In the annals of boozy history, 2019 will always be remembered as the year hard seltzer broke out into the mainstream—with White Claw, in particular, becoming so popular that, by the end of the summer, America was facing a shortage. Who could have seen such a trend coming (besides me... kind of)? How about those number crunchers at Nielsen? In its year-end report last year, Nielsen cited hard seltzer as "a breakout star" for 2018. Granted, that's not Nostradamus predicting "no laws when drinking Claws," but Nielsen certainly had its analytical eye on the category. And for 2020, the firm is doubling down on its alcohol knowledge, releasing a list of predictions for the year ahead in the alcohol industry.
First off, yes, Nielsen predicts hard seltzer will continue to thrive, saying it expects the number of players to double next year from both big and small names. "Growth rates for hard seltzer are unlikely to match those of summer 2019, as the base of business grows substantially. At the same time, the introduction of so many new brands by new players, along with the introduction of new flavors, packaging and formulas by existing players, all will help to fuel growth," Nielsen writes. "Additionally, we will see an increase in sub-segments of hard seltzers, focused on attributes like higher ABV, healthy ingredients and features, bolder flavors, and heightened product development and innovation around hard kombucha and hard coffee. These options won't make as big of a punch as leading seltzers on the market today, but will attract a different type of consumer/drinker."
Nielsen also sees strong growth for spirits sales, "building on an already upward trajectory." "Spirits have the advantage of a versatile product range with multiple drink types, flavors, styles and mixing opportunities," the firm writes. Similarly, it also predicts ready-to-drink cocktails will boom with a focus on "alternative packaging" and twists on traditional cocktail flavors.
Along these lines, Nielsen suggests "growth in the beer industry will focus on nearly everything but beer" as "brewers of all sizes will invest and innovate in ready-to-drink cocktails and even traditional spirit products." Additionally, "Beer brands will continue to try to play in the space adjacent to cannabis through products that use hemp and emulate the olfactory experience of cannabis."
Also facing potential struggles: wine. "Table wine will face downward trends, with the biggest losses coming from lower-priced wine in bottles, as long as the economy continues to be healthy," Nielsen writes. However, the company does see a few bright spots: sparkling wine, "driven largely by Prosecco;" rosé; wines from New Zealand and Oregon "with potential also from Eastern European countries;" wines in cans and alternative packaging; wine spritzers and wine-based cocktails in cans; and wines that enter "into the health and wellness conversation, via lower ABV and biodynamic wine."
Speaking of which, Nielsen believes health and wellness may be the biggest trend of them all for 2020. "This shift will be led by younger generations and will impact drinking quantities and preferences," it predicts. "Consumer desires will drive more transparency in labeling and supplier product innovations." As a result, expect one of these to be the "hard seltzer" of 2020, according to Nielsen: lower ABV spirits/cordials; lower ABV ready-to-drink cocktails; lower ABV and lower calorie IPAs; alternative beverages with no/low sugar and carbs and other low-calorie options; non-alcoholic craft beers, "with major craft brewers starting to play in this space;" and active, lifestyle-oriented drinks.