Hard seltzer sales continue to sparkle
Area liquor stores see more consumers buying the low-calorie option


Feb. 23, 2019

Hard seltzer lines shelves at Discount Liquor in downtown Waukesha on Friday that once mostly contained wine coolers.
Katherine Michalets/Freeman Staff

MENOMONEE FALLS - Area liquor dealers admit they underestimated the salability of hard seltzer, but have found even die-hard beer drinkers are getting into the low-carb, low-calorie alcoholic beverage trend.

Tim Berger, president of Toto’s Inc., which owns several area Otto’s Wine & Spirits stores in the area, said alcoholic seltzers are refreshing and can be used as mixers or drunk right from the can. He said there are several brands on the market with different flavor varieties.

White Claw helped to launch the beverage into the mainstream when it hit the market in the spring of 2016. And while it was marketed at first as a perfect-for-summer beverage, Berger said sales have remained strong during the winter.

Besides its refreshing taste, other attributes of alcoholic seltzers that have made them a top seller are that they are low-calorie and low-carb.

Berger admits he was a skeptic at first.

“Have you ever had someone ask you for something and you wonder to yourself, ‘What are you talking about, is that really a thing?’ That was my first response the first time I was asked for ahard seltzer, yes, hard, alcoholic seltzer. This oxymoron is the newest category to hit the alcohol industry, and believe it or not, they are selling quite well,” Berger wrote in a blog on Otto’s website.

He said he knew times were changing when his brother-in-law, a die-hard Pabst drinker, went on a low-carb diet and was drinking hard seltzer.

“I thought Hell froze over,” he said.

Frank Greguska Jr., one of the owners of Discount Liquor with locations in Waukesha and Milwaukee, said all brands of hard seltzer are doing well, with three main ones being Henry’s, Smirnoff and White Claw.

He said since the category of liquor was created, more companies have entered the hard seltzer market, as well.

A wide appeal

The flavors also appeal to different people, such as the not-sweet grapefruit and lime, said Bryan Szukalski, manager of Jeff’s Spirits on Main in West Bend.

And with the taste of seltzer, he said it’s a good alternative to beer or other alcoholic beverages.

Greguska described the consumers of hard seltzer as “a little more of a younger crowd and not necessarily male or female.

“The younger group is looking for something different. Craft beer is also doing well with that same age group.”

Berger said the prime demographic tends to be women in their mid-20s to 50, but he said the age range is wide and it appeals to people who are conscious of their caloric or carb consumption.

“People are conscious of drinking beer, or more calories or more sugar,” Szukalski said. “This is supposedly healthier for you or less calories at least. ... This is the alternative form for them to stay on their diets.”

Not only is it popular at liquor stores, Greguska said, but a lot of bars and restaurants are now carrying it, and even golf courses stock it because it comes in a can.

At Discount Liquor, sales of hard seltzer remain strong year round so the product maintains a floor display and is not just in the coolers.

“We sell more of them every year. It’s still a little bit more seasonal,” Greguska said. “People tend to pick them up year round.”

Berger said hard seltzers have been known to sell out.

“It’s a nationwide craze and I thought it was just going to be a flash in the pan craze, but it looks like something that will stick in the pan,” he said. “I don’t foresee it declining.”

By the numbers

Sales of White Claw exceeded $117 million in 2018.

U.S. sales of hard seltzers in retail stores garnered $336 million in the 12 months ending Aug. 11, 2018.

Mike’s Hard business is up more than 20 percent, largely due to White Claw, which launched in May 2016. Source: Tribune News Service