Hard seltzer brands are gearing up for a big summer, and their success has already changed the alcohol industry.
Alcohol sales were up in 2020 as Americans stayed home during the pandemic, and hard seltzers led the growth. Overall alcohol sales rose about 2% in 2020, while ready-to-drink sales including seltzers and canned cocktails rose 43%, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis found.
Alcoholic seltzers are now a multi-billion dollar industry, with over $4.5 billion in sales over the 52 week period ending on May 22, according to NielsenIQ data shared with Insider. Sales are up 80% over the same period in the previous year, which was itself a major increase from an industry that did only about $39 million in sales in 2017. Year-to-date sales are already at $3 billion, doubling over 2019.
The widespread popularity of seltzers has spurred on ready-to-drink cocktails as a major category of its own, though canned cocktails still make up a tiny 3% of alcohol sales. The category did over $434 million in sales over the year ending on May 22, an increase of more than 160% over the previous year, according to NielsenIQ.
Seltzers paved the way
The same trends that first made hard seltzers popular are continuing to drive their growth, Nielsen analyst Danelle Kosmal told Insider. First, hard seltzer consumers typically want “an experience through flavor or trying something new,” she said.
Convenience is a key factor driving the growth of hard seltzers, and the tall, slim cans that have become synonymous with the drinks are portable and easy to find room for, Kosmal said. Finally, health and wellness trends make customers more likely to select seltzers over other alcoholic drinks. Some of the most successful brands have communicated nutritional information like carbs and calories to consumers and made the drinks seem like less of an indulgence than other options, Kosmal told Insider.
Hard seltzer drinkers are likely to be between age 21 and 43 and to live in suburbs or small urban areas, according to Instacart. They’re also what Kosmal calls “promiscuous drinkers,” meaning they are drinking across different alcohol categories. Hard seltzer drinkers are 214% more likely to purchase a ready to drink cocktail, driving the growth of the new category.
Seltzers exploded especially due to COVID-19 keeping people home and closing bars and restaurants, but there’s still room to grow. Seltzers might be nearing their peak off-premise sales, where they were bought by customers at grocery stores or liquor stores, but there’s reason to expect plenty of growth in bars and restaurants, Kosmal said. As people start to return to these venues, opening a can of White Claw or Truly has the “perception of health as safety” for customers.
Long term, Kosmal sees huge potential growth as music and sports venues reopen. A canned seltzer has the convenience for an event like a music festival, she says.
Consumers can also expect more innovation beyond just canned drinks. There are a variety of products hitting the market outside of traditional drinks, including frozen novelties, Jello shots, and popsicles, and likely more to come, Kosmal says.
For something that’s supposed to make your night more fun or relaxing, shopping for alcohol isn’t exactly easy.
Even if you go into a liquor store knowing what type of alcohol you’re looking for, there are countless brands to consider. And, after you make your purchase, you have to keep those glass bottles safe and secure through a bumpy car ride (or worse – a long walk home).
Luckily, online delivery services are making the ordeal of buying alcohol much more convenient and enjoyable, as they do for most things (see: buying mattresses, gourmet foods, and even large house plants). You won’t have to figure out how to lug five bottles of wine home or make a mad dash to the store 15 minutes before your virtual happy hour starts.
Companies that sell alcohol online also help you discover new varieties. With the help of personalization algorithms, their recommendations are often scarily accurate. You’ll waste less time and money by taking advantage of these online guides.
If you want to buy your alcohol online, we’ve rounded up our favorite retailers below and divided them into these categories:
General online shop: For when you know exactly what you’re looking for
Discovery-based: For when you’re not sure what you like
Kits and mixers: For cocktail cravings
Most places have implemented contactless delivery and ID scanning, and the elimination of customer signatures to minimize contact with its delivery people, so be sure to pay attention to delivery methods.
Here are the 18 best places to buy alcohol online:
General online shop: For when you know exactly what you’re looking for
Indie purveyors are brought to the forefront at NakedWines.com, where “Angel” customers act as investors to support small winemakers around the world. To become an Angel, you deposit $40 to your account every month to spend at any time on more wine. This membership gives you access to exclusive wines, discounts (40%-60% off), and tasting events.
ReserveBar is the perfect place to shop for yourself and pick up gifts because it offers premium brands like Johnnie Walker and Ciroc. It’s also where you’ll find cool limited-edition products such as the Game of Thrones collection and rare beauties like a $3,650 Louis XIII cognac. To make it shine on your bar cart, add a custom engraving to a spirit of your choice.
Thrive Market is a marketplace focusing on natural, non-toxic, and healthy brands, so its wine selection is narrowed down to varieties that are pesticide-free, have no added sugar, and are even biodynamic. They come in variety bundles or 6-bottle cases.
