Hard Seltzer Shakes Up Adult Beverage Scene | CStore Decisions

By November 6, 2019Beverage trends

C-store shoppers’ tastes in beer and adult beverages continue to evolve, with a more diverse group of consumers looking for healthier and craft brands, as well as hard seltzers.

Corrie Burdick, category manager for Alltown Fresh, which just opened its most recent location in Waterbury, Conn., said the chain has seen an influx of guests seeking healthier options, including those lower in both calories and ABV (alcohol by volume). “We’ve also seen more and more consumers leaning into the hard seltzer trend, as well as session beer options,” Burdick said. 

Out of 302 company-operated locations, Global Partners operates two Alltown Fresh sites and has plans to open a total of five Alltown Fresh locations by the end of the year. By achieving an even balance of traditional offerings, local options and rotating new products that satisfy its wide range of shoppers, Alltown Fresh’s beer category sales are strong. 

Based on each market’s location, Alltown Fresh supplies a mix of options, such as locally sourced varieties, domestic beers, imports, malt beverages, ciders and more. 

New Opportunities

“While domestic premiums will always be a large portion of the business,” Burdick said, “we are seeing huge growth in seltzers. White Claw is currently leading the trend, with its Variety 12 Pack remaining consistently in our top five.” 

Wells Fargo Securities citing Nielsen data reported dollar sales for Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw hard seltzer continues to grow despite nationwide shortages caused by a surge in consumer demand. Dollar sales for the hard seltzer segment overall were up 203.2%. 

In addition, as consumer trends shift toward smaller batch and more local products, options like New World IPA from Mayflower Brewing in Plymouth, Mass., and Wormtown Be Hoppy from Wormtown Brewery in Worcester, Mass., are also performing well at Alltown Fresh, Burdick said. 

Meghann Eaton, category manager for Duxbury, Mass.-based Verc Enterprises, is seeing similar trends. 

“The beer trends are hard seltzers and crafts,” she said. “The biggest growth is White Claw.” Promoting the hard-seltzer 12-packs has worked best, she added.

The beer business is up 7% year to date at Verc Enterprises, which operates 31 c-stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

“In the craft world, you have to keep rotating your selection, but the hazy new England IPAs are big,” Eaton said. “The hard seltzers have become a staple, the go-to package. We have tried a few varieties, but White Claw seems to be the brand customers go back to.”

Consistently rotating the selection to keep it fresh can make up for a lack of space and smaller selection. “There are not many buy-down deals on craft beers,” Eaton said, “so it allows you to be competitive on retail with your neighbors.” Burdick said Alltown Fresh consumers are seeking healthier options in every c-store category across the board, and that the beer category is no different. 

“We’ve also noticed that guests are looking for unique, fun options that fit their mood or occasion on any given day and are stocking a versatile selection that satisfies all of their needs,” Burdick said. 

Stay Relevant

“Like the rest of the channel, we have seen major spikes in ‘near beer,’” said Eric Patterson, merchandising manager for Beacon & Bridge Market, a 25-store, family-owned chain based in Flint, Mich. “Spiked seltzer sales are strong in our stores, and customers are looking for the most popular brands and flavors.” 

Michigan, he said, is a very “craft-centric state. We are actually seeing some of our more popular regional breweries dip their toes in the seltzer world as a reaction to this trend.” 

In years past, the chain saw a lot of beer dollar sales growth, he added. “But spiked seltzers have taken that spot and appeal to a much broader customer base.”

Patterson’s advice? “Stay relevant. There are two types of beer customers: homebodies and explorers. Homebodies don’t venture too far away from brands or styles that they are used to. Explorers have no problem trying the latest trending items, but will also purchase what they are used to.” 

They key, he said, is to appeal to both types of customers by “paying attention to trends and locking onto new items as quickly as you can.”