud Light Seltzer has continued to innovate and bring 21-plus seltzer fans bold flavors, and now we’re starting the New Year off with our ‘Loudest Flavors Ever’,” said Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing at Bud Light, in a statement at the time of the releases. “As we continue to disrupt the seltzer category, our two new variety packs feature unique, fun and delicious flavors which we know seltzer drinkers are going to love.”
The brand even debuted a Super Bowl commercial by welcoming fans to the “Land of Loud Flavors,” a magical universe that brings the bold and unexpected taste of Bud Light Seltzer and its most recent and loudest innovation, Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda, to life ― all with the help of the king of celebrity chef Guy Fieri.
The diversity of the FMB market, including the ever popular hard seltzers, has helped it become the standout performer of the U.S. beer market.
“The FMB market continues to be the growth engine for beer overall growing around 10% in 2021,” Sudano says.
Sudano notes that hard seltzers have driven the beer segment, but that FMBs still can hold their own. “Hard seltzer represents around two-thirds of the total FMB market and has been the growth engine over the past three years,” he says. “However, FMBs independent of hard seltzer continue to grow and grew in the mid-single digits in 2021.”
Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) tracks FMBs and beer centric seltzers as separate sales markets. For beer centric seltzers, the market research firm registered sales of $4.5 billion, a 16.8% increase, for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2021, in total U.S. multi-outlets. In comparison, FMB dollar sales were approximately $3.1 billion, a 5.5% increase, during that same time period.
In terms of hard seltzers, analysts suggest the market has even more potential. San Francisco-based Grand View Research Inc. predicts that the global hard seltzer market will reach $49.4 billion by 2028, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 31.4% from 2021 to 2028.
“Hard seltzers are gaining popularity as low-calorie and low-sugar alternative alcoholic drinks to traditional alcoholic beverages among the health-conscious demographics across the world,” a December 2021 press release from the market research firm states. “Hard seltzer flavors such as citrus and other fruity flavors are gaining rapid traction among consumers. The rising adoption of new flavors among consumers is likely to provide opportunities to the players operating in this market.”
With more growth predicted for hard seltzers, this portion of the ready-to-drink alcohol market looks poised to continue its success.