Drizly has your alcohol needs covered by delivering whatever you’re in the mood for in under an hour. Search the exact liquor, wine, or beer you need on Drizly. The prices aren’t marked up, and the delivery fee is only $5.
Saucey isn’t available in as many cities as Drizly, but it promises even faster delivery (30 minutes) and it’s free, with no minimum purchase required. Get your Bud Light alongside your Ballast Point, then pick up some snacks to pair with those icy cold beverages.
Minibar is available in more markets than Saucey and is great for people who want the option of in-store pickup or exclusive wines. Delivery fees can depend on your local store, but you’ll still get your order within the hour.
FreshDirect offers the full grocery-shopping experience, with none of the inconveniences. The New York-based delivery service carries both local and name-brand alcohol and runs deals every week, just like your local grocery store. It has a whole section of organic wine, plus a category called Select Sips, which features wine and spirits sourced from around the world.
It’s exactly what it sounds like. Wine.com is the world’s largest wine store, where you can shop wine from regions as different as Africa, China, and Greece. Though the options are vast, they become a little easier to navigate with a filtering system, professional ratings, and a recommendation engine. Become a member for $49 annually to receive free standard shipping with no minimum orders.
California-based winery Winc, which was co-founded by sommelier Brian Smith, uses an online Palate Profile, along with your own ratings, to recommend and ship wines tailored to your tastes. The wines, which come from winemakers all over the world as well as Winc’s own vineyard, start at $13 a bottle. There’s no fee or commitment to join, and you can skip a month’s shipment any time you want.
Note: Firstleaf is providing contact-less delivery by eliminating customer signatures.
The barriers of entry to Firstleaf are low: it has a great introductory offer where you get your first six bottles for just $39.95, plus free shipping. Afterward, you’ll receive six bottles at a time, at a frequency convenient for you. The company prides itself on its custom algorithm that predicts which one of its many award-winning wine options you’ll like, and if you don’t like a bottle, you’ll get a refund.
Every three months, Vinebox sends you a box of nine glasses of wine packaged in individual vials. Vinebox’s unique bottling technology ensures they maintain their full flavor and mouthfeel as they make their way to your doorstep. Each quarter’s box contains seasonal varieties, wines you should be drinking right now, and other fun picks. With each box, you’ll also receive up to $30 in credits to buy the full-size versions. Vinebox also has holiday boxes in festive packaging (currently unavailable), which are great as gifts or a treat to yourself.
Two MIT grads are behind the monthly wine club Bright Cellars, which sends four new wines each month for $80. The company has a competitive curation process — it says it only picks one out of every 12 wines it tries for the monthly collections and promises to show you hidden gems from vineyards in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and South America.
The only drawback of loving craft beers is that you can’t always buy all the ones you want to try. Every day, Tavour gives you access to two beers you can’t normally get in your area (say, Anchorage Brewing’s IPA) and you claim the ones you want. It delivers to your door, so you get an international craft brewery tour without ever leaving your house. The experience also connects you to a community of fellow beer lovers.
Flaviar is a club for those who love fine spirits and have a desire to explore beyond the usual names (e.g. Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker). With a membership, you get a complimentary full-size bottle, plus a Tasting Box every quarter, free distillery tours, and access to detailed bottle profiles. It prides itself on sharing rare and previously unattainable whiskey, rum, cognac, and more.
Recipe cards, top-shelf spirits, and all the ingredients you need for two different cocktails are included in each month’s SaloonBox. It sends you only what you need to make the drinks, which means nothing ever goes to waste and you don’t have to search high and low for obscure ingredients. Each box is meant for two people, so pick your favorite person to try delicious cocktails like Blueberry Bourbon Collins and Kentucky Rosaritas.
Shaker & Spoon doesn’t send you the liquor, but it will send you everything else — syrups, bitters, mixers, garnishes — to make 12 drinks. The three recipes in each box are designed and recommended by actual bartenders, who will be sad to miss you at the bar but understand the desire to simply stay in tonight.
You don’t have to wait each month to shop for a variety of delicious cocktails at Cocktail Courier. They usually come in multiple serving sizes, so you can serve up drinks to your entire friend group, and come with the alcohol. The site also sells barware and party supplies.
For gourmet gifts like fancy chocolate, creatively flavored popcorn, and picnic-worthy charcuterie boards, we love shopping at Mouth. It’s also where you can shop the drinks to go along with these delicious snacks. The mixed drink kits, unfortunately, don’t contain the liquor. However, you’ll be more than happy with the artisanal mixers, seasonal specials, and quality barware offered by the site.