The hard seltzer category has seen major growth in the past few years, and now the hard tea segment is emerging as a potential disrupter to the “hard” space. With increased NPD on the horizon and a sharpened focus on hard teas in general, there are plenty of opportunities for companies to sip and savor.
The tea-based alcoholic beverage sector, “hard teas” is gaining momentum as consumers seek adventurous and interesting beverages that go beyond the norm.
Synergy Flavours points out that hard tea and hard lemonade are following the same pattern as the hard seltzer trend, which began in the US and shows continued growth in Europe.
However, according to Vicky Berry, European business development manager of Synergy Flavours, hard teas are still relatively new in Europe. Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Berry says it will be interesting to see how different countries respond.
“Countries with higher consumption of ready-to-drink (RTD) tea will be more likely to be more willing to try hard tea, namely, in Germany and possibly Turkey. There are multiple reasons which would drive consumers toward this area,” she says.
Not everyone’s cup of tea?
Consumer behavior shows that different countries respond to different flavor profiles in hard teas. This is mirrored from the hard seltzer category where there is no strict rule; gin, vodka and even wine bases are used while in the US they are malted, says Berry.
Synergy Flavours conducted a survey through Vypr, a data validation platform for manufacturers and retailers, which shows that UK consumers are slightly more cautious in choosing a hard tea in comparison to a hard lemonade or cocktail-inspired seltzer.
Growth within the hard tea sector mirrors the flavor profiles used in the RTD area, which include peach, raspberry and lemon.
Meanwhile, the US market prefers mainstream flavors with subtle twists. The UK prefers gin-based seltzers, while the US market also has many tequila varieties.
“There’s always going to be this difference in this area in how people approach hard tea,” says Berry.
Experimenting with flavor profiles
Some brands are experimenting with trends on the periphery of the hard tea category. According to Berry, hard tea flavor profiles are being developed to suit the tastes of Millennials who prefer the “cocktail flavor” and provenance, referring to drinks backed up with an engaging story.
The “storytelling” trend, highlighted in Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends for 2020, underscores a growing consumer affinity for products backed by a compelling narrative.
The 5% alcohol by volume (ABV) range for hard teas remains the preferred industry standard, while a lower ABV is becoming more popular to tap into low-alcohol trends. Meanwhile, some brands are pursuing the higher alcohol content range of 7% to 9% ABV.
“The lower ABV is becoming more popular as more consumers are cutting back on their alcohol intake. People want to have a couple of drinks rather than one strong drink,” Berry notes.
Earlier this week, Givaudan released its latest research on “mindful drinking,” which supports the low-alcohol trend.
Hard teas are also rising in popularity due to consumers being more conscious of their health and well-being.
Paula Bassi, marketing director of Synergy Flavours, adds that there is a perception in the consumer’s mind that drinking tea is mood-enhancing.
“They think ‘it’s a difficult moment or a challenging moment, let’s have tea,’” she says.
Classic tea holds firm
While there is much experimentation with the flavor profiles of hard teas, classic tea pairings are still being used regularly, in line with the trend in RTD.
Berry says classic pairings include green tea with tropical fruits and white tea with berry profiles such as raspberry and strawberry. Botanicals are usually infused in either variety.
Flavor inspiration can also be taken from hard seltzers with core profiles like lemon, tropical and berry.
The majority of the hard tea launches seen by Synergy Flavours focus on black tea. It has developed hard teas with green and white tea essence. The company’s Italian provenance extracts and Citrusology range includes chinotto hard tea and mandarin hard tea.
“It’s important that with this being a new category, the flavors paired with tea are kept quite classic with a subtle twist, namely, white peach tea, Sicilian lemon tea,” adds Berry.
The growth of the hard tea category is reflected in the competitiveness of the market. Denmark-based start-up Tios Drinks recently won gold at Drinks Business & the Spirits Business Autumn Tasting 2021 for its White Tea Mojito.
White Tea Mojito, White Tea Margarita and White Tea Light & Stormy are low calorie, low sugar, allergen-free, vegan sparkling “hard teas,” essentially tea-based variants of popular cocktails.
The hard teas of Tios Drinks are positioned as an alternative to hard seltzers and sweet pre-mixed wines and beers.
Better-for-you alcohol company, Jiant, has recently launched its hard tea line, while Boardroom Spirits recently introduced a peach and raspberry flavor for its 5.5% AVB summer-inspired vodka iced teas. And, earlier this year, Masq introduced a line of healthy hard teas under Masq Fusions, which combine organic Yerba Mate, fruit juice, herbal extract, monk fruit, blue agave nectar and an adaptogen blend.