Hard seltzer is attempting to go global as both multinationals and independent producers look to emulate the category’s US success in new markets. The UK has been one of the first ports of call for leading brands such as Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Mike’s Hard Seltzer, creating a new front in the hard seltzer fight as well as an opportunity for innovative start-ups targeting a slice of a potentially-lucrative market. just-drinks spoke to one of those new companies, the sister-and-brother-led Loon Water, which launched the apple-based Two Brooks alcoholic sparkling water earlier this year. Loon Water co-founders Fabio and Francesca Bruni talk about the difference between the US and UK markets, why distillers risk brand dilution with big-name launches and where the global hard seltzer category goes from here.
just-drinks: You started work on this project before the US hard seltzer category went into overdrive. How has the success over there informed your UK launch?
Loon Water co-founder Fabio Bruni: We’ve tailor-made this drink specifically to suit the UK market. The most obvious point is that we’ve called ourselves an alcoholic sparkling water and not a hard seltzer. From initial conversations, we saw that there was a strong rejection of certain language codes. We didn’t want to just copy something that works abroad and bring it here.
Loon Water co-founder Francesca Bruni: In the US, seltzer is very much a thing. So, the transition from seltzer to hard seltzer felt very natural. Here, when you say seltzer, the British consumer thinks Alka Seltzer, which is the hangover medicine. That’s maybe not the best thing to think about when you’re drinking.
Fabio Bruni: Consumers are quite smart. People like to think that waving a product in consumers’ faces is going to be enough to convince them. But, it’s not the case. There has to be a period in which you ease the consumer into something and then it has to be appropriate for them. Once it’s a fully-fledged category, you can create what you want.
j-d: One difference between the US and the UK markets is that in the UK there is already a mature RTD canned cocktail market. Why will consumers be attracted to this new category?
Francesca Bruni: One of the reasons why alcoholic sparkling water has been so successful is its gender-neutral appeal. It’s a very approachable product. With the premiumisation of the RTD market, the market is looking for new types of canned drinks.
Fabio Bruni: Also, there’s a strong culture for convenience here in the UK. It has always been a love story – the gin & tonics and also the whiskey & colas. But, on the health aspect, those drinks are quite calorific. The fact that RTDs are successful in the UK means that people like convenience, but convenience doesn’t have to compromise on a healthy lifestyle.
Francesca Bruni: If you look at what flavoured alcohol beverages people were drinking 15 years ago – the fluorescent drinks with more sugar than you can count – those drinks are dead and buried now and this is a new awakening for flavoured alcoholic beverages. It’s FAB 2.0.
j-d: There seem to be a few ways to manufacture hard seltzers – malt base, or spirit base, for example. Why did you choose apples for Two Brooks?
Fabio Bruni: In the US, it’s mainly a flavoured malt beverage because of tax reasons. We didn’t have that focus in mind – it’s not a cash grab. We chose British apples for our base because of its provenance.
Francesca Bruni: When you make a drink that only has three ingredients, the main one being water, you have absolutely nowhere to hide. By using apples, we had only naturally-occurring sugars. If you use something like neutral grain spirit, you don’t have any natural sweetness coming from the baseline alcohol, which means you have to add. We didn’t want to have to add anything to our product.
j-d: A lot of distillers are launching their own lower-calorie alcoholic sparkling waters. What do you think of big-name brands such as Jack’s Daniel’s and Absolut getting into the game?
Francesca Bruni: If I want the best product, I go to a specialist. I wouldn’t go to IKEA to buy flowers.
Fabio Bruni: You don’t want to dilute your consumer base too much by having too much product diversification. If a whisky manufacturer ventures into the market, consumers are going to be confused and question the authenticity of what’s being put in front of them. You end up with a hybrid product that is neither A nor B but stuck somewhere in between.
j-d: How will the category evolve from here?
Fabio Bruni: The rest of Europe is so primed for it. The trends that are propelling alcoholic sparkling water in the US and soon in the UK are trends that are global and are extremely relevant for the rest of Europe.
Francesca Bruni: We will definitely see more variety in terms of taste and alcohol content. You’re going to have hard seltzer and non-hard seltzer. You’re going to have ‘soft’ seltzer. You’re also going to have different types of branding and segmenting. It’s really going to explode as a category. Then, the boundaries will be pushed in every direction.
